Want to fly to Calgary with Megan and I on January 4 for the day or maybe overnight? To go wedding dress shopping with Jenny.
I had to read the text message twice to fully compute what my mother-in-law was asking me. Was she crazy? Did she really think I was going to get on an airplane with her and my sister-in-law to an unfamiliar—usually snowy—city without my husband, my right-hand-man, there to make sure nothing absurd, dangerous or embarrassing happened to me? Did she forget for a second that I’m in a wheelchair now?
Baffled, I put my phone down. It was probably a courtesy invite. She couldn’t book the trip for the two of them without at least inviting me along. But she had to know that I couldn’t possibly join them. Of course I wanted to go. I hated to miss out on wedding dress shopping just because of my injury. But was it my injury holding me back, or was it my attitude?
I was going to refuse to go on this trip—a trip I would actually really love to go on—because I lacked the confidence to venture out independently, without my safety net. And although I wouldn’t be alone—I would actually be with people I trust—I wouldn’t be with Ian. He knows this injury as well as I do and his wheelchair knowledge far surpasses mine. He has seen every intimate detail of my paralysis which saves me explanations and apologies for any situation that might arise. The thought of being far from him was scary. However, I could probably do it.
12 hours after receiving my mother-in-law’s text message, I responded.
I would do it for the day. Not sure I have it in me for overnight…
I wrote the text and then stared at it for an obscenely long time before hitting send. I still wasn’t convinced I was prepared to travel on my own. But whether or not I was ready—or it was a courtesy invite—I was going.
Just over one month later, we boarded a plane to Calgary. We left at 9:45AM and returned home at 11:45PM that same day. Two airports, two flights, an unknown city, unfamiliar bathrooms, staircases, new transfers and nobody who knew exactly what I needed—except for me. And what I took out of that—what I hadn’t been willing to see before—was that I could trust myself. Having Ian around gives me confidence because he knows what I need and is there to bail me out of mishaps. But I am capable. I can trust myself and my own knowledge of this injury and the needs associated with it.
I also learned that I need to advocate for myself and be explicit in my directions so that the people who are willing to help me can actually be helpful. Because while I may not have internal control of my body, it is still my body and I am still in charge of it. I still decide when someone touches me or my wheelchair—the extension of my body—and I shouldn’t feel embarrassed or apologetic for making my needs, safety or preferences direct and clear. Nobody should. I’m the only person in any given situation who knows where I need my chair to be for a transfer or how to instruct others to help me up a flight of stairs. I’m the only one who knows when I need help and when I do not. Being frank and honest is difficult for me (especially with strangers) so this is definitely something I need to work on.
In the end, the trip went as well as I could have hoped. I didn’t fall out of my chair or pop a tire (which is especially great considering I still don’t know how to change one. But that’s what passing cyclists or Youtube is for, right?). There was a sense of accomplishment, a little self-discovery and some room for improvement. But the most important thing to come out of our trip? She found a dress!