Over the last year I have grown increasingly independent as a wheelchair user. With my newly found independence, I have seen my freedom and confidence grow in equal measure. This is such a contrast from two or three years ago when I would need to have someone by my side at all times. I didn’t necessarily require assistance throughout; I just couldn’t be alone because I would probably worry myself into a panic attack.
Being able to go for a date or function by myself feels surreal to me especially because I have always relied on my parents to feel in that void of caregiver/support. To be independent as a wheelchair user demands that you push yourself out of your comfort zone and go as much as taking huge risks because otherwise, the anxiety about something going wrong would be crippling in a whole different way.
Last year I attended a really big concert in my hometown, and I went by myself because my friends weren’t available, and it wasn’t an event that my parents would be comfortable attending. As an avid overthinker, I often wrestle with thoughts of worry about all the ways that things can go wrong when I am out there by myself. The thing I am most worried about is having a bathroom accident. Something very common in our lives as wheelchair users.
I was at the event enjoying the music and taking in all the good vibes, trying to interact with as many people as I could when it happened. I looked down at my pants and noticed a small patch of wetness on my crouch. I have been a wheelchair user long enough to know that that was bad news; I was leaking.
One of the side effects of my injury is that I experience incontinence which basically means I can’t control my bowels or bladder, I have no brakes so if number one or two wants to come out, I can’t object or have any opinion on the matter. To counter this, some amazing people created assistive devices such as catheters and adult diapers which help us manage the situation. They help immensely because we have the freedom to go about our business without having to worry about soiling ourselves in public. But sometimes accidents happen.
So, I started leaking all over the place. To make matters worse, there was a heavy downpour outside so I couldn’t call my cab guy to take me home so that I could change. Whenever I go out, I carry an emergency bag with my essentials in case anything happens. In my bag, there’s usually a fleece blanket because I am always cold, a pair of sweatpants, a t-shirt, two diapers, two catheters and some pain medication.
I took out the blanket and covered myself to avoid attracting attention to my now drenched trousers. I was trying to stay cool because it had already happened and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it but I was still extremely uncomfortable and would have given anything for the ground to swallow me because who wants to pee themselves in public? Luckily, I spotted a really good friend of mine, told him what had happened, and he was happy to help me change in his car.
I guess that was a good lesson that even freedom has its limits and though I might want to be completely independent, that will not always be feasible. I will probably need a little assistance from time to time and I think that’s still okay.
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