The Battle of the Wheels.

A collaboration between Diary of a Disabled Person and Seeing ME in Reality.

It surprises many people that self-propelling a wheelchair takes a lot of effort and energy; after all, you are pushing the weight of both yourself and the wheelchair with smaller muscles in your arms. While this is often suitable for those who still have some upper body strength and motor control, it is not a viable option for those without such strength. This group includes CFS sufferers, a condition which affects both of us. We are left with two options; a powered wheelchair, or a manual wheelchair pushed by another person, and the experiences of those using these wheelchairs are more different than you would imagine.

Using a Powered Wheelchair: (Diary of a Disabled Person).

Powered wheelchairs are phenomenally expensive, as I found out when I bought a second-hand one for over £1,000, and are also heavy and virtually impossible to fold up when not in use, which made transporting it extremely difficult. Despite these disincentives, the powered wheelchair gave me a freedom and an independence that I had not had since first falling ill a few years before. It had been years since I had been able to leave the house on my own, as up until then I had been reliant on having someone with me to push the wheelchair. All of a sudden, I could go out when I wanted, to where I wanted. I could go to the doctors on my own, I could go and look at the items that specifically interested me in shops and ignore the rest, and I could go to school under my own steam. I finally had the independence of a normal teenager, and it both thrilled and scared me a little.

Soon enough it was time to fly the nest and go to university, something which would have been impossible without the ability to go out on my own. I couldn’t afford carers, and the assistants provided by the university were not permitted to leave campus and go to students’ homes. Even when an assistant didn’t turn up, which occurred more frequently than I would have liked, I could still get to lectures on time, albeit with a small struggle.

Now I live in a city centre apartment, surrounded by shops, cinemas, museums, galleries, pubs, cafes, restaurants, and public events. I can go out at any time without relying on my long-suffering fiancé to get me there, who has his own stuff to do anyway.

There was one other significant benefit to using a powered wheelchair that I had not anticipated. When I was being pushed by someone it was rare that people spoke to me. They would always speak to whoever was pushing the wheelchair under the assumption that I couldn’t communicate, often asking questions using “she” rather than “you”. While in the powered wheelchair, although some people still continue to ask questions about me to whoever happens to be with me, or just ignore me if I’m alone, this sort of treatment is a lot rarer. This does have the minor inconvenience that charity representatives will now stop me in the street to ask for donations, but aside from this, it’s nice to be treated as a person again, even if I am a motorised one…

Using a Manual Wheelchair: (Seeing Me In Reality).

Wheelchairs are an emotive subject for those who use them and those who don’t. I haven’t spoken much about my wheelchair story if you want to call it that. After a significant relapse of my M.E/CFS, which left me unable to leave the house for three months my options were limited. I couldn’t go out with my family and at the time we didn’t know how long this new reality would be for.

I fought against my Mum’s outlook that I needed a wheelchair because I didn’t want to get stuck. I was petrified of how people would react to me, but above all else, I didn’t want to face up to how much I had deteriorated. I was fifteen and my world had irrevocably changed.

Eventually, without my knowledge, my Mum borrowed a wheelchair from our doctor’s surgery. I had no idea how to react,  I was devastated but came to terms with it slowly. Henry as I called the wheelchair got me out of the house again.

I learnt quickly that wheelchair users need thick skins and that for as bulky as the metal we sit in, being invisible is a usual occurrence. I think that phenomenon is universal regardless of whether like me you use a manual wheelchair or electric.

I have been lucky that several times I have been offered an electric wheelchair, which is a great opportunity that I am thankful for, but at the same time, I know I would be an energy-depleted mess halfway up a tree. I need to conserve energy, which is why I have someone push me as it takes a lot of the hassle of navigating away. I also live in rural area, so transporting an electric wheelchair would be complex and add more effort to each outing. So whilst sometimes I do want to be independent and go exactly what I want, due to my health and where I live it isn’t very easy. If I were to live city central like Em, then it might be worth the investment and change.

Over the years I’ve gotten used to taking displays with me in shops or nudging people due to bad driving (not mine), you have to see the funny side of temporarily wrecking shops and apologising profusely to people who got touched by the metal I sit in. To me it’s amazing the lack of personal space and reaching over people will do to an individual in a wheelchair, but as soon as you enter their personal space they get touchy. Conversely, I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt, I relied on the person pushing me to get me around safely. If I were left momentarily, people being truly invasive would swarm me.

I have to say I do feel invisible often from my wheelchair. It is a strange feeling when you are ordering something in a café and the barista talks to the person behind you, rather than you. I learnt to just keep talking and to let any off colour comments go over my head. I would say regardless of the type of wheelchair you would face some of the same invisible or negative experiences. It is amazing how invisible you can feel when out and the flipside being how much staring many people do. I always smile at people when I catch their eye, as I believe it humanizes the person in the wheelchair. Most of the time its curiosity that makes people stare.

Wheelchairs and any other aids rarely cater for all sorts of heights and needs. I am pretty tall  (5 11″) and wheelchairs are too short for me.  Luckily I had my latest wheelchair adapted to suit my height better but that again was really complicated. It’s not exactly right either but it’s better than it was. Wheelchairs are expensive and not great for catering to different heights and different needs. I am waiting for them to put integrated cup holders into one of the arms but that might take a few years to come through. Wouldn’t that be great?

Sometimes I would love the independence to go out and about and not have to rely on someone else. It isn’t that often I feel like that which means to me I’m too ill for this to change right now. I would need to be able to drive myself around realistically to make a change in wheelchairs necessary.

I think most people who need a wheelchair at some point or another end up with an attendant wheelchair, which is the stepping-stone for them finding a good fit for them. It’s a personal choice depending on people’s unique circumstances.   Maybe in my future, I might change over to an electric wheelchair but for my life now a manual fits my life.

Wheelchairs Are Forever: A Short Story.

“Carol, I need you to file these papers for me by tonight,” Don Evans dumped a large stack of paper in the middle of his personal assistants’ desk, disrupting the paperwork she was already in the process of dealing with. Carol waited until he had marched out of her office, if the small box-room barely able to contain the desk could be called that, and slammed the door without a single pleasantry, before sighing and muttering an unpleasant comment about her boss. She glanced up at the clock, and seeing the time, resigned herself to another late night at the office.

As she set to work filing the papers, she reminisced about how different her job was to how she had imagined it would be when she started working for MI5. She had honestly believed that her work would take her across the globe, meeting new people and encountering new cultures, with the odd spell of action in between. Yet here she was, stuck in a tiny, over-heated office, filing paperwork and reporting her findings to her superiors at MI5, and guarding the various bugs installed around the office. She couldn’t decide whether this assignment was passed to her because she was a woman, or because she used a wheelchair.

The evening dragged on, and Carol watched as the offices around her slowly emptied. As always, Don Evans was one of the first to leave; Carol had never seen him stay late under any circumstances, even by just a few seconds. Lights were turned off, and chairs were pushed under desks, but Carol remained dutifully in her place, focussed on the task at hand.

By the time Carol came to the final piece of paperwork in need of filing, she was so tired and hungry that she could barely concentrate, so much so that she almost missed the importance of the letter she held in her hands. As she was placing it in a folder, she noticed the initials printed across the bottom of the last page. I.C.P. They were the initials of an as yet unknown drug lord, who MI5 had suspected Don Evans of having an involvement with, but had no evidence up to that point to confirm this.

Carol looked around, but no one was nearby, and she leant back in her chair to read the letter. It was utter gibberish. The words were not strung together in coherent sentences, and many were spelt incorrectly. Clearly this was some kind of code.

She placed the letter on her lap with some additional papers, and left her office, heading towards the scanner. The bulky machine was sat atop a desk, and from the wheelchair it was impossible to see or reach the buttons to operate it. She put the papers down on the desk, and hauled herself shakily to her feet, leaning against the desk for support. Carol scanned in all the papers she had brought from her office, and switched off the machine. As she went to sit down in her chair, she somehow managed to trip over the footplate, and ended up sprawled across the floor, while the now disordered papers fluttered to the ground beside her. She cursed loudly as she sat up, and visibly jumped when the doors to the office slammed open behind her. A security guard came running across the room to her, and for one terrible minute Carol thought that he knew she was a spy.

“Oh god love, I saw your fall on camera, are you alright?” the security guard crouched down to her level, puffing slightly as this was clearly the first exercise he had done in a while.

“I’m fine,” Carol said, trying not to sound audibly relieved, “I’m sorry I’m such a klutz.” She began to gather up the fallen papers as surreptitiously as she could, and before she could protest the guard started to do the same. She wasn’t able to reach the all-important letter in time, and the guard remarked on it’s nonsensical nature.

“What the heck are you doing with this?” he asked, perplexed.

“Sending it to my boss so he can see it immediately and inform me on how to proceed,” Carol said calmly, hoping to maintain her cover as the feeble personal assistant.

“Oh,” the guard sounded unconvinced.

“May I have some help getting back into my chair?” Carol asked. She knew full well that she could manage it herself, but was desperate to change topics.

With much huffing and puffing, the security guard lifted Carol back into her wheelchair, and handed her the messy stack of papers while asking for the thousandth time whether she needed any medical attention. After politely but firmly declining the offer, Carol returned to her office and closed the door behind her, relieved that the ordeal was over. As soon as she had downloaded all the scans onto her high security data drive and had finally completed filing all the papers away, Carol left the office.

Carol waited in the torrential rain for a disabled taxi, and when one finally arrived that could accommodate her wheelchair, she had to endure a further five minutes out in the open while the inexperienced driver figured out how to load the wheelchair into his cab. She bore the predictable comments about working late, the terrible whether, and how exactly she came to be in a wheelchair with an air of indifference, impatient to reach her destination.

Eventually, the taxi pulled up to the address she had given, and once again began the merry dance of getting the wheelchair back out of the car. Once she had paid him his fare and received her change, the taxi driver refusing to accept a tip from a disabled woman, she watched him drive around the corner before setting off for the inconspicuous building two streets away. No one was on the street to watch her enter the building, and only the bored-looking security guard saw her.

She swiftly made her way up to her real office, relishing in the rare joy of an empty lift, and set to retrieving the data from her data drive on her computer. Within ten minutes she had obtained the necessary data, and sent it as an encrypted file to her superiors. Then, as discreetly as she had arrived, she left again.

***

Carols’ alarm clock woke her up, as always, at 6 am. Tired, having had very little sleep after a late night at work, Carol wanted nothing more than to pull the duvet over her head and go back to sleep, but she knew that this was no longer an option now that she needed to see her superiors before appearing as normal as Don Evans’ assistant.

As she left her apartment, she was glad to see that the rain had stopped, although the heavy clouds seemed to suggest that more was on the way. The moment she got through the door of the secret MI5 office, she was whisked up to the director’s office, where she found all of her superiors waiting for her, perusing the evidence she had provided.

“Well Holly, I must say I’m suitably impressed,” the director said as she entered the crowded room, inwardly cursing himself for addressing an agent so casually in front of a large group of staff.

“Thank you sir,” she said calmly, wondering to herself why he would be so impressed when she had been merely doing her job. If anything, she had been expecting to be reprimanded for not provided more evidence sooner, but then she remembered that the wheelchair excused her from the standards applied to other employees.

“This evidence is being decoded as we speak, and soon we should have more intel to work with. Once we have the contents of the letter, we will be able to decide what course of action we need to take, and we will contact you. For the time being I need you to remain as Carol Holmes, to keep up appearances if nothing else. Is that understood, Ms Steadman?”

“Yes sir,” Holly replied.

“Dismissed,” the director said.

Since she could hardly turn on her heels as was customary for the director, Holly had to content herself with swiftly turning her wheelchair around on the spot, a difficult trick which had taken a lot of practice, and many mishaps, to perfect.

Half an hour later Holly entered Don Evans’ office to resume the role of Carol, and tried not to show her surprise when she saw the security guard from the night before in conversation Don. She quickly rolled through his spacious office into her own, and began the complicated business of closing the door and parking her wheelchair at her desk in the confined space she had been given. She was aware that their conversation had stopped abruptly when she entered, and could feel both pairs of eyes on her back, leaving her in little doubt about the topic of conversation. Remaining calm, careful to maintain her charade as a simple assistant, she set to working on some more paperwork from the day before. She had only settled into the task for five minutes at the very most, when her door opened and Don asked her through to his office.

Carol immediately complied with his request, placing herself on the opposing side of the desk to her boss after she had moved a chair out of the way. She was nervous, and could feel herself instinctively tensing up, but desperately tried to remain calm, in appearance at least.

“That security guard tells me you were scanning some of my papers last night, including a nonsensical letter that he suspects is encrypted. Is this true?”

Aware that there was security camera footage of her doing so, making any attempted denial futile, Carol confirmed this.

“I had not, as I recall, asked you to scan any paperwork last night.”

“No sir,” Carol practically whispered, her heart hammering against her rib cage.

“Then it won’t surprise you that when security called me last night after you had gone home to tell me of your actions, I asked them to thoroughly search your office. This morning, it has been reported to me that there was a bug in your office. Did you know that there was a bug in your office?” Don raised one eyebrow.

“No sir,” Carol replied, trying to look suitably appalled.

“So, the bug in your office has nothing to do with your suspicious actions last night?”

“No sir.”

“Then I’m sure you will be happy to explain your actions to me.”

“Yes sir,” Carol said, “I noticed the encoded letter and grew suspicious that someone was perhaps trying to harm you, kill you even, and that this letter was a warning from an unwilling accomplice. I wanted to study it further after filing it last night, so I scanned it in and sent it to my home computer. I scanned in the other things so as not to arouse undue concern.”

“Why did you not pass it on to security if you thought I may have been in danger?”

“I was shocked, sir, and a bit scared. I guess I panicked.”

“Well, Carol, it pains me to say this because not only are you an excellent assistant, you are also perfectly likeable, but I have no option other than to suspend you indefinitely. I expect your office cleared by the end of the day, and you will need to have your home computer inspected and cleansed of any the data concerned in this matter. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir,” Carol said for what felt like the fiftieth time that morning. In less than an hour, all trace of her bar the wheelchair ruts on the cheap carpet had been removed from the office. Her home computer was inspected that afternoon and when nothing was found, she simply said that she had taken it upon herself to remove the data already. The two security officers sent to her home also had a quick inspection of her apartment, conscious not to overstep the mark in terms of privacy rights, and she was grateful that MI5 had had the initiative to provide Carol with a false degree certificate to hang on the wall as confirmation of her identity.

She waited a couple of hours after they left before heading into the MI5 office, and was admitted to see the director straight away.

“Come in, take a seat,” as soon as the words had left his mouth the director realised his mistake, and was greatly relieved when Holly simply laughed.

“I know I was supposed to wait for you to get in contact but-“

“There is no need to worry, I was just about to call you in anyway because I wanted to tell you personally how impressed I have been with your performance. Finding that letter was one thing, but the way you handled this mornings’ situation without letting them access the copied letter was exemplary,” the director smiled kindly. Holly was grateful that at least the director was pleasant to work for.

“The letter has been cracked, and has confirmed our suspicions. Now that we have hard evidence of his affiliation with I.C.P. he will be arrested promptly,” the director said.

“But won’t that alert I.C.P. that we’re onto him?” Holly asked.

“Unfortunately, you being caught has done that already, but we have a few leads from the letter itself, and the bug in Evans’ office has remained undiscovered and functional. We have listened to him throughout the day, but no further leads have as yet become apparent.”

“So, what is it exactly that you now need me for?”

“For the arrest,” the director said levelly.

“The arrest?” Holly asked incredulously.

“Yes, the bit where they put handcuffs on him and throw his sorry butthole in jail,” the director grinned cheekily, “It will shake the staff in the office up to see their former colleague involved in his arrest, and may prompt other members of staff to give us any relevant information. Besides, Don Evans’ arrest is going to be huge; the press are going to be all over it. I think the public ought to see the central role played by someone with a disability in catching a criminal like Don Evans.”

Holly smiled, “I didn’t realise you took such an interest in the representation of disability in the media, sir.”

“My wife has cerebral palsy. I think she would divorce me if I wasn’t a bit of an activist every now and then.”

“Well then, count me in for Dons’ arrest,” Holly laughed, “I can’t wait to see his smug face.”

***

It was nearing the end of the working day, and rush hour traffic was beginning to accumulate when the MI5 vehicles screeched to a halt outside Evans & Co., and at least fifteen agents headed into the building. Holly had a slower, more conspicuous decent to the road via a noisy lift, and had time to observe the growing interest of the commuters around them. The pavement was already filling up with the press, who had been given an “anonymous” tip-off about the arrest, and Holly had a little difficulty weaving through the tangle of wires and camera tripods as she went to the door of the building. She waited just inside the doorway, and within a minute had the pleasure of watching Don Evans being escorted down the stairs in handcuffs. She mused that this was the only time she had ever seen him use the stairs.

Don was trying to keep his face to the floor in a futile attempt to mask his identity, but when he glimpsed “Carol” out of the corner of his eye he stopped in his tracks and looked up.

“Hello Don,” she said lightly, as if they had merely bumped into each other in a pleasant coffee shop.

“Carol?”

“Holly Steadman, MI5,” she said, extending a hand as a formal greeting before feigning an apology for wanting the shake the hand of a man in handcuffs.

“But, but-“ Don spluttered, “But you’re just a PA. A PA in a wheelchair.”

“Actually, I was an undercover MI5 agent, but thanks to you I’m sure I’ll be receiving a promotion soon,” Holly smiled brightly, “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”

With that Don was pushed out onto the street, where the press hounded him like a pack of hungry hyenas as he was loaded into a van and the doors were slammed shut behind him.

***

The next day, on the way to her new office as captain of a squad of MI5 agents, Holly picked up a newspaper. The front page had a large photo of a surprised Don Evans being pushed into a van, and behind him a woman in a wheelchair could be seen smiling brightly. For the most part the article described the evidence against Evans and how he was arrested, but Holly was intensely pleased to find that in the very last paragraph, the promotion of disabled agent Holly Steadman was mentioned as an example and inspiration for other disabled people. She decided that she would cut out and keep that article, to remind herself every time someone doubted her ability to do a task simply because she was disabled and not for a genuine reason, that she had proved the doubters wrong once before.

The Leibster Award.

The Leibster award was created in 2011 in Germany, and is given to bloggers by other bloggers online. This award focuses on small blogs, recognising their potential to grow, and acknowledging those with the kindest, welcoming, most-valued musings.

Liebster

To accept the award after being nominated, the blogger is requested to accept the award on their blog, thank the blogger who nominated them with a link to their blog included, write ten random facts about themselves, answer ten questions from the blogger who gave the nomination, nominate a few other blogs, and give these nominations ten questions to answer.

Accepting the Award.

It would be an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised to receive a nomination for the Leibster award less than a year after establishing this blog. In all honesty, I wasn’t familiar with the award prior to my nomination, but I was still over-joyed that my small corner of the internet was deemed noteworthy. Having just surpassed this blogs’ first birthday, I decided that this would be the perfect time to accept the award.

I was nominated by the author of Wheelescapades, another wheelchair user living in England. Her own blog has already been nominated for the Leibster award, which is well-deserved, and her blog can be accessed here: https://wheelescapades.com/

10 Random Facts About Me.

  1. I was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where I lived until I was 18. I moved to university in Leeds after studying Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics at A-level.
  2. I have no siblings.
  3. Throughout my life I have had five pets. Bramble, our black and white cat, had been adopted by my parents before my birth and was a constant companion until her death in 2008. Athens and Berry were my two goldfish. Syrup was my first Syrian hamster, who I owned as a teenager. Lastly we have my current pet, Tribble, also a Syrian hamster.           Hesitant.jpg
  4. I was a member of a Street Dance crew from age 8 to 10 years.
  5. When I was 11 years old I learnt to play the drums, and over the next few years I played in two bands. Unfortunately, my illness has prevented me from drumming on a regular basis, although I can still technically play.
  6. I also had singing lessons and was a member of the school choir for many years.
  7. Unsurprisingly I have always loved music. My preferred genre is rock and metal, with particular favourites including Green Day, The Killers, and Foo Fighters, but I also have a secret soft spot for Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.
  8. I have a passion for both the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. I go and see almost every new release in the cinema across the road, and own all of the good ones on DVD. I have at least 5 Star Wars t-shirts, some BB-8 earrings, and some Deadpool earrings as proof of my devotion!
  9. I also love video games. I still have my old PlayStation 2, with a plethora of Burnout games to play, and also play on the PlayStation 4. Currently I’m playing through the campaigns of Doom and Need for Speed: Payback, and plan to try Horizon Zero Dawn when I’ve finished these. You might also spot me on Fortnite Battle Royale, although I’m usually hiding in a hedge!
  10. I now live with my fiancé (and Tribble) in Leeds, West Yorkshire.Mike and me.jpg10 Questions From Wheelescapades.
    1. Q: What made you decide to start a blog? A: The disabled don’t need someone to tell them how bad being disabled can be; they know. What is needed is someone to communicate this to the able-bodied, but without being so pessimistic as to simply be passed off as whiney wimps. I came to realise that blogs doing just this were few and far between, and I decided to fill the gap. I wanted to communicate for those who were unable to, and educate those who didn’t have experiences to learn from. Diary of a Disabled Person was born.
    2. Q: What are your hobbies other than blogging? A: I adore animals, and will do just about anything that allows me to get up close and personal with them. I also love music, films, and video games, and cannot deny the joys of a good book. I do a little arts and crafts too, with what I shall call mixed results.
    3. Q: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be? A: As a nutritionist this is killing me inside, but if I really had to choose it would be cake, particularly chocolate cake.
    4. Q: When making tea would you pour the milk or water in first? A: Water, absolutely no question about it.
    5. Q: Mention 3 things for your bucket list? A: See Green Day live in concert, see a WWE show live, turn this blog into a book.
    6. Q: What would be your dream job? A: Being a professional writer full-time.
    7. Q: Where in the world would you most like to visit and why? A: I’d love to visit Holland. I know several people who have spent time in Holland, and they all rave about how beautiful Amsterdam is, how good the food is, and how polite the Dutch are.
    8. Q: Describe yourself in 3 words? A: Ambitious, funny, and stubborn.
    9. Q: What personal trait has gotten you in the most trouble? A: I have a tendency to be extremely blunt. While people know they will get an honest answer from me should they ask me anything, if I have to give a negative answer I often forget to phrase it so that it doesn’t sound like I’m trying to destroy their entire self-esteem. I have hurt people’s feelings by accident on many occasions.
    10. Q: If you could give someone one piece of advice, what would it be? This relates to my school-age self, but could apply to anyone in a similar situation; stop trying to fit in with the cool kids and the bullies, and just do your own thing. When I started to show my true colours, was honest about the music and films I liked, and admitted that I was a nerd to the core, I got a lot more respect than when I was doing everything to be just like them. 

      My Nominations.

      It’s recommended that you nominate between 5 and 10 other blogs for the Leibster award, but I have only 3 blogs that I know of with less than 200 followers who I feel deserve the award. One of them would actually be the blogger who nominated me, Wheelescapades!

      Without further ado, the other two are:

      The Disability Diaries (https://disabilitydiaries.com/) – This blogger provides insight into student life from a wheelchair user living in South Africa, and frequently tackles big issues surrounding disability head-on in a diplomatic but firm manner.

      Seeing M.E in Reality (https://seeingmeinreality.com/) – This blogger tackles the subject of life with the same condition that I suffer from, proving that we are not defined solely by our illness, but have many other aspects to our lives.

      10 Questions for my Nominees.

      1. Cats or dogs?
      2. What is your favourite time of year?
      3. What is your favourite genre of music?
      4. What is your favourite film that was adapted from a book?
      5. What was your favourite childhood toy?
      6. Tea or coffee?
      7. What is your worst habit?
      8. What is the kindest thing a stranger has ever done for you?
      9. Who are your role models?
      10. What is your biggest ambition?

      It fills me with great pride that I can finally say that Diary of a Disabled Person is an award-winning blog!

Diary of a Disabled Person: One Year On.

Tomorrow is Diary of a Disabled Person’s first birthday, and even in just one year, so much has changed.

When I first started the blog, the majority of the readers came from family, and members of an online Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) support group. It was wonderful to have the support of those around me, but I really wanted to reach out and educate people about CFS and disability who might not know much about these issues through lack of experience. For the first few months I struggled with this, until I had the idea to set up a Facebook page to support the blog, sharing whenever a new blog post was released, plus other bits and pieces picked up from around the internet in-between. Slowly, this began to attract a few more followers, and my readership started to grow.

The biggest boost to my readership came in July, when my first article for Cracked.com was published. At the very end of the article, a link to my blog and Facebook page were attached, and my readership went from approximately 30 views on the day each blog entry was released, to 5,000, with readers listed in almost 100 countries. I was flooded with messages from people all over the world, and surprisingly few of them were trolls. I was told stories of how I was helping people to come to terms with developing a disability, or inspiring others with disability to live a bit. I was also the recipient of many messages telling me that my attitude to disability was both refreshing and eye-opening; I had caught the attention of many able-bodied people, who were suddenly aware of some of the issues faced by the disabled, and actively wanted to help avoid those issues in the future. I even had correspondence from people with entirely different political views to mine saying that they liked my attitude to life, and respected me, even if they didn’t always agree with me.

After a month or so the buzz had settled down, but my regular fan base had more than doubled, and steadily increased thereafter. The release of another Cracked.com article seemed to have a similar effect. Now I have over 80 followers of my blog, almost 68,000 views in total, and more than 400 followers on my Facebook page, and have regular conversation with a few fans. It’s amazing how quickly things have developed. A little less than a month ago, I was also nominated for the Leibster award, a German award given to bloggers by other bloggers celebrating wholesome, fulfilling blogs with the potential to expand even further. I will be accepting this next week!

I now have far more confidence in my abilities as a writer, and I consider it to be one of the most important things in my life, perhaps even having the potential to work as a career. I am happy that I can express myself so coherently, and with such freedom.

With that, I want to thank all of you for taking the time out of each week to read my ramblings, to give me good feedback, and to show your support. I can only hope that Diary of a Disabled Person continues to flourish.

Wheels by Night: A Short Story.

The setting sun cast a blood red glow around the room, awakening Rusev. Slowly he pushed away his coffin lid and sat upright, watching the last of the light fade into darkness. He reached out to where he had parked his wheelchair the night before, only to find that having left the brakes off, it rolled away from his grasp. Rusev sighed, he was never at his best in an evening, and crawled inelegantly out of his coffin towards his wheelchair. Once he was seated in his chair, he wheeled across to the fridge and helped himself to leftovers from the night before. He wiped his mouth, a habit he had developed since he could no longer rely on mirrors to determine if he had smears of blood around his lips, and then pulled his cloak off the sofa. As he draped the thick fabric around his shoulders, it got caught on one of his wheels, and he had to struggle for several minutes to free it. He sighed when he saw yet another tear in the cloak that would need stitching up, but that would have to wait. He needed to restock his fridge.

Rusev exited his apartment, locking the door behind him before heading towards the lift. The gothic castles of Transylvania, appealing as they were to any vampire, were not renowned for their accessibility. The closest Rusev had been able to emulate was to live in an apartment block in the shadow of a ruined castle on a hilltop, in the centre of England. As he waited for the lift arrive he watched a bat flit past the window, intent on catching the myriad of insects that appeared just after sunset.

When the lift finally arrived, the doors scraped open to reveal that it was packed with the large family from the floor above, presumably heading home after a day at the castle. Those that acknowledged Rusev smiled apologetically, making no attempt to accommodate him, and Rusev resigned himself to another wait.

Eventually, Rusev made it out on to the street and rolled along the uneven pavements, trying to avoid both potholes and people. To make matters more difficult, he was travelling up a rather steep slope, and soon his arms burned with lactic acid. He was heading towards the castle, which had a dense cluster of trees outside of the walls surrounding the gardens, the perfect place to wait for unsuspecting passers-by, able to see anyone approaching from a great distance due to his keen night-vision. Admittedly the soft soil and partially exposed tree roots made navigating this region particularly difficult, but Rusev had practised such manoeuvres for almost seventy years.

Rusev had to wait an unusually long time before a pair of drunken teenagers stumbled into the woodlands, hoping for a little privacy. He had to prevent himself from tutting, and contented himself with thinking “kids these days”. The pair stumbled to the ground, using their coats as a mattress on this chilly evening. Rusev tried to make his move, but to his horror realised that he had been waiting so long for someone to arrive that his wheels had sunk into the ground, and he was completely stuck. The commotion as he tried to free himself was enough to alert the teenagers of his presence, who quickly pulled on their half-removed clothes, and headed in his direction carrying fallen branches to defend themselves.

“Oh deary me,” Rusev said in the most stereotypically English voice he could, “I’m afraid I’m stuck. I could do with a little assistance if you please.”

The teenagers were momentarily stunned, then dropped their branches, horrified at the thought of beating up a disabled man.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” one slurred, “I thought you were like, a pervert, or something.”

“No, no, deary me, no,” Rusev continued, “an ecologist. Not the best choice of career for a wheelchair user, admittedly.”

“So you’re doing some kind of study?” the other teen asked.

“Yes, I’m studying wildlife in managed woodlands close to urban areas at night. You’re not the first people I’ve scared doing this,” Rusev replied.

“Do you need help?”

“Ah, yes, if that isn’t too much bother.”

It took perhaps ten minutes of pushing and pulling, which was difficult to coordinate given the state of the teenagers, before Rusev was finally free.

“Thank you, ladies,” he said, spinning round and heading in the opposite direction, stopping to inspect a particularly interesting tree root along the way.

Rusev found another convenient hiding spot, where the ground was firmer so he could avoid any further embarrassments. He was becoming increasingly hungry, but he had no choice other than to wait before a late-night dog-walker appeared. This was perfect. The man was clearly tired, so would make for an easy catch, and the dog could be used to lure the man into the woods. In fact, the dog had already picked up his sent, and was tugging at the leash, eager to explore the woodland. As they approached Rusev snapped a twig, and the dog went into a frenzy, dragging its’ owner into the woods. At the right moment Rusev made his move, tripping the man up using his wheels, and then hauling him onto his lap in order to reach the jugular.

He took a deep drink, and then filled an empty bottle to put in his fridge for later, but was careful not to kill the man. Instead he made a small incision on his little finger, which was scarred from repeatedly doing just that, and wiped his own blood over the wound in the mans’ neck. He watched the bite mark heal, disappearing completely, and let the man fall to the floor unconscious. After reaching down to give the dog a quick pet, he placed a garlic clove in the mans’ hand, and rolled away. The man would wake up within ten minutes unable to remember a thing, merely feeling a little light-headed. He would have an inexplicable and intense craving for garlic, and just one small bite of the clove would rid him of vampirism.

Rusev still had another empty bottle to fill, and desired a second, fresh drink, which was when the blood was at it’s best. Now that it was late at night, his best bet would be to wait in the shadows of an old oak tree outside the local pub, which he had never seen the inside of due to the step in the doorway.

It took Rusev longer than he had anticipated to reach the shelter of the oak tree, as he had to take long detours on three separate occasions due to the lowered kerbs being blocked by badly parked cars, and a set of roadworks. Once he had made it he waited again, his dark cloak camouflaging him in the shadows, and he was grateful when his patience paid off. Three middle-aged men, all talking loudly about a recent football match, wandered out of the pub straight towards Rusev. Half way across the car park two of the men peeled off towards the bus stop, while the third one continued in the same direction. Rusev rolled back, careful to remain hidden, and pulled a cigarette from a pocket within his cloak despite the fact that he couldn’t stand the smoke.

“You got a light, mate?” Rusev said as the man walked past.

“Christ, man, you can’t go round scarin’ people like that,” the man tried to recover from the shock.

“Sorry pal, I didn’t mean to scare you that bad,” Rusev replied, “Serious, though, ‘ave you got a light?”

“Yeah, yeah, lemme gerrit out me pocket.”

As the man tugged his cigarette lighter out of the inside pocket of his well-worn jacket, Rusev noticed his two compatriots boarding a bus. He held out his hand for the lighter, intentionally fumbling and dropping it as it was passed to him.

“Ah sh-,” Rusev said.

“I got it,” the man bent down, his neck now level with Rusev’s mouth. Rusev made his move, and soon he was feeling content, with two full bottles of blood ready to go in his fridge. He healed the mans’ wound and left him a garlic clove, tucked the bottled blood inside his cloak, and set off for home.

Going back down the sloped streets was, if anything, harder than climbing up them. The wheels constantly strained beneath his hands, wanting to go faster, and it took most of his strength not to lose control. He was concentrating so hard on not speeding down the hill like an uncontrollable rollercoaster that he didn’t see the gaping pothole in the pavement. Before he had even realised what was going on, his wheels entered the pothole, and he was flung forwards. His seatbelt kept him in the chair, but couldn’t stop Rusev’s head clashing hard with his left wheel.

Shaken but not hurt, Rusev slowly sat upright. Nothing appeared to be broken, and he could see no obvious injuries. He was, however, perplexed to hear a soft hissing side on his left. Puzzled, he looked around, but could see nothing that could be the source of the noise. Shrugging it off as a strange aftereffect of the pothole, Rusev tried to move off, but found that where before his wheelchair was like an eager cheetah, now it was more akin to a sluggish elephant. He looked down to inspect the cause of the problem, and found to his dismay that his left tire had punctured when his fangs collided with it, complete with a small blood stain surrounding the hole in the rubber.

The wheelchair wasn’t impossible to move, but it took great strength to maintain even the slowest of paces. It now leaned to the left, and was inclined to head in that direction; steering it was nigh on impossible. Rusev was just grateful that he had eaten before the tire had punctured, frustrating as it was.

It took him over an hour of slow grunting and sweating along dark and empty streets before he reached his apartment building, by which time the earliest signs of the summer sun were already apparent. As he pushed through the shiny glass doors of the ugly, modern building, the sun began to appear. Hurriedly, Rusev pressed the lift button, and cursed it for being so slow. Again and again he pressed it, finding what shelter he could under his cloak. When the lift did arrive, it contained a toned man in running gear, with a large sports bag by his side. Rusev couldn’t help but think that if someone was willing to get up at a ridiculous hour to go for a run, surely they could manage the stairs, but said nothing.

The man bent to pick up his bag, looking a little curiously at the pale wheelchair user who appeared to be cowering from the sun. As he lifted his bag, one of the seam split, and a mess of clothes and sport equipment tumbled out. He smiled apologetically to Rusev, who he had concluded was simply suffering from a particularly terrible hangover, and slowly gathered his things together. Each second felt like a year to Rusev, as his skin tingled, and then burned under the fierce light of the sun. Even wrapped in his cloak he could feel his skin roasting, and knew he would have some lovely blisters for the next week or so.

Once the man had gathered all his things and exited the lift, the doors began to close, and Rusev had to stick his arm between the doors to stop them closing completely. As quickly as he could, which wasn’t at any great speed at all, he pulled into the lift, relieved to have a brief respite from the sun. There were no interruptions as he ascended to his floor, but the progress along the corridor to his flat was hampered by both the flat tire and his burning skin. His trembling hands could barely fit the key in the lock, and he struggled to pick up the newspaper from the day before left outside his door by the one neighbour he ever spoke to. He swung the door open and entered his apartment, cursing the fact that he hadn’t put up the new set of blackout curtains yet, leaving him once again exposed to sunlight.

He didn’t bother putting the brakes on the wheelchair or taking off his cloak, but instead practically fell into his coffin, hauling on the lid after him and relishing in the welcoming darkness. He was perusing the pages of his paper when he remembered that the bottles of blood were still in his pocket, and not in the fridge. Cursing vehemently with every cell in his body Rusev threw the lid off of his coffin, crawled to the fridge, and put the bottles inside, before returning to his coffin. His hands and wrists had black scorch-marks etched across them, and he had no doubt that his face would too. In one last monumental effort, he clambered inside and replaced the lid of the coffin, and was asleep before he had even picked up his newspaper.

The Disadvantage of Benefits.

Just about every day there is a story in the news about benefits, the money provided by governments to disadvantaged individuals to help make ends meet. The story is usually one of three; a huge fraudster has been caught, someone who clearly needs and deserves the help can’t access it, or benefits to one group of people are being cut yet again. Perhaps my view of these matters is biased, but more often than not, the benefits in question are related to illness or disability.

If disability fraud is irritating to the average tax-payer, then it is soul-destroying to those with genuine disabilities, because every time one of these stories hits the news, you might as well draw a huge target on our backs. The pointing fingers and groundless accusations pile up all too quickly; I can feel total strangers staring at me, and hear them making snide comments when they think I’m out of ear-shot. On a national level, the pressure to make the thousands of disabled people accountable for the crime of just one leads the government to introduce yet more cuts. As with any budget cuts, those subjected to them are put through intense stress and anxiety.

During the recent period of cuts in the UK, I spent most of my days with a tiny, niggling thought lingering at the back of my mind that I couldn’t get rid of, like an itch somewhere I couldn’t reach. What if my money got cut? Cutting my payments would mean I could no longer afford monthly payments for my wheelchair, and being able to access one through the NHS is pure myth. Even if I did manage to sit through the months of waiting for a referral to the specialist, they would give me a cheap manual chair that I couldn’t push myself, and since I don’t receive any money towards carers anyway, I would be housebound. Let’s just say my mental health took a turn for the worse, and I know that in other cases, suicide becomes a seemingly viable option.

There is a misconception that Personal Independence Payment, the disability payment scheme in the UK, is money given to disabled people to buy essentials and pay the rent. Personal Independence Payment is there to help people afford carers or equipment to give them enough independence to be able to get a job to pay the bills. I cannot afford to sit idly at home all day living off my benefits; I work, but I need my wheelchair to be able to work. Removing my benefits would simply put me out of work, costing the state even more in the long run. It hardly fills me with pride that I need what essentially boils down to sympathy money from a government I disagree with on just about everything, simply so I can have a life.

I know that many strangers see the wheelchair and immediately think “unemployed scrounger”. I could stop and tell these people the truth. I could let them that they were wrong, and that they were prejudiced and discriminatory too. I could ask them why they didn’t have better things to do than judge someone for having some time on their hands. However, this would require them to speak to me first to tell me what they thought my wheelchair represented, and these people would never speak to someone they assumed to be a fraudster. They would also, ironically, take offense to the fact that I read their expressions and assumed that they were thinking these things. It would serve no purpose.

Writing it down, on the other hand, doesn’t require someone to initiate the conversation first…