It was a dismal day in late October and the drizzle had soaked me from head to foot as I traveled into town. The light was fading quickly and the temperature falling even faster. There was little doubt in my mind that the first of the winter’s frosts would develop overnight.
I turned left onto a bridge crossing a main road. People were passing across the bridge in droves, it being one of the busiest routes in and out of town for pedestrians. To one side, huddled beneath the railing, was a homeless man. His thin and worn blanket gave little protection against the cold and every possession he had was dripping with rain water.
Nearly everyone on that bridge saw the homeless man and nearly everyone carried on walking anyway. I’m sure they had their reasons. However, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t go past him and leave with a clear conscience.
I had a flapjack in my handbag which I’d been planning to eat upon returning home. I reached into my bag and handed it to him without making a fuss. It wasn’t a big deal; he had far more need of it than I did. He looked up and thanked me with such genuine compassion it took me by surprise. We exchanged a few short sentences and then I set off again, thinking nothing more of the matter.
A couple of months later I was at a Christmas event serving free mulled wine and mince pies, which was inevitably crowded. Among those in attendance were several homeless people, who the staff welcomed along with everyone else.
I was struggling to navigate through the crowd, most of whom completely ignored me if they were even aware of my presence at all. I came to a heavy door, which I struggled to hold open as I tried to pass my wheelchair through the narrow gap without hitting anyone. Clearly someone had noticed my predicament, because I felt the weight of the door taken off my wrist. I looked up to thank the person holding the door open for me, and to my surprise and genuine delight, I recognised the homeless man I had helped before. He simply said “one good turn deserves another”, and then he was swallowed up by the crowd.
A couple of years later I was sat in a bar with a good friend, when the same homeless man walked past us and nodded at me. Naturally this led to me explaining what had happened. When I’d finished speaking, my friend laughed and called me “the Good Bradfordian”, à la the biblical parable.
When I was a child attending Sunday school the parable of the Good Samaritan had always confused me. It seemed to me to support basic racism because we are repeatedly told that certain passers-by were expected to help, and that the Samaritan wasn’t simply because of where he was from. I didn’t understand why being Samaritan excluded you from the expectation to help, nor why being from elsewhere guaranteed your help.
Similarly the story also suggested that it was a good idea to help people because you would be rewarded, and the richer the rescued person was, the greater the reward. I failed to grasp why a motivation to do the right thing would be needed, instead believing doing the right thing to be the reward itself.
I expected no reward for being the one who did the right thing. Why should I? Just because I’m from a stereotypically rough city doesn’t mean I can’t help others and have no compassion for them, and neither does being disabled. I am almost certain the homeless man expected no reward for holding the door open for me, and probably failed to understand why others wouldn’t help me either. I would hope we would be in mutual agreement upon this matter; it is simply a shame he may never get to read this.
It’s a commonly held mis-belief that scientists are not creative individuals, but given that we create new techniques and products on a daily basis, I would beg to differ. As a scientist myself I turned to creativity when I fell ill, as suddenly the large chunk of my free time spent being active became an empty void of boredom and brooding. Fortunately over the past few years, crafts as relaxation and therapy have become popular, meaning I had access to a wide variety of relatively cheap materials.
Among the most popular crafts of the time were the small, multi-coloured, elastic “loom bands” that somehow managed to work themselves into every nook and cranny from children’s noses, to between the cushions on every sofa. I bought a couple of books full of patterns and models to make and even bought some beads and charms to incorporate into my designs. I spent many happy hours engrossed in the craft and I don’t suppose many people are excited to receive a huge bag of elastic bands for their 20th birthday.
Although the products of my efforts were somewhat cheap and cheerful, they got me a lot of attention when I was wearing the bracelets, particularly off admiring children. They also made great gifts when I wasn’t sure what to get someone.
For our first Valentine’s Day together, I bought Jarred the clichéd aftershave, and also made a dodgy-looking Kylo Ren and Rey out of the loom bands, characters we had both adored in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi. Jarred found them particularly charming, but one of the bands had snapped whilst in the gift bag, and Kylo was decapitated by his own light sabre. Fortunately it was easy enough to weave another band into its place, although his head is slightly askew to this day.
My personal favourite of my creations is the skeleton I produced using white bands, with silver beads for ball-and-socket joints and black beads for eyes. It was far easier to create than it looks but is still effective, and makes quite the addition to the pin-board beside my bed.
Childish as this craft may seem I enjoy it and find it relaxing, and I enjoy the looks on people’s faces when I surprise them with a little model. They might not be costly or glamorous but people appreciate the time and skill that was put into creating them. All in all it seems to me to be a good use of my time, and is a definite improvement upon being bored and broody.
You may have heard the saying “there’s more than one way to skin a rabbit” and I used to believe that this was true when it came to treating a disease. I’ve been through puberty since then, which is enough to make anyone a little cynical, although I have come to realise that the efficacy of a treatment is not always down to the treatment itself but how it is administered. At least, this is my personal experience of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Graded Exercise Therapy had failed me but surely CBT would help me to control the depression that had blossomed from that experience? Nope.
The problems started when the therapist decided I wasn’t depressed (self-harm and a suicide attempt seem pretty indicative to me, but I’m not the expert), and that the CBT would somehow cure the physical symptoms of my CFS. While the behavioural aspect of CBT, which means making lifestyle changes, is undeniably beneficial for CFS sufferers, I had already been through all that as by this point I had had the condition for over 3 years.
The problems escalated when I was informed that the CFS wasn’t nearly as bad as I had said and that I was merely seeking attention. This was news to me but I could understand why someone might perceive my condition this way. The symptoms don’t visibly manifest themselves and I was smack in the middle of puberty which is a difficult and delicate time. I decided to ignore the warning signs and continue anyway, as it appeared I hadn’t learnt my lesson from the previous physiotherapy experiences.
More problems reared their ugly heads; I can’t say I was too surprised at this point. The therapy office was extremely difficult to get to as a wheelchair user but they refused to come out to me until we agreed to meet in my school during a break time. I also wasn’t being independent enough; I couldn’t afford a powered wheelchair so relied upon an assistant-propelled one, and at the time no other option was available to me. It was even implied during one particularly bad session that my family were holding me back and refusing to let me reach my full potential. By this point I considered the therapist to be somewhere between a moron and Taylor Swift. To give that context, I don’t especially like Ms Swift. The therapy was actually making my mental health worse, not better.
Eventually the time came to review the effectiveness of the therapy, and I’ve never told such a big lie as I did then. I told them I was practically cured and no longer needed their support simply to get myself away from them. Perhaps I should have reported my concerns to the authorities, perhaps I should have spoken my mind. I don’t know. All I could think of at the time was my own self-preservation, and my need to get as far away from the CBT as I could. It became water under a bridge and I moved on.
About a year later I found a private counselling service. I was allowed to take a course that was described only as generic counselling and not CBT, but what I received matches the description of this far more closely than the actual CBT did. Given that it also targeted the depression instead of the CFS, which was what I really needed the help with, it’s not too surprising to say it worked wonders.
Unlike GET, I am not against CBTs’ use to treat CFS. What I am against is it being administered to address the CFS when help is needed for a different reason, and the case being handled with all the insensitivity of an anaesthetised slug. CBT is helpful but only when administered correctly.
If I did not fixate on the wheelchair the first time I met Mini, it was only because I am a bloke, it was a freshers week party, and she was a busty blonde. I am no saint and, though my intentions were honourable, some of my thoughts were decidedly not. Most people that find out I have a disabled girlfriend treat me like I’m some kind of hero, but I am no better or worse than any other man. Truth be told, Mini is the hero for putting up with my many faults and failings. At the other end of the spectrum people tended to assume I was only with her because I saw a disabled woman as an easy lay, and was taking advantage of her.
Truth be told, I was so nervous and awkward that it was only because of Mini’s persistence that I ever found the courage to ask her out. It was often the people who thought themselves the most virtuous that assumed the poor, helpless disabled person must have been manipulated into wanting an intimate relationship. They were so determined to keep her safe, it never occurred to them that she might be capable of making her own decisions. Do not get me wrong, there are vulnerable people out there, but Mini is not one of them. Since we got engaged, people seem less likely to question my motives, but the hero worship has only got worse.
It is hard to say how being with a disabled person has impacted my life. For one thing, Mini was already disabled when I met her. I can only imagine how hard it must be to plan a life with someone, only to have everything change in such a dramatic way. For us, the wheelchair has always been a factor, which has shaped the places we go to and the things we do. We often go for a pint in The Griffin because it is accessible, but also because I like a pub with some history behind it. Had Mini not been disabled, we might have ended up making The Three Legs our regular watering hole. Given that they are both decent pubs, which one we go to is somewhat arbitrary. There are a few things that being with Mini stops me from doing; camping and hiking come to mind. Any relationship requires compromises, and a relationship with a disabled person is no different in that regard.
There are ways my life is negatively affected, of course, and this would not be an honest account without mentioning them. When you love someone, you feel a primal drive to keep them safe from pain and suffering. It is hard to put into words just how powerless seeing Mini at her worst makes me feel. There is also the practical fact that everything requires advanced planning, which makes spontaneity impossible. When Tidal Championship Wrestling changed venue recently, we could not just turn up at the next show like everyone else. I scouted out the accessibility of the venue itself, plotted a route there that took curb drops into account and, when we got there, had to hunt down the proprietor so he could let us in the back door. Finally, there is the nagging fear that Mini might have found someone better than me were it not for her disability. I realise that is my depression getting the better of me, but the fact that she would have had more dating opportunities, were she not disabled, means it persists.
That Mini is an intelligent, witty and beautiful young woman is in no way diminished by her disability. She is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing that has ever happened to me. Any negatives impact that her disability may have upon me is more than mitigated but the positives that come from being with a woman as wonderful as she is. I love her and I look forward to spending the rest of my life with her.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is one of those strange conditions that has no real treatment protocols assigned to the disease, mainly because so little is known about it, but also because the symptoms are so variable that one treatment won’t work for everyone. Aside from various painkillers, anti-sickness medicines, and sometimes antidepressants, most treatments for CFS aren’t actual medicines. One of these other treatments is Graded Exercise Therapy (GET).
GET is a process where a low level of exercise is performed every day and the level of exercise increases at regular intervals, until the patient is able to undertake normal everyday exercise. This is particularly useful for injuries such as damaged bones, muscles, or tendons and ligaments, allowing the tissue to gradually repair itself and return to its former healthy state. However I have yet to figure out how GET helps CFS sufferers, which is now believed to be an autoimmune neurological disease of the brain and spine. All the same countless CFS sufferers are subjected to GET, myself included.
I started GET in October 2011; at this point the CFS wasn’t particularly bad. I was able to walk, albeit slowly, around most places, and if I rested regularly I was able to live a relatively normal life. The physiotherapist at the local hospital was bubbly and friendly and we had an in depth discussion about my current level of activity, and which symptoms impacted me the most. She then observed me doing a few basic exercises included step-ups and star jumps, and counted how many of each I could perform before reporting a flare up of my symptoms. I was then assigned a certain number of steps, step-ups, and star jumps to do daily, increasing each a little every week. This process ignored one vital factor though; what I could do as a one-off is not the same as what I could manage on a daily basis.
I started the exercises the following day and for the first few days it went swimmingly. The problems started when I had to increase the exercise; my legs burned with every additional step-up and the star jumps repeatedly jarred my back, which was one of my most painful symptoms. We contacted the physiotherapist; I was told to work through the pain barrier. For some strange reason I thought the professionally trained and experienced physiotherapist would know what she was doing and so I stuck to her advice. The pains got worse with each session and I needed more resting periods. The fatigue grew until it felt as though I was wading through treacle with a lead weight tied to my neck. Even the few steps I had to walk became pain-ridden and exhausting. I carried on regardless, sure that one day I would pass through the pain barrier as I had been promised.
A few months later I returned to the physiotherapist far weaker than I had been before. Apparently I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I was advised to buy my own wheelchair but not to become dependent on it, using it minimally. This was the point at which I became skeptical; I hadn’t needed a wheelchair before and now I did, but I was told that the GET wasn’t responsible. However, I was desperate for something to make me better instead of worse and since this appeared to be my only chance, I continued.
A matter of weeks later I had to stop. Just rolling out of bed was an exercise in itself, and the stairs were more like an Olympic sport than a mode of getting around. I needed the wheelchair more and more and more. Despite stopping the GET I continued to get worse for about a year; once on the downward spiral, there was nothing to stop myself from falling even further. I ended up where I am today; able to walk around a small apartment for the most part, but needing my wheelchair for everything else.
At first I blamed myself for what had happened. Maybe if I’d tried harder the outcome would have been different. Maybe I was just weak and pathetic. However, when I look back on this, I consider it to be no coincidence that everything went to pieces when I started GET. It might not be entirely responsible for the outcome, but it was the trigger. My naivety towards some medical professional’s attitudes to CFS didn’t help, nor did my inability to respond to the symptoms quickly enough, but I consider myself to be relatively free of blame. GET certainly has its place in modern medicine, but not to treat CFS, which is just too complex for so simple a treatment.
Diary of a Disabled Person now has a twitter account; follow me @WheelsofSteer.
Much like my Facebook page, I’ll be tweeting whenever a new blog post is released, when I have some news for you, or just to let you know what’s going on in my day to day life.