Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I choose my chair

Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves. 

I’ve been having pain flares with the added stress of college and being half way across the country. I have grinned and borne it until I couldn’t bear any more. After I went to Emerald City Comic-con and started lusting after power scooters and envying the people who were in wheel chairs because they got to sit down, I started to consider mobility aids more seriously. It was something that had crossed my mind before, but it was never something that I took very seriously. I used my cane, even though I knew that I needed something more.

My first experience with mobility aids was using the scooters in stores. And those made me happy. I could go to the whole store with my friends. I wasn’t limited by the pain in my knees or how tired I was. I could go with them, wherever they went. Some of the scooters were slower than others and some of them made annoying noises when you tried to back them up. Some of them couldn’t corner worth anything, but it was still better than my own mostly defective legs.

Unfortunately, power scooters are very, very expensive. They cost a lot of money and it something that wouldn’t be the most portable either. It would have been my first choice, but due to the cost I tried to research other options. There isn’t much out there that explains which mobility aid works the best for fibromyalgia, or if there is, I couldn’t find it. I wanted to know about how forearm crutches might make my knees better but they could potentially cause issues with my elbows. I wanted to know if long term wheel chair use would eventually result in arm pain.

In the end, my click moment happened when I did something stupid. I stayed up too late and only got six hours of sleep before a big school field trip. To most people, six hours of sleep can be a luxury. To me, getting only six hours of sleep can be like getting sat upon by an elephant. I was using my cane like usual on most school field trips, but when we got to the museum, I saw that they had wheelchairs. I debated between my pride and my knees. I added up all of the times that I had gone without my cane and ended up paying for it. I weighed the fact that I would have to walk around for a few hours in the afternoon. In the end, I went with the wheel chair, partially just because I wanted to try it out. It startled a few of my class mates a little bit. I had at least three of them offer to push me. I turned them down, partially because I wanted to be able to look at the art exhibits on my own and partially because I really did want to see what it was like to use a wheel chair.

The one at the museum wasn’t too fantastic. It was somewhat uncomfortable and my feet stuck out too far. The ramps were super steep. It took a whole lot of effort to get up them and getting down them involved friction burns and the chair making a scary rattling noise. The amazing thing about the wheel chair though, was that when I stood up to go to the bus, my knees weren’t throbbing. I could actually walk, even though I had been in the museum for hours. I saw everything without having to stop to rest or sit down. After all, I was already sitting!

This experience led to the exploration of craigslist for a wheel chair. I managed to get lucky enough to find one new, still in the box, for a hundred dollars. I assembled it in the Costco parking lot. It took a little while, because I couldn’t find the instructions. After that, I was off and running. It was a little harder at first than I thought, but I could get around without hurting my knees. I could actually go so fast that the friend I took shopping with me had a hard time keeping up. That was incredibly liberating. I went to multiple stores, and I could. I didn’t have to get dropped off at the traffic loop in front of my building like I usually would (although wheeling back led to some entertaining adventures).

It was freedom. It was mobility without all of the extra pain. It was exercise without feeling like someone was brutally murdering my knees. My arms are sore and I feel like I have had an excellent work out, but I am tired in a good way. It is not the mind dissolving fatigue of fighting my fibromyalgia but a good fatigue of I actually got some exercise. To me, this chair is not a prison. It is my liberation. I can keep up with people, I can go out, and I can do things. It allows me to cheat in a way. I get to go out and about and have fun without worrying about the cost I will pay later in pain. I did not get forced into this chair by tragedy and it is not something to be pitied. I love my chair for what it gives me, and I chose it so that I could be whole again.