Navigating College From A Wheelchair
It's hard to believe that summer is almost over, and I have not taken the time to share about a new transition in my life. I have an electric wheelchair! It's been around five months since I started using it on my college campus and going to places like the beach.
You might be thinking, why did I start using an electric wheelchair? As I have shared before, my pain and fatigue levels are getting worse. This is not a surprise because my CMT has continued to progress since my last year of high school.
During the spring semester, I struggled to attend classes. Carrying a bag hurt my shoulders and back. I tried leaving my textbooks in the car and then only taking what I needed. Then I increased the amount of walking and felt severely fatigued. This made it hard to get homework in the evenings.
With the support and help from my mom and others, I transitioned into using a wheelchair twice a week for the second half of the semester. There were many qualities that I liked about this chair. It's small and easy to maneuver around. This wheelchair folds nicely in the trunk of my car. I have a cup holder that works well for my water bottle. Best of all, I drive it with a joystick that does not cause hand pain. And I can adjust the speed and make it to class on time.
In addition, there have been some life lessons. With the transition to using a wheelchair, I had to be okay with not being able to lift it out of the car. On-campus, I started calling campus safety, and they were more than willing to unfold it and then later put it back in my car. Also, my close friends never minded giving me a hand with my wheelchair or bringing me a textbook or sweater.
Even though my wheelchair has provided more independence and accessibility on campus, that doesn't mean I'm fine emotionally. I struggled the past few years with feeling self-conscious because I look different. I wear leg braces that are sometimes visible. Once I started using a wheelchair, I had to work through the struggles of my disability being visible to everyone on campus. Some people in my classes avoided me or stopped talking to me. This made me feel worse about myself. Then as I began having conversations with family and close friends, I learned that maybe they didn't know what to say. Maybe they felt uncomfortable.
After all, I went from walking to classes like everyone else. Unless someone looked closely, there weren't any visible signs of my disability. In a way, I blended in. That is until I came rolling in most of my classes with a wheelchair.
But, after talking with a professor and spending time in prayer, I started sharing openly with others about my wheelchair. I stood at the front of one of my classes and explained that not all disabilities look the same. In my case, most of my symptoms and signs of the physical challenges are invisible. And sometimes, I need a little extra help to make it to class. My hope through sharing were that classmates and new friends would understand I'm still capable of doing so much even though I struggle with a chronic illness.
The rest of my semester did change. I started approaching those in my classes and noticed that there was someone who always volunteered to open a door or move a chair for me. There were changes with others around me, but also my heart changed. I started showing more compassion and empathy to those struggling in other ways. This led to more conversations and bonding with those around me on my campus.
With that in mind, I wanted to end by sharing some blessings of my wheelchair.
I have the energy to go to other events and get homework done.
I can drive myself around with my wheelchair and still carry on a conversation.
I can sit in the shade or sun without feeling exhausted from walking.
I can share about my CMT.
I can take pictures of flowers, sunsets, and anything else beautiful.
To sum it all up,