I was born with a walking disability so when I first learnt how to walk, it was with a Zimmer frame. My mother tells me that I first went into motion by chasing ducks in Stephen’s Green. I like to think that that’s how we should all live our lives…
At the age of four, I started to use crutches and they remained as an extension to my arms for the next 20 years. I was good with the crutches – especially when it came to showing off at the long jump in school as my sticks added an extra boost as I leapt. They were also nifty for beating the Jaysus out of somebody in a testy game of Red Rover.
I attempted everything. When line-dancing was all the strange and nationwide rage in Ireland circa ’94, I was in the front row. When Wimbledon fever hit us every summer, I’d be out in my garden hitting a ball against a wall and, even though I was no Steffi Graf, I was happy to be doing what I was doing. I did all the dances at the ceilí in the Gaeltacht and I even tried to look like Britney Spears in her ‘Slave 4 U’ era at Wesley disco. Thankfully every other teenage girl at the time made that hazardous error.
All through my teen years, I was known as the girl with the crutches but I made sure that they weren’t my defining feature. I made sure I was known as the girl who was loud. I liked to sing, I liked to dance and I liked to have a damn good time. My college years were no different. Whenever someone thought that I had broken my ankle, I was pleased. If they didn’t realise that I had a walking disability, then I was fooling them and, on another level, I was fooling myself.
|Front row at a Boys Noize gig. This photo screams 2008.|
Things didn’t stay this way. When I was 23, I noticed that things became difficult. I was always told by my doctors that I would inevitably end up in a wheelchair but I was stubborn and ignored them. As time went on, my energy levels were fighting with my desire to be everywhere and do everything. I couldn’t walk at the pace I wanted to anymore and I was putting so much strain on my body that I soon became afraid to leave the house. I didn’t want people to see me struggling or working up a sweat. I was putting my life on hold.
I felt like a hindrance to everyone. I was slowing people down and I could hear whispers of my friends. “Is she ok,” they’d ask each other. “Maybe we should just stay in again tonight,” they’d say unwillingly.
I had to announce through an email to my closest friends that I was struggling and I could not keep up with life. At this stage, I couldn’t walk the length of Grafton Street without stopping two or three times for a breather.
One day, I decided to make my life and everyone else’s so much easier. I started using a wheelchair. At first, it was to cover long distances, like big music festivals, or just as a back-up plan if my legs were having a bad day and wouldn’t cooperate.
Eventually, the wheelchair became a full-time accessory and my crutches were cast aside – I now use them to open up windows that are too high for me, a trick I had learnt when I was younger/shorter and couldn’t reach a light switch.
This wasn’t an easy decision to make. Many tears were shed and I had built up a lot of anger. Anger at myself for being in this tricky situation and, because I couldn’t express how I felt, anger at others for not understanding.
As the months and years went on, I’ve managed to accomplish so much more.
My body had restricted me for so long and by admitting to my decreasing mobility, I had given my life a new freedom. My mind is at ease now and, more importantly, my body doesn’t hate me anymore.
The benefits of using my wheelchair over the struggle of crutches are huge. I don’t have to worry about slipping on wet surfaces when it rains or worry about someone accidentally kicking my crutch over. One big difference is that now I don’t sweat when getting from A to B. Crutches work every muscle in your body, carry your entire weight and burn up more energy than you have to offer. It seems minor but now that I am no longer a Sweaty Betty, my make-up remains intact and I can wear any clothes that I want to. My hair doesn’t get in my way and I can wear it in any style. I can actually put effort in my appearance – something that would have been a waste of time before – and it is so bloody liberating.
The biggest and most important thing I’ve realised since using the chair is that I, as a person, am unstoppable. I had placed boundaries before because I didn’t want people to see my at my weakest. This wheelchair has given me strength to push myself further and the only barriers are poorly constructed buildings or a pesky flight of stairs. For the first time in my life, it’s not my fault that I can’t do something – it’s the bad designs of an architect or engineer. For the first time in my life, I am excelling and I can finally focus on me instead of worrying about every little detail of every day.