Ever since I was a child, I’ve been able to go up and down the stairs in our house by myself. Whether it was by climbing up the staircase like it was a mountain (which I used to do when I was younger and was still able to walk), or by going up backwards on my bum by pulling myself up with my arms (which I started doing when I became a teenager and lost most of the mobility in my legs) – It didn’t matter what time it was in my life, I always managed to figure out a way to conquer the steep, twisting staircase that led to my room on the first floor. However, around three weeks ago, a stairlift was installed in our home. At first, I was miserable: It felt like I was losing a fight by giving up on yet another thing that I used to be able to do for myself; like I was letting go of more of my independence; and more importantly – like I was taking away more of my freedom of movement which means so much to me. Even though it took me a while to accept it, eventually I realised that it’s okay to take time to adjust to new changes, and that accepting more help doesn’t always mean that you’re failing or losing a fight:
If you know me, you know that if I can move – I do move. Not being able to walk can make you feel like all you do is sit down all day and stay still. Especially when you’re at my age – as a teenager, I just want to work off all of my energy by cycling and moving around like all of my other friends do. So, I can become ‘frustrated’ (I sort of panic and start to shake all over) if I don’t move enough in a day because it makes me feel trapped – trapped inside my low-mobility body. Feeling trapped inside your own body can be awful, so when I go on walks with my mother I take whatever opportunity I can to push my wheelchair myself or to move around downstairs on my own. Therefore, when the stairlift was installed, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of losing one of the main pieces of exercise that I do at home – going up and down the stairs.
We decided to get the stairlift because I was starting to experience wrist pain from constantly relying on them throughout the day: I use them to pull myself up on chairs and beds, to shuffle across the floor, and to pull myself up the stairs. The stress on my wrists from doing the latter was getting to be a little too much, not to mention the fact that I also had painful pressure sores on my bottom, and constantly banging them on the stairs as I went down them was only making my sores worse. My mother and I had talked about getting a stairlift for a while but I thought that it was going to be one of those things that we talked about but never really did. Imagine my surprise when, at the start of April, she said that she’d already paid for it and that it was going to be set up in just a few weeks’ time.
The stairlift turned out to be… not what I expected. Since our staircase has a turn in it, the stairlift isn’t actually built up against the wall. Instead, it follows a track like a rollercoaster so that it can spin around the two turns in our staircase. It was truly quite terrifying to ride it for the first time because it makes a lot of noise and shakes at certain points. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easy it would be to slip out of it and fall down the stairs. Also, I’d just spent the previous week researching rollercoaster accidents and rides that travelled on tracks without anti-roll mechanisms, resulting in catastrophic collisions. It seemed rather ill-timed that merely a week later I had my own mini ‘rollercoaster’ installed in my home, it was almost as if the universe was taunting me.
It took weeks of using it before I stopped feeling scared and we had figured out all of the issues regarding how I was supposed to get in and out of the stairlift which was rather high off the ground. Along the way, I realised something: I was a teenager, it was my birthday in a few days, and I had just had a stairlift installed in my house. What would happen when I turn twenty-five, would I have a hospital bed installed? Receiving the stairlift felt like taking a step backwards, like a loss in the constant battle I’m waging against my disease by surrendering yet another of my abilities; It felt like a failure. Also, you only ever see senior citizens using stairlifts in the media and I didn’t like the negative connotation of helplessness and decay that came with it.
But after three weeks I had to admit to myself that it was easier to go up and down the stairs using the lift – I no longer had to fear the long, hard trek upstairs after watching a late-night film on the TV in the living room. Yes, I wasn’t able to go up and down the stairs by myself anymore but, in a way, I was given a different sort of independence. Now, I could go up and down as I pleased without tiring myself out. I know that I can be stubborn when it comes to my disability: I can’t do much, so I become extremely overprotective of what I can do by insisting that I do it without any help. But I need to learn that receiving extra help here and there doesn’t make you incompetent. It’s actually a gift, because it shows that you know yourself and what you can and can’t do.
It has been an emotional few weeks and I admit that I have shed a few tears over this. As a teenager, receiving a stairlift can be a rather big pill to swallow. Ever since I lost the ability to walk by over-relying on my wheelchair, I’ve felt scared of relying too much on devices that I don’t really need to help me out. Luckily, my family always knows what’s best for me and has been with me every step of the way as I accepted this new change in my life. The stairlift may have thrown me off my axis a little, but I’m beginning to find my balance again and learn to live with it. After all, it’s only a tool. I wish that there was more disabled representation in media so that I could have seen more young people using stairlifts when I was growing up. Maybe that would have helped to make it look less big and scary when it came to how it made me feel when I used it.
I’m beginning to find out that receiving new devices to help me out with my disability is like swallowing a disgusting pill: I may detest it at first, but eventually it might start to help me and I may even grow to depend upon it. I just have to trust those around me who know what’s best for me and trust in myself to know my own needs, limits and capabilities. In general, new changes can be hard to adapt to. What new changes have you recently encountered in your life? How did you overcome them? That’s all from me, see you next Sunday!