I have been meaning to set up a blog since I visited America, but never thought I’d have the linguistic creativity to manifest my thoughts onto paper, especially as I don’t read. As those six months slowly start to dissipate from memory, I know it needs to be written and recorded – for my own therapeutic sake. A lot has happened since then; American road trip, volunteering at summer camps, supporting my sister at her first Paralympic debut in Rio, moving to a new city, starting university, discovering mono-skiing, leaving wheelchair basketball, leaving university… and now here I am: about to pack for the spontaneous 10-day solo venture, followed by the varsity ski trip in Pas de la Casa.
I remember the jittery angst I felt days before university. It didn’t really hit me until I was waiting for our return flight at the Rio de Janiero airport. My summer has come to an end and although I knew I’d be a changed person, I couldn’t even begin to fathom how much it has replenished my mind, body and soul.
Prior to the trip I received a joint Children of Courage award with my sister, won Gold with Great Britain in Germany and secured a place at my first choice university. Despite the external success I felt mentally ill-equipped. The fight within me that was once praised was gone. It was an insidious, mind-numbing, hopeless odyssey that has unraveled itself since college. My creativity suffered and it caused a domino effect across all aspects of my life.
America has provided moments of solitude and clarity, which was what I needed to recover. We camped in the beating heat from San Francisco to New York within the course of 23 days across deserts, national parks and campsites. The heat forced me to dispose of the baggy T-shirts and leggings I brought with me. In the same way I stripped down my clothing, I stripped down my insecurities. Being in a wheelchair, people will underestimate until proven otherwise, which is an inevitable curse for those with incredibly low self-esteem. I was surrounded by seasoned travellers and backpackers, and with an adventure-travel tour operator that never took a wheelchair user before. But as days turned into weeks I grew more in confidence, within myself and about my chair. I realised that I have been vicariously living on empty pursuit, and in blissful ignorance of my true self – but that is for another day, another blog.
It became apparent throughout summer that to be successful with a disability meant to succeed in one obvious pursuit: the Paralympics. I had to be extraordinary to be ordinary, as being ordinary meant I was underachieving. Compared to my friends I wasn’t anything new: an adventurous spirit and a wandering soul, yet it was a foreign concept for most that a wheelchair user could be so… ordinary. I was constantly reminded that I looked good or too able-bodied for a disabled girl, or praised for pushing up a hill or being out in clubs. Entering the dating scene was interesting and I was lucky enough that my first date was charming, despite spilling my drinks and getting tipsy because I was so nervous or drunkenly saving someone’s number as “white boy on legs” in a club. But again that is another story.
It felt like I was living in an in-between world: not part of the able-bodied and neither part of the disabled, where everyone is lumped together as inspiration porn. The more I embraced my passion for sports and adventure, the more I was hailed as extraordinary. The more of a party animal I became at university, the more respect I gained. The more active I was with my legs and out of my chair, the harder it was for people to understand the disability spectrum. It reflected a perception that myself, and other wheelchair users are imprisoned in undesirable, disease-ridden bodies and crippled for a lifetime of doom and gloom… and anyone who slightly challenges that one-dimensional delusion of disability was considered a hero.
Sitting at the departure lounge at the Rio de Janeiero airport, I wondered if my new-found fulfilment would carry me through to university – it didn’t. It has taken an extended period of self-examination and contemplation to understand that we are too fickle as human beings to simply fix ourselves within a quick life readjustment. There’s a greater complexity and vastness within us that I haven’t realised until I experienced university, and to reach the authentic, creative and peaceful selves we must allow our souls to just let everything “be” – and for some of us that is a journey entirely of its own.
2016 has been a journey of change and development, of laughter and of tears, of connecting with the many souls from all walks of life and the goodbyes, of emotional and spiritual growth, of losing and finding myself, of falling down, dusting myself off and getting up again. Things that I thought were pivotal in my life have been diminished, my priorities and perceptions were challenged and the realisation that the one constant in my life, from the very beginning of my memory, has been the presence of those closest to me. I don’t know my path or where it’ll lead me, but I have a better idea of who I am and where I want to go. It’s going to be beautifully unpredictable, but the odyssey is mine. That is empowering.
Wherever life takes you – take care. Welcome to my blog.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.”
John Muir (a quote I found at Yellowstone National Park)