So it’s been about 6 month since a very large cardboard box turned up on the doorstep at 7:30am. That box was home to my powerchair. So 6 months on it feels like the right time to unpack some of the feelings that came with getting a powerchair: the positives, the apprehension, the shame and the freedom.
Considering a Powerchair
When it came to considering purchasing a powerchair, it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. It was something we spoke about for just over a year before the suggestion became a reality. Over that year my mobility had declined significantly, I was becoming more and more reliant on my manual chair when out of the house and was a month away from moving to university. So it soon became apparent to me, my family and my specialist team that a power chair would be of great benefit to me both physically and mentally. After much deliberation and research I ordered one.
Struggles With Acceptance
After ordering the chair I had quite a difficult time processing it. I couldn’t quite believe that at 18 I was buying myself a powered wheelchair- not quite the same as the first cars my peers were buying. I had an overwhelming feeling of not being “ill enough” to warrant having one and was already panicking about using it in public because of the association of powered mobility aids and elderly people.
But more so than anything I was concerned that it may seem to outsiders looking in that I was “giving in” to M.E.
The amount of apprehension I was feeling kind of dampened any excitement I had.
After the chair had arrived bright and early on a Monday morning it took a couple of days for my stepdad to have the time to build it. That really didn’t bother me all that much; whilst seeing it in the flesh had given me a little spark of excitement, I was still very much in a negative mindset about it.
Once built, I took the chair for a little spin down the road and I felt so self conscious- something I didn’t really experience when I first got my manual wheelchair so it was a peculiar feeling. I suddenly felt like the biggest fraud, convinced everyone was staring at me (some people definitely were but not with the ill meaning intent my brain had convinced me was the case).
It wasn’t until a couple of hours later I started to realise the freedom the powerchair would give me. I had gone further down the road in the chair than I had in a long time on my legs (faster too!). It was then I took to Instagram for help in naming the chair, which felt to me very much like welcoming it into the family. And Willow the Powerchair was born.
It took moving to university for me to really appreciate all the positives that Willow has brought into my life. On my second night in halls, we went for a building walk around campus. We were out for over an hour and I could never have walked that. Without Willow I would have had to miss out. Willow was allowing me to socialise and preserve energy for studying and despite moving to university taking a massive toll on my health (a post for another day) this toll would have been much greater without Willow.
Reflections 6 Months On
So 6 months on I’m getting more and more confident out and about in Willow- getting stuck in fewer lifts and my reversing skills are getting there too (albeit very slowly). Whilst there are still the odd stares and questions, nothing has happened that has been anywhere near half as bad as some of the scenarios my brain had convinced me were going to happen if I used a powerchair.
I’m actually able to go out independently and feel safe doing so. I’m no longer panicking about falling over and not being able to get up or ending up sat on the cold floor because I’ve been standing up too long, this has alleviated lots of anxiety for me and improved my mental health massively. There is just something wonderful about being able to get out independently for some fresh air, headphones on, music playing.
My friends couldn’t care less whether I walk or wheel- they are more concerned about “pimping my ride” one day and having a turn whizzing up the corridor at a grand top speed of 4mph!!!
Finding young people on social media using powered mobility aids gave me a massive confidence boost, scrolling through #BabeWithAMobilityAid reality highlighted to me that mobility aids are not just for the elderly and they really shouldn’t be marketed as such. Realising all the things Willow has enabled me to do has helped massively in terms of acceptance. I now realise that Willow does not equate to me giving up or giving in but simply allows me more control over my body and how I spend my energy.
So to anyone considering a mobility aid of any kind, give it a try.
If your brain is giving you hell for even considering it, I can promise you the reality is not as bad as you are imagining.
Willow is the best thing I have done for my mental health and there is absolutely no shame in that.