After 51 years of walking with crutches because of my disability, Spina Bifida, I decided to order a wheelchair. My ability to walk has not changed, which has made family, friends and colleagues curious about my decision. I’m sure they’re thinking, who’d choose to be in a wheelchair when they don’t have to be? At least that’s how I’ve always felt. I thought of a wheelchair as the “dreaded thing” I’d be stuck in when my health declined and I could no longer walk. I’d be more limited and restricted than I already am walking with crutches. So what changed for me to order a wheelchair?
Most significantly, it was a steady and persistent focus on shifting my relationship with my disability from “my body has betrayed me” to acceptance of my body as it is. This shift allowed me to open my eyes and my heart to seeing others in the Spina Bifida community in a new way. I saw those in wheelchairs going from place to place faster and further than I could walk on crutches. Their world seemed bigger and freer to me, not more limited, as I had always imagined.
With this new perspective, I purchased a wheelchair so I too can go faster and further than I can walk with crutches. What freedom! A whole new world has opened up for me. I am able to go for “strolls” on the local bike path, walk the entire Mall, travel by MBTA into Boston, and explore the main streets and back roads of cities and towns! Using my wheelchair is a joy.
Some may say it’s easy for me to feel joyful about my wheelchair because I’m able to walk with crutches. I only use my wheelchair when I choose to, not because I have to. This is true and I’m aware of how “needing” to use a wheelchair can make a big difference in how joyful it feels. Since I’ve “needed” to use crutches my whole life, I reflected on… What is my relationship with my crutches?
As with any relationship, it’s complex and has many dimensions. When I was real little, they were just another part of me — no big deal. When I was seven years old, my family moved from Medford to Winchester. Being the new kid in school is when I saw my crutches through the eyes of the other kids as something that made me different — and not in a good way. My crutches were also the reason why I couldn’t walk fast enough or far enough to keep up with everyone else.
My crutches were blamed as the reason I couldn’t play like all the other kids at recess. The reason why kids in High School didn’t ask me to go with them downtown or to the Mall. I was convinced that my crutches and disability were the source of all my problems and the reason why I was not included.
As a teen and young adult, I stubbornly used wooden crutches, even though aluminum crutches became available. In my mind, wooden crutches were used more often by people who broke their legs and only needed to use them temporarily. And I wanted people to think my crutches — and disability — were temporary, not permanent. Eventually, I did begin using aluminum crutches, which were much lighter, except they squeaked and rattled — which I hated.
My big crutch breakthrough came when I made the decision to buy a pair of “permanent” titanium custom designed crutches. They’re gray, sleek and awesome! When I bought these obviously “permanent” crutches, something shifted inside of me. I reclaimed the part of myself that needs crutches to walk because I’m disabled. My crutches became just another part of me again. I still had a long journey to go with accepting all the other aspects of living with a disability, but I was ready to admit to the world that I used permanent crutches because I had a permanent disability.
I can best describe my current relationship with my crutches as — I have great respect and appreciation for them. They enable me to leave the house and walk out into the world — literally. And if I want to go faster or further than I can walk on crutches, I now have my wheelchair.