Mobility Aids & Why I Love Them (Even When the World Disagrees)

If you use a wheelchair, or any other kind of mobility aid, people will look at you differently. I have been exposed to this from the earliest age, though it’s not until recently that I stopped to reflect upon why. Here’s what I was able to come up with: the disabled experience is often synonymous with ideas of tragedy or unfulfilled potential. Furthermore, non-disabled people are so caught up in the privilege of having a healthy body, it’s almost impossible for them to imagine being happy if that reality were to change. Spoiler alert: it will change, someday, even if only through old age. That much is inevitable. But still, the idea of not being able to rely upon yourself completely independently is suffocating. I know this because it’s a weight that I have carried for as long as I can remember. The painful understanding that some people will always be confused whenever I smile or laugh, particularly in public. I have heard “I’m kind of glad that you’re disabled because it has taught me to be a better person” more times than I can count. It’s easy to look at mobility aids and assume that they’re a sign of restriction. I believed that, too, for a long while. This year, however, my wheelchair has instead become a sign of hope.

The other day, I decided to be brave and leave the house with my family. This is an increasingly rare occurrence these days, in all honesty, but I really wanted to go to a little Christmas market. Remind myself what it’s like to enjoy being outside and having fun, even when the pandemic continues to make everything feel scary. With that said, when we got there, it quickly became obvious that the environment wasn’t very accessible. Unless, of course, we wanted to make a scene about getting a ramp. I just wasn’t in the mood for that conversation. Is it too much to ask that these accommodations are standard – just for once? As if that wasn’t enough, almost nobody was wearing a mask, anyway. Immediately, I felt uninvited. Looking after my health was twisted into an inconvenience for everyone around me. It must be nice, I thought, to move around the world without always having to wonder if you’ll be safe. For the record, I have said it before, I will say it again: health is not a guarantee. For anyone, at any time, but perhaps especially right now. In response to this situation, I awkwardly waited outside with my dad until we were ready to travel home again. Despite what it may sound like, this was a win for me. If it had happened at another point in my life, I can assure you that I definitely would have cried. I probably would have been quite dramatic about it, too. This time was different. Although the disappointment was crushing, I wasn’t overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Instead, I reached a state of peaceful acceptance. This is just the way things are.

The picture is divided in half by a black line. On the left, a sad looking white kawaii style character with green space buns, a pink jumper, and blue trousers sits in a wheelchair. They are shackled to the chair by chains. Above, in a white bubble are blue words saying “the perception”. The background is a dirty yellow with chain link fence effect. On the right side of the black line is the same character in their wheelchair. This time, there are no chains. Instead they have beautiful purple and yellow wings, and they are smiling. The writing above the character says “the reality” on this side. The background is orange with a slightly lighter overlay of columns of repeating love hearts.
This says it all so much better than I ever could. Follow the artist on Instagram here.

For the past month or so, my mental health has started to (once again) feel a little more wobbly than usual. I should have expected it with the changing of seasons, I guess. But after allowing myself to sit alongside this darkness, I realised something: just because nobody else seems to care, it doesn’t mean that I have to stop caring, too. Disabled people are allowed to expect more than the bare minimum. For whatever reason, I don’t remember much about my childhood. Something that I do remember, though, is the day that I got my first electric wheelchair. I didn’t know it at the time, but this form of mobility aid was about to become an extension of my body. With this, I have autonomy. I can move around the house freely. I don’t have to rely upon anyone else when I’m outside. I make the rules and my limitations are significantly lessened. Even in my manual chair, when it’s more difficult to have control myself, it gives me a sense of participation that would have otherwise been unavailable to me. That will always be a truly beautiful thing. In the most inaccessible spaces, I will no longer regret being visible. Disabled joy is worth fighting for.

If you’re reading this and wondering how to become okay with the presence of mobility aids in your own life: it’s a journey (maybe even a lifelong one) and you’re allowed to take a moment. But know that looking after your body will never be something to hide or feel shame for. You’re still you. Just with a little extra spice. It is radiant.

Zoe, thank-you for (once again) inspiring me to write this. I’m so proud of you. Lexi, thank-you for all of the kind texts. You are an angel. Maybe we could write something together someday. xxx

Being Gay and Disabled (COMING OUT)

[Edited on 29.03.2022]

I have had some genuinely traumatic experiences with dating in the past, which is relatively public knowledge, if you have been reading this blog for a while. In reality, much of this happened because I was desperate to force myself into a traditionally heterosexual space, despite never feeling entirely comfortable. I was already struggling with the marginalisation that being disabled brings, you know? I wanted to avoid making my life more unnecessarily difficult. I couldn’t figure out how it was possible to ever be happy within a society that continues to reject my existence, so decided that my only option was to stay quiet. Therefore, I was willing to accept whatever (limited) attention that I was offered, almost as if to prove some kind of point to the universe. See? I can pretend — and maybe if I pretend for long enough, then it will start to feel natural. Spoiler alert: that never happened. Instead, I just became very mentally unwell. The idea of letting anyone down with this truth has been consuming me for years, which is something that I almost didn’t survive. For a while, this truly felt like the best approach.

Amongst my closest friends, I have been identifying as gay for over a year now. Every single person embraced me with such an incredible amount of warmth and acceptance, which I will forever be grateful for. If this doesn’t include you, please don’t take it personally. I only told my immediate family yesterday, simply because it’s so terrifying. It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone, I know. With that said, I am exactly the same person that you have always known, just deciding to live more freely and authentically. I am not asking for your approval because, frankly, I don’t need it. I am simply asking you to allow me this happiness, even if it will take some time. I don’t hate myself anymore, which I hope that people can accept with an open heart.

A poem by Wendy Travino called Revolutionary Letter, which reads “one thing I’ve learned/come to provisional conclusion about: when it comes to fighting, there are people who will help you & there are people who will not & there are people who will stand in the way. find the people who will help/ be loud: & clear so they know where you are — focus on them, be encouraged by them, encourage them, work with them, don’t worry about the people who won’t help. they will be of no help even if they are on your side. waste as little energy as possible fighting people who stand in the way, which is to say don’t talk, don’t argue, just get them out of the way of the fight you came for.  tl;dr: you don’t need or want the people who you know aren’t “with you” to be with you. really, you don’t”
A poem by Wendy Travino. Thank-you to all of the people that have helped (and continue to help) me fight to gather the strength to be here, writing this. Free.

Is there ever a right time to make announcements such as this? Truthfully, probably not. I do finally feel ready, though. See, dear reader, I fell in love. Although I am no longer in the relationship that first gave me the courage to share this truth so publicly, we spent a beautifully magical year together. Just more than that, if we’re being super specific about dates. Not that it’s anybody else’s business, but the reason behind our decision to separate was (and is) extremely painful for both parties, with no bad vibes or bitterness between us whatsoever. Quite the opposite, actually. As the cliché goes: sometimes loving them truly is to let them go. Sometimes, it really is that simple and complicated at the same time.

As things stand, I have no idea how much contact it will ultimately end up being healthy for us to have, but it is my hope that we will learn and grow through it all together someday, even if not in the romantic sense. If nothing else, I would very much like to give them a hug. I think that would be cool.

So, with all of that said: do I have any regrets? Absolutely none, truly. When we first started dating, I had been absolutely destroyed by the trauma of existing as a disabled person throughout a global pandemic — and, frankly, as a disabled person in general. With each day, they taught me that it was okay. That I am worthy and deserving of good things, which I intensely struggled to believe beforehand. They taught me that I am enough and my life will always have meaning, even if it doesn’t fit inside other people’s neat boxes. These are the lessons that I will be able to carry in my heart forever.

Coming out was (and is) a really massive deal for me. I waited twenty-three years for this moment, so please don’t be a dick. Now is not the time. But equally, I will not apologise for being happy, now or ever again. Pfeiffer taught me that, too. As I heal and move forward at whatever pace feels right, that is what I will hold onto. I am not inherently unlovable because I’m disabled and aspiring towards my own happiness is still a tangible goal, even if it looks different than I expected. There is a world of possibilities and I am determined to allow myself the grace of grasping them, of no longer shrinking my own existence to make everyone else more comfortable. I have done it before and I can do it again. I will rise, I will rise, I will rise.

With special thanks to Imogen, Kesia, Megan, Sonia, Holly, Courtney, Sam, Kai, Céline, Cool Hannah, Rachael and everyone else. I hope that you know who you are. Finally, to my family: I have had a draft of this post saved on my phone for a few days now, before telling you, but I feel obligated to include a small edit here. Thank-you for loving me so unconditionally. I have played this scenario over in my head a million times, quickly becoming convinced that nothing would be okay ever again. Thank-you for the hugs, the jokes and the supportive messages. I appreciate every single one of you more than words could ever fully articulate. Again, I don’t hate myself anymore. I made it. Thank-you for making such a beautiful effort to understand and embrace everything that I am. I love you. xxx

Learning to Love My Disabled Identity

For so many years, I thought that the key to survival was to run away from my disability, even if only emotionally. I thought that being known as the disabled girl would define my whole sense of self, ensuring that nobody cared about anything else. However, actively pretending that it doesn’t exist only served to send me into a spiral of self-hatred. Once this had begun, it was impossible to escape from and has constantly haunted the edges of my brain for almost a decade, if not longer. However, things have finally started to change over the past couple of days. It is like a dark fog has been lifted, simply from refusing to hide anymore and believing that I am capable of better.

Firstly, I learned that this blog has been viewed over one thousand times already. My weird little blog. If we know each other well enough to be connected on social media, then you probably already know that part. Truthfully, my head is still spinning. It is so difficult to comprehend how so many people care about reading my story, however briefly. My voice has always just felt pretty invisible, you know? It has often been like screaming into the void with nobody to hear. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t feel like a disappointing disabled person because I had nothing especially remarkable to offer the world. However, hitting this milestone proves my brain wrong. It makes me feel like the possibilities are endless, although that probably won’t last long. Still, maybe my existence doesn’t have to be entirely mundane after all. For example: generally, I hate talking about my career prospects because writing has always felt like home for me, but I have always worried that I’m not good enough for it to be achievable. Now, for the first time, there is a glimmer of hope. For the first time ever, I am actually proud of myself. Can you believe it?! If you are reading this, you have collectively changed my life and I’m never going to be able to repay you.

Then, I posted on a disability support group and requested friends in a similar situation. I have never done anything like that before because the idea of being so vulnerable makes me feel physically sick, but I was so horribly alone and sad. Being young and disabled can be horribly lonely and sad — that’s the unfortunate reality. Frankly, I had expected to be completely ignored. At this point in time, it really didn’t feel like I mattered very much at all. Instead, over two-hundred people responded. Over two-hundred wonderful and warm human beings from around the world shared their stories with me, opening their hearts up to a friendship. I still haven’t been able to message all of them properly in the way that I would like, simply because there are not enough hours in the day. Even so, it has felt like I have been floating on a happy little cloud ever since. Until this moment, I had never before been embraced so tightly for my differences. Collectively, these people have saved me in ways that I’ll never fully be able to articulate. I’m still not completely convinced that I deserve each and every one of their beautifully kind gestures, but I’m determined to earn them. Their unconditional acceptance has allowed me to begin extending myself the same courtesy and it so deeply liberating. Being disabled can be a beautiful thing, too.

Also today, I received my first vaccine against COVID-19. I haven’t left the house much at all in the past year, so I was really very anxious about this whole process, but it all went smoothly. Since the pandemic first began, I have wanted to crawl outside of my own skin and be someone else. Anyone else. I deeply resented having to take so many extra steps in order to simply stay alive, so this feels like the beginning of brighter days. As a side note: my favourite mental health YouTuber has now acknowledged my existence on Twitter twice, so it feels like I have made it. Kidding, but still.

A woman (Danielle, the author of this blog) is smiling in the car and wearing a seatbelt. She is wearing glasses, a red jacket and black vest. She has messy hair but she doesn’t care.
This bitch got vaccinated: a picture taken after my appointment.

In short, I am not completely comfortable as a disabled young woman yet. I want to feel attractive and confident, so there is more work to be done. But representation is important to that process, so I’m going to continue to write until the world has changed for the better. I might even start a YouTube channel. Maybe. If I can get over my fear of the camera. But probably not. If you want to help me on this journey, please sign my gorgeous friend’s petition for a film with a disabled Disney princess here and don’t watch Sia’s new film ever. Give disabled actors the roles of disabled characters and don’t be a dick xoxo

PS: an extra special shout-out to my pals Imogen, Sophie, Céline and Jasmine. You will have a piece of my heart forever.

My Body Can’t Take Care of Itself

In all likelihood, nobody that knows me has ever thought about how the inner workings of my daily routine come together. That’s probably because I have the ability to hold (relatively) intelligent conversations, which gives people the impression that I can look after myself. I’m still trying to decide whether or not this is something to be grateful for, in all honesty. On one hand, it allows me to be treated somewhat normally (whatever that means) by those around me, but it also leads to my circumstances being forever misunderstood. I have decided, though, not to spend the rest of my life being defined by other people’s misconceptions and prejudices. So, I’m writing this post to offer some clarity. It might not be possible to hangout in-person right now, but I’m hopeful that by being transparent here, people might be a little more thankful for my presence than before.

So, let’s start at the beginning. I can get myself out of bed, although this is something that I needed assistance with until the age of twenty-one. From there, it’s not possible for me to safely prepare my own breakfast (or any meal). My hands don’t often do what I want them to, especially when I’m trying to focus on something important. When it comes to showering and personal hygiene, my mum has to help me. Yes, this is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved, particularly since I have been getting older. She also helps me to get dressed, too. Most of the time, this includes choosing what clothes that I’ll be wearing, given that I’m generally too anxious to make those decisions on my own. Once all of that has been navigated, let’s not forget that I’m not able to reach my desired destination without her taking me there. (Before you say it: yes, I’m aware of the fantastic things that they can do with cars nowadays, but none of it feels practical or safe for me. I have also tried to independently use public transport a handful of times before, which only ever ended up being a nightmare.)

If we have ever eaten lunch or dinner together at a restaurant, please know that I would have spent hours looking at the menu online beforehand, so that I could ensure that there was at least one option available that wouldn’t require me to cut anything up. If you have ever seen me choose to drink something directly from a bottle, it’s because I can’t pour it into a glass myself without spilling it everywhere. Very classy, I know.

It’s such a weird thing to explain. In many ways, it feels like my brain doesn’t function any differently to other people’s. Once the basic self-care has been done, my life isn’t particularly extraordinary: I have the same wants, needs and goals as everybody else. I like to have a social life, in the same way that most other people do. Still, the process of getting there does take a little more consideration. It’s hard not to feel like my job prospects are limited, when there is so much that isn’t immediately obvious from the outside. (Thanks in advance, but I really don’t need any well-meaning suggestions about this.)

To be honest, most days, I just can’t be bothered to put in the extra effort. I find myself growing tired of it. If it wasn’t for the gentle encouragement from my mum, I would probably just never shower again. I’d survive on crisps and takeaways that are easy to manage. Even before the pandemic, I would only leave the house if my friends were very enthusiastic about it. It’s a lot to sign up for, you know? To the people that are willing to try, you are true blessings. It’s more important than you will ever know. One blog post at a time. xxx