‘A wheelchair gave me physical freedom, but my third lease of life comes from buying tickets for one’
Around this time last year, I made a promise to myself. The promise was to become more comfortable in my own company and more confident in my own decisions. This might seem like a very straight-forward plan but as someone who used to second guess everything they ever did and would routinely miss events for a myriad of anxiety-inducing things, this was a massively liberating thing to do.
For a large part of my life, I felt like I could never do anything by myself. Partly for fear of looking like a loner (loners never get a good rep in films or on TV, do they?) but it was mostly to do with the fact that I was born with a walking disability and used crutches up until I was 23. With the crutches, I grew tired easily, would slip a lot and fall if it had been raining or the ground was wet and I couldn’t carry things without help. This limited me in so many ways but this type of thinking bled into my entire outlook on life.
An over-reliance on friends to go to things with
By the time I was using the wheelchair, I physically became freer but I kept on placing limitations on myself. Falling over was almost completely eliminated, I could carry things on my lap or put them in a backpack I hooked onto the back of my chair and my body was under less stress. I was no longer exhausted all the time. But even though I was physically more independent as a wheelchair user, there was a voice in my head telling me that I still couldn’t do things by myself.
I developed an over-reliance on friends to go to things and if my friends weren’t free, I would stay in and do nothing instead. I felt like I’d failed so I decided this time last year that I simply had to leap out of my rut. It started with small things like going to the cinema by myself or being happy in myself to stay in alone on a weekend night and eventually building up to going abroad alone. There’s a real danger in comparing your own social life to someone else’s. We all have different levels of tiredness and different financial circumstances so instead of doing something because everyone else was doing it or not doing something because no one else was doing it, I had to draw the line and decide what was best for me. I’m underselling this concept because this took a lot of work and just a little bit of therapy. I essentially had to rewire my brain and assess what made me happy and what made me unhappy.
My wheelchair gave me a new lease of life
The things that make me happy are new experiences and the way that I had been living, everything came with a very rigid set of terms and conditions, terms and conditions that didn’t match up with who I really was as a person. I am outgoing, I’ve a frightening capacity to exist on very little sleep and I like the adrenaline rush that comes with doing things outside of my comfort zone. I’m also an organiser so I will put in the hours to make something happen. But up until this point in my life, my experiences were restricted to what other people wanted to do. I wasn’t brave enough to just go out and do things on my own. I turned down invites to parties, nights out and weddings if I couldn’t find someone to go with. My world became a very small place to live and missing out on these things made me so deeply unhappy. I felt like I was trapped inside someone else’s life.
In my new setting as a wheelchair user, I also had a new burst of energy – a second lease of life, actually – so I couldn’t understand why people just shrugged their shoulders at new experiences rather than jumping at the chance to live. That’s what it felt like. I was living for the first time ever and I was so hungry for it all. So last year, I knew that I needed to make a change because this unhappiness was clouding everything I did. I had to break out of my routine and challenge my own way of thinking if I wanted to be happy.
In order to do this, I had to stop living online and communicating through WhatsApp groups so much. I had 24-hour access to people but didn’t have anyone to go to the cinema with. It just didn’t add up and it darkened the cloud that was hanging over me. So I cut back on Facebook and I actually left the majority of WhatsApp groups I was in. I had to become a loner to learn how to be around people. Funny that.
Third lease of life
My first port of call, metaphorically speaking, was to buy the ticket and then see if anyone wanted to join me. This way, I was the leading my own decisions and I wasn’t becoming irrationally annoyed with my friends for not sharing the exact same interests as me. Instead of waiting around, I did what I needed to do. I saw the movies I wanted to see, I caught the gigs I needed to be at and perhaps the scariest thing I did was that I went to parties and weddings alone. I took a deep breath and just dived in. In doing this and not turning down almost every invite they sent my way, I strengthened my relationships with people that were once just acquaintances and they became full on friends. My social life was becoming fuller and brighter.
My second port of call was to meet new people. I took a brave chance and reached out to people I admired and met them for coffee, breakfast, gigs and films. I became friends with them. I even wrote a little guide for making new friends as an adult last year. It’s not as scary as you’d think…
I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a loner anymore but I’m definitely independent in my decisions and more comfortable with my own company and that’s all I ever wanted. In some ways, I’m on my third lease of life and because buying that metaphorical ticket alone worked so well for me in 2018, I’m carrying it over to 2019. I’m buying a ticket for one and the rest will then follow.