Yesterday, for the first time in I don’t know how many years, I was able to experience nature that wasn’t immediately adjacent to a parking lot. I got to watch the sun setting gently as I made my way along the river and feel the wind in my face.
I can’t remember the last time I was able to spend that much time outdoors without being overwhelmed by pain.
Did I find some new magic med? Did I manage to reduce my symptoms?
Earlier this week, thanks to an incredibly generous donation from a local family who lost their matriarch, I was able to come into possession of a motorized wheelchair. In Ontario, people who require expensive accessibility devices can apply for funding through the ADP. There is not supposed to be any specific financial criteria but a medical one, which if approved covers 75% of an accessibility device. If you are on Disability, then the coverage is 100%. The criteria, however, are pretty specific and do not take several factors into consideration.
For one, you are only considered as needing an accessibility device, if you need it around your home. Since I live in an apartment, moving around here is not something that requires that type of assistance.
Additionally, the ADP does not consider pain or exhaustion as being criteria for an accessibility device. It doesn’t consider how multiple disabilities might interact to make you favour one type of assistance over another.
My spine, my hips, and my knees have all been responding poorly to the increased inflammation I am experiencing due to overwhelming stress, not to mention the resulting bone density loss, weight gain, and muscle loss from steroid treatments. Walking or standing for more than very short distances, leaves me feeling as though my spine were on fire.
When I want to exercise, I swim. It’s one of the only things that doesn’t leave me in desperate need of pain meds, too stiff to move, too tired and sore to be able to make dinner, or enjoy anything other than sitting at my desk.
The increased pain I’ve been dealing with for the past few years has been gradually isolating me further and further. I can’t go anywhere that isn’t close to a parking lot. I can’t really enjoy exploring my neighbourhood, or go to a park, or even really go window shopping in a mall on my own.
When I go to parks or whatnot near my home, I am often forced to stay close to the car. This means a lot of the nicer sights are out of my reach.
Sometimes it has felt as though I ceased to exist in physical space. Oh yes, I had physical needs like food, and from time to time I would go out and interact with people or places, but being so limited in ability to go out and actually BE a part of my neighbourhood and a part of my city has often left me feeling as though my connections to physical space were tenuous at best. When you add to the desire to not be in pain and to exist outside of that, it’s not surprising that in many ways the virtual me is realer to me than my physical me.
That’s not to say that I’m outside this body, but just that it is hard to feel a part of a place that you are not allowed access to, that you are not allowed to fully experience without punishment.
The chair changes so much of that. Even just in the two days, not even, that I’ve had it sized to my body, it has opened up a whole new world to me.
I went window shopping at the mall by my house alone for the first time ever. Before this I always had to rely on being pushed around in a manual chair by someone else. It’s always meant giving up a measure of my independence as others get to decide where I go, how fast, and what I see. The people who have helped me have been kind, and would gladly help me see what I wanted to see had I asked. Asking feels like a burden. They’re already pushing me around, using physical energy of theirs so that I could avoid using some of mine. What right did I have to also impose my schedule, my interests, on them? Or at least, that’s how it has felt to me.
The places that offer motorized scooters have been some of the few places that I’ve actually been able to go. Walmart, Grocery Stores, Michaels, and Home Improvement stores, have been the majority of my experiences for something like two years.
Yesterday, I used the chair to explore the bike path along the Ottawa River. I took pictures, I met people I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I took the chair through the park to the grocery store instead of my car. Not only did it end up going faster than driving usually does, but it also meant that I didn’t burn gas to get there. Me having access to a wheelchair is already going to be better for the environment. (Our electricity does not come from oil)
Later today I plan on taking the chair over to the local park along the beach. There I can work on smoking some beef, while still getting to explore the park itself. I don’t have to worry about choosing the BBQ that is closest to the parking lot. Instead, I can choose one that is somewhere nicer, closer to the water. I’m already looking forward to it, excited about the chance to spend more time outdoors and in nature at a time when I need that peace more than anything.
This summer I can actually participate fully in my community. I can spend more time outdoors and maybe get enough sunlight to struggle less with depression over the next winter. I can get to know my neighbourhood more fully and discover some of its hidden gems.
Our city isn’t perfect for accessibility. There are many places that are still off limits to me and will be as long as we continue to ignore the needs of disabled people. But even so, I feel a new freedom. There is a new world open to me that wasn’t before. I can feel the wind in my hair and the sun in my face and just be in a way I haven’t been able to in so long.