While I was at Pax South I had an eye opening conversation with someone who passive aggressively asked me “Where is your wheelchair?” while mingling at the Twitch party. I made the decision to ignore the comment as I didn’t feel the person was genuinely asking about my situation, but more insinuating something else. While it sucks that this happened it also made me very aware that people are just as judgemental about certain disabilities and not others. I wanted to have that discussion in this blog post. This is one of the posts that might make you feel uncomfortable but it needs to be said.
So before I continue onto the main section of this I want to fill you in on a bit of my past. In 2009-2010 I was not able to care for myself. My wife at the time had to empty out my piss bottles, deal with my dark depression, and even walk behind me on my way up stairs so that if I started to pass out she could help me. Showering was something that I had to have others help me with because I wasn’t able to do it by myself. I was going to intense physical therapy and chiropractic visits everyday in an attempt to bring my body back to some place where I could live a “normal” life. The VA needed all of my documentation of my service time and to process my claim took 2 years. During that entire time I was living off of my savings with my wife and soon to be child. We had to seek out assistance from the local food pantry and I was almost homeless after my wife left because “she couldn’t help me anymore.” Everyday I woke up contemplating suicide and struggling to even find a reason or will to live. My wheelchair wasn’t even in my life at this time because I didn’t go anywhere. I wish I had pictures of the darkest time in my life to share but in a fit of anger I deleted them.
Fast forward a few years. I’m still doing physical therapy but at a once a month basis and I’ve traded that out for more chiropractic visits. I’m paying out of my own pocket for personal trainers with experience in sports medicine and nutritionists. I’m cooking meals a week in advance and putting in time at the gym/studio/at home on my yoga mat as much as possible. I’ve finally understand where my body limits are and I am constantly pushing myself to be healthier. Not because I deserve it, but because my daughter deserves a better father. I still struggle to be able to walk anything over a mile in length but I have slowly figured out my body has a budget of so much activity in a day. If I make sure to add in stretching, chiropractic adjustments, and even a TENs unit I am able to increase my activity, even if it is ever so small. Every step forward is a step in the right direction.
Where am I now?
Still trying to be as active as I can but no matter what you can still see my past somewhere lurking in the background. So where does the real conversation start? In the next paragraph.
One of the vets I know at the local VA said it in a much better way than I could: “You aren’t missing a leg. Missing a leg or arm instantly makes your disability valid. People are going to constantly judge you man because they can’t SEE your struggle instantly.”
What do I want you to understand? Not everyone who is struggling to overcome something shows it on the outside. People see me use my wheelchair during the day but don’t seem to understand why I am not using it at night. Do you want to know why? Because I’ve attempted to save my back and body during the day by being in my chair so that I can spend some special few moments walking around and pretending that everything is fine, even if it is just for a night at a time. I’m the real Cinderella of the ball except there is no glass slipper and happy ending. Instead there is a wheelchair that at times I hate but I’m so grateful for. My wheelchair allows me to travel with my family, to do charity work for veterans, and it allows me the quality of life that my body just won’t. So please do everyone a favor and understand that there are plenty of people in the world who are struggling with things that you may not be able to see. That doesn’t give you any right to judge them. You don’t know what they have struggled with or what they might be going through. Just because I haven’t given up and I let my pride and stubbornness push me forward, doesn’t mean that I don’t have to deal with my own emotional and physical challenges. Every. Flippin. Day.
So please, if you want to know about my wheelchair just ask. My daughter accepts me when I’m walking around and when I have to use it. If she can, I hope you can too.
4 thoughts on “Where is your wheelchair bro?”
I dealt with this a lot when I represented people for Social Security Disability. Just because YOU think the person is fine, does not mean they are. Looking at yourself and how messed up you are and then applying that logic to someone else would totally stop this from happening. Keep pressing on brother.
Thanks for reading Gray. You know our conversation was the catalyst for writing this post up. So thank you 🙂
Thank you for having the courage to tell your story.
I’ve witnessed a lot of shaming of people with ‘invisible wounds’ with my work with disabled Veterans, disabled civilians, and folks with terminal illnesses. I’ve worked with both the double amputee and the guy with the TBI. At the end of the day, they both struggle but the TBI guy isn’t as likely to get a pat on the back, handshake or “Thank you,” from a well-meaning stranger. I’ve worked with people whose mental illness loomed large over their physical injuries and those who denied both in an attempt to avoid accusations of not being impaired ‘enough.’ The patient with the cancer diagnosis is given looks of admiration while the patient with heart failure gets a disapproving head shake. Judgement is rampant.
If we don’t get to know the person and not their visible wounds, we miss most of the story and most of the interest of that person. When we’re judged based on what I can see about you across a parking lot both the judged and a judging are diminished.
Perceptions don’t change rapidly in these matters, but with brave men, women, and children speaking up and telling their stories, change will happen. Thank you, again.
TBI’s are the worse. You can have physical, mental, emotional, and psychological struggles and no outward signs to explain why you might be acting or behaving a certain way. I struggled with my own PTSD and I still do to this day. Sometimes I realize that my behavior is because of situations I’ve been in or went through instead of what is actually happening right in front of me 😉
Hope to see you around more Jennifer 🙂