Greetings to all, my fine readers!
I can’t remember whether I introduced myself in the last post, so if you don’t know me, my name is Michael. Below is a picture of me from about last October, holding a ten-pound catfish.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I last wrote anything on here. The reason it has been so long is because I didn’t think I had anything to say.
Well, now, that’s changed. Why? Because now, I am at a place that I thought was unattainable a mere two years ago.
I’m currently beginning my junior year of college. And this is special, because I’m living on my own at a four-year university, managing surprisingly well and, in pretty much all respects, able to take care of myself. This may not sound like a lot, but the truth is, it is a lot. It’s a substantial indication of where my life has gone for three years and longer; it’s a blessing from God that I can do all this stuff and that He has made the body as adaptable as it is; and, in some ways, it’s still a surprise that I’m even here.
To give you a sense of that surprise, let me side track for a second and tell you about a man I know, who will remain nameless for privacy’s sake, and also about a mindset I’ve had for years. This man is the man who has put in orders for my new wheelchairs whenever I’ve gotten them; he’s been working with me as long as I can remember, and, as it turns out, he was shot and paralyzed 25+ years ago. As a result, he uses a wheelchair himself, and, for as long as I’ve known him, he’s been completely independent and has led a “normal” life.
Until I was 17 (I’m almost 21 as I write this), I was not remotely independent. I ambled around laboriously in a walker, and, when I did use my wheelchair, I let other people push the chair most of the time. When I did it, I was painfully slow. My shoulders tired quickly. I had a sense that, when it came to life, help was inevitable; if, by some miracle, I ever did manage to become as independent and as skilled with a wheelchair as the man I mentioned above, it would be something in the distant future. I’d like to emphasize this: for years, I viewed independence as something nigh-unattainable. It was something I’d achieve one day.
My 17th year came around. High school — home school — was done. What came next? College, right? I was a bright dude. I had a solid GPA. But there was no way I could handle a four-year school back then, living on a campus. So community college was the go-to option. Long story short, after a semester or two there, getting my wheelchair around each day, I slowly but surely became proficient using the wheelchair. A year in, getting myself around in a wheelchair was the least of my concerns. I was well-trained and strong enough with it that it became a non-issue.
But there was still a lot keeping me from being able to live on a campus anywhere. For one, even though I was great with my wheelchair, four-year schools are bigger than community college! Selection would be important. A huge school simply wouldn’t be doable. I’ve always appreciated being able to use a manual wheelchair and the shoulder capacity and activity level that gives you, and that, along with other reasons, has deterred me from considering a power chair. Unfortunately, a lot of the schools that appealed to me were either quite large or full of hills. Neither make for a wheelchair-friendly environment. Thankfully, I’ve found a small school without hills. Easy-peasy.
The wheelchair was the smallest problem, though. What about life? Until yesterday, I had never done a single load of laundry. Not because it’s hard; it’s easy! But our washing machine has been upstairs for the last twelve years. I’ve had no way to get to it. More importantly, I couldn’t cook any food until around March this year. If I did put food together, it would be peanut butter and jelly or something. Needless to say, I can cook almost anything on a stovetop now, which is kinda boring, but hey, if you need food, it gives you food.
And there were all kinds of odd-and-end things that had to be sorted out. At some point in the last three years, I got a debit card and a personal bank account. I applied for and have been receiving supplemental security income, which, for any stigma that may be attached to it, is hugely helpful. I don’t currently have a job, but I did have one at community college. I don’t drive, but I did pass the learners’ permit test and have driven a car with hand controls, so I know that’s physically manageable even if other things have to be sorted out.
And there will likely be things that need sorting for a while yet. But you know what? I realized as I moved into my dorm last week — sorry, they prefer that we call them “residence halls” — that the number of things I “can’t” do has only been getting smaller in recent months, and my horizon of possibilities has only been expanding. I called my mom on the phone the other day and I told her something that hit me like a ton of bricks: “For the longest time, I had viewed independence as something I might be able to achieve one day, after trying countless things and reading countless stories and watching countless experiences and how-to videos from wheelchair-users on YouTube….but now, being where I am, living on my own, I realize I am now where I’ve wanted to be for years.”
I have reached the unattainable.
Am I perfect? No. Like I said, I don’t drive. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a career choice nailed down for when I graduate. I’ll need someone to drive me to the store so I can go grocery shopping, and I’ll need that on a regular basis. But guess what. I can live on my own. I can take care of myself. I can cook my own food. Make my own appointments. Get myself around. Go to classes and earn a bachelor’s degree.
The magnitude of this realization has been so massive that now I just want to help other people who were like me, so that they can get themselves where I currently am. But hey. You’ve gotta move one day at a time. My time here so far has been adventurous enough that I may just write something every week about my particular experiences. We’ll see. I am an English major, and this will ensure that I write as often for recreation as I do for assignments.
For now, though, I’m where I didn’t think I could be. And that’s a beautiful thing.