I’m restless. Restless inside my mind and this body—within the constraints of my wheelchair. I want to get up and move. To stretch, climb, jump and run. I’m convinced that the increased spasticity that’s taken over my legs—causing them to seize and shake uncontrollably—is my body’s way of giving physical representation to my inner angst. I’m struggling to find the positive spin. My mental health is not on the up-and-up and, while my depression has been in remission for a long time, it is shifting. And I am struggling.
I’ve all but stopped going out in public alone. When I slip on my mask it feels like closing up the last flap on a cardboard box I can’t get out of. Between my wheelchair, glasses, my mess of hair and mask, I feel trapped on all sides of myself—claustrophobic inside of my own body. I want to burst out of it all like a birthday surprise out of a cake. But I can’t, I can’t burst out of any of it. Instead, I mostly stay home.
As spring emerges, we are all taking reprieve from the months of indoor Covid-isolation by getting outside. But my family is tired of tracing the same accessible routes over and over again. With a focus on staying local, I seem to be constantly reminded of all the nearby hikes that are “great for children” but…not for wheelchairs. I’m desperate for freedom. The freedom to get up and go wherever I want, whenever I want. My legs gave me that. They let me explore this world in a way I can’t anymore. In a way that didn’t require expensive adaptive technology or the strength of those willing to help maneuver me over and under the ups and downs of the natural world. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of everyone else, emerging from their homes to find solace in new outdoor spaces.
In the years since my accident it was almost convenient that I couldn’t always join in. Ian would take the boys somewhere and I could stay behind with our daughter. But she’s getting older and is ready to tag along on more adventures. I dreamt about this stage of life when she was brand new—a time when all five of us could explore anywhere we wanted. Now that we’re here, our choices are limited. Sometimes that means I’m left to smile and wave goodbye as they go off and explore somewhere new.
Of course I’m not supposed to say any of this. I’m only supposed to show how I’m empowered by my chair—how it enables me to be present in this world despite my disability. Which is very true. But right now, all I can think and feel is that I’d rather not be disabled in the first place. And while I know disability isn’t the reason for my depression, it is currently a contributing factor.
Reading this back, I know it doesn’t sound like me. I usually try to find a silver lining or a positive takeaway. But, as I said, I am struggling. However, I know the drill—this isn’t my first rodeo—and I’m taking the necessary steps in order to keep myself healthy. But what worries me is that, for a lot of people who are facing mental health struggles right now, it is their first rodeo.
It can feel impossible to know when it’s time to reach out for help—whether it be in the form of exercise, counselling, medication or just a friend to confide in. I want this post to encourage people who aren’t feeling like themselves—who know the negativity, fear, sadness, anger or whatever else swirling around them, is causing them to feel like a different version of the person they thought they were—to tell someone. Make sure you have a person who knows all of it, not just the sugar-coated “I’m really fine just frustrated” version. Say it out loud. Write it down. Make it known and go from there.
Me…I may feel trapped inside my own body a while longer. Mask mandates aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, I can’t do contacts, my wheelchair is here to stay and I’m NOT cutting my hair. But I have my person and I’ve said it out loud. I’ve written it down. I’ve made it known. I’ll work on it from here.