As a wheelchair user since I was an infant, I’ve developed numerous coping techniques, learned lessons for living life to the fullest, and realized over the years that sharing my experiences with others is one of the many ways I enjoy giving back to help people.
When I was in second grade, I recall being very fond of writing. It all started with a writing workshop where we were told we could write on any subject as our assignment. I vividly remember writing not feeling like school work, and I continued to pursue writing outside of academics.
It wasn’t until high school where the idea of writing about my life experiences in a wheelchair really hit me, and I realized how much impact I might be able to have in helping others. I enjoy helping people understand life through my eyes and experiences. I don’t shy away from the curiosity and questions many people have with respect to my life in a wheelchair. I’ve always approached life with a positive outlook, and over the years, many have also told me what a positive person I am. With this in mind, I have endeavored to write down some of the most critical life lessons I’ve learned over the years to share with you.
Always remember to take a minute to be thankful for the fact you’re alive. We’re living in a day and age where wheelchairs exist and are readily available for those who need them. This might sound simplistic, but I’ve often thought to myself, “Wow this would be a whole different lifestyle, and an ACTUAL obstacle, if I was in a time where there was no such thing as a wheelchair”. This has opened my eyes quite a bit and reminds me that I am LUCKY to be living with a spinal cord injury in 2019. Because of all the equipment available on the market today, I don’t have to rely on anyone but myself to get around.
I am so grateful for my wheelchair.
When you view yourself as someone who should be thankful, it allows you to keep your focus on the positive things in life. I PROMISE there are way more things to smile about than to be sad over. Life is a gift and we get to “literally” enjoy the ride. These are just a few things off the top of my head I feel appreciative of. I’m sure if you think about this yourself, you will be able to come up with several things you may have taken for granted or not thought about cherishing before.
2. YOU ARE A “ROLL” MODEL
Coming to terms with the fact that you may be able to help the world see that using a wheelchair is not necessarily a bad thing is a big deal to me. I have discussed this before, but I’d like to emphasize again just how important it is. As a person who “rolls” with life, there’s no way around being seen differently. Eyes are going to be on you no matter where you go, and I see it as a privilege. You don’t generally see wheelchair users in your everyday life, so the odds are that those who see you are going to remember you – even if just for a moment.
I hope anyone who knows me will be able to say that I am a happy and positive person who does not take life for granted because that’s just how I roll. Honestly though, you have the ability to break wheelchair stereotypes and show the world that we are not just sad and helpless. This is quite a big thing to live for indeed!
3. EMBRACE WHAT MAKES YOU “YOU”
It’s human nature to be shy about the things that make you different. At the very least, we all certainly have moments throughout our lives that cause us to be shy or self-conscious about something that makes us different. I know I’ve felt this way in no uncertain terms. The one thing I’m confident about, and have always been, is my chair. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “I don’t want to just use a wheelchair, I want to rock it.” I live by this motto and I encourage my fellow wheelchair users to as well. Thinking about your wheelchair in this light has the potential to change your thinking in an entirely different way. It can really help break you out of your shell if you’re nervous or insecure about having “wheels” in your life. “Be proud to be different” is what I say! There are so many people who would do anything to stand out of the crowd, and guess what? You do just that – without even trying.
4. FEEL, BUT DON’T DWELL
I’m a very happy person by nature and I don’t “dig” negative vibes, but I‘m also a realist. I’m not ashamed to admit that there are times I’ve felt sad about why I need a wheelchair in the first place, but never about having a wheelchair itself. For those of you who don’t know, I was abuse by my dad as an infant, which resulted in my spinal cord injury. This is what got me rolling with life, so to speak.
I live happily and always have. This doesn’t mean I don’t have down moments, because I do. From time to time my heart aches about all that I ‘ve been through, when none of what happened to me should have ever occurred. Whatever your reason is for not being able to walk, just know, it’s completely okay to cry when you need to, or let your feelings out in whatever way you may express them.
You are 100% entitled to your feelings.
However, what you should try avoiding is letting that sadness consume you. If you’re not careful, it will. The phrase “when life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life a thousand reasons to smile,” perfectly sums up what I’m trying to say. It’s important to find a happy medium. Let yourself feel, because after all, we’re human and we need to express our feelings. Bottling things up never ends well for any of us. You’re allowed to have your moments. Always know that you’re okay, you’ve got this, and the negative will never outweigh the positive.
5. MIND OVER ANYTHING ELSE
Someone said this to me a long time ago, and it’s stuck ever since:
“You have the most important thing a person can have, which is the mind. If you have the ability to think, you have everything.”
Knowing this can be a major game changer if you’re feeling like you’ve suffered an awful loss. Think of former President, Franklin D Roosevelt, a famous wheelchair user. He was in charge making important and lasting decisions for an entire country, and he didn’t need his legs to do it. The point here is to always remember that you have what matters most in life – your ability to think critically. By reminding yourself of this on a regular basis, you’ll begin to see that the ability to walk is nothing compared to the ability to use your mind.
6. DON’T COMPARE
We are all guilty of this from time to time, and it’s an awfully unhealthy habit to have; comparing yourself to other people. If I had to guess, I’d say comparing yourself to others is more likely to happen when you’re in a wheelchair. This is especially true if you’re a newbie to the wheelchair lifestyle. You might start to think that anyone who’s able-bodied is better off.
I’ll tell you right now, that’s not true. I don’t think it’s even a logical assumption to make. I’ve experienced this directly because I’m not up and walking around every day, yet I’m so happy to be alive. Sadly, I’ve met people who are just so miserable even though they have the one thing I don’t, the ability to walk.
Assuming that the grass is greener for anyone who’s not in a wheelchair is one thing you definitely want to avoid.
7. STRATEGIC THINKING IS EVERYTHING
I always say that life with wheels will bring out a strategic side to your thinking. It certainly has for me, and I’m still surprising myself to this day. Even though you aren’t walking around like most people, there are often ways around things that appear to be obstacles. Perhaps you don’t get something done in the same way as others do, but you sure as heck can find your own way to do it.
Be your own boss in life.
For example, when I was a little kid, I loved swinging on the swing set at the playground. As many of you may know, you get higher on a swing by pumping with your legs. Little do many people know, but you can achieve the same thing by pumping with your arms. I learned this fact really early on. Anytime I went to the park with my friends, they were astonished by what I could do, and I don’t blame them for being surprised. If I weren’t in the situation I’m in, I too would never have known this was possible.
Another example is the good “ol” staircase. Stairs can, at first glance, appear to be an obstacle, but if you can get out of your chair, scoot down or lift yourself up each step, and pull your legs up with you, then bam! Next thing you know you are right where you wanted to be without having to rely on someone to carry you up or down.
It’s a very empowering feeling to be able to find a way to do what you want without the help of others. It never gets old for me. Right when I think I’ve learned it all, I find there’s more I can work around and even more I can do that I thought I wouldn’t be able to. If you’ve been in a similar boat to mine, and don’t give up, here’s an “air” high five to you. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Show yourself that you’re unstoppable, because you are.
The only limits in your life are the ones you set for yourself.
There you have it, a few of my tips after using a wheelchair for the past 26 years. This whole ride I call life is a learning experience for me as well as for those who are in my life. I hope the things I’ve shared can help you in some way. Show life what you’re made of and keep on rolling. That’s what we do best after all.
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