"Help!"

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on December 09, 2019 # Mobility, Home Modification, Relationships

By guest writer Kristin Beale

When I was in my accident in late 2005, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My mother’s cousin is a quadriplegic and I had visited him a few times when I was a kid, but other than knowing he needed help preparing meals and driving to appointments in a large van, I hadn’t given paralysis one more minute of thought. I also knew he doesn’t have hand dexterity, but I’m not confident I knew what that entailed. In my defense, I was young.

Call that foreshadowing.

When I was in a Jet Ski accident that left me paralyzed, I was also young; myself and my friends had just finished our first year of high school. The completion of our freshman year meant that we were newly preoccupied with high school sports, high school classes, and high school boys. My accident, most understandably, flipped my world inside out; my new body and lifestyle required a complete overhaul of my focus, priorities, and hobbies.

My disability, to an extent, also required that of my family and friends close to me.

With the increasing number of wheelchair users in the world, a lot of people know someone with a disability that requires one. Just because they know of someone in a wheelchair, though, doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to interact, accommodate, or include someone in a wheelchair; there’s nothing innate about interacting with disability. We’re all figuring this out together.

I’m talking to my fellow disabled persons when I say: be patient and communicate your needs. There’s a year-long learning curve for not only us with the disability to figure out what to ask for and how, but for the people who are willing to stick around. Not everyone is going to be willing to stick around, though, so don’t take those willing for granted. And the ones who aren’t – they’re not worth your time.

I could write an entire book on those people, but let’s focus on the good stuff.

Kristin Beale and her fatherWhen I went into my freshman year of college, I was three years into my disability. The high school I was leaving was full of people who knew me before my accident, during my first days of disability, and through those first years I was still learning and figuring myself out. I was excited to go to college because it was full of new people who only knew me in one form: a disabled woman. I was excited to redefine myself outside of my disability, and for the opportunity to test myself in living independently.

I was right about a couple of things: it was a test, both logistically in not having an immediate family member around to help me with the small things, and socially in not having a cushion of friends to fall back on. For the first time since my accident, I was forced to ask for help.

I had no other option than to get over the stigma surrounding my wheelchair and needing accommodation and, as an extreme example, call Campus Security to plow the snow-covered sidewalk that was preventing me from getting to class. Now in that situation I could have not asked for help, not had a path cleared to the academic building, and had a solid excuse for my absence but, for whatever reason, I chose to fight that battle. Chalk it up to either being an excellent student with an acute desire to learn, or just being aware that I needed all the instructional academia I could get. Let’s go with the first one.

I know it’s important and sometimes necessary to ask for help, but I still don’t like it. I can’t count how many times people have, in nicer words, told me to get over myself and step aside. However ridiculous it is, I don’t like people to look at me and think I can’t do everything by myself; I dream of being autonomous and completely self-reliant. But the fact is, I’m sitting in a wheelchair and I’m short. I can’t reach a lot of things, ­­­I’m limited in my core strength, and the world isn’t even close to being accessible. I give myself those excuses over and over and they’ll always be factual, but I still want to do it all.

My near-solution to the problem of wanting to do it all is: host it all. When I moved out of my parents’ house close to four years ago, I decided I was going to host as many things as possible in my new place: parties, game nights, small groups, and any other reason I can find. In addition to my general love for having people in my space, hosting at my house means everything is accessible, all medical and other resources are available, and no accommodations need to be made for me.

In general, minimizing the amount of help needed from other people looks like: do your research. If you have a heads up that a building is historical and only has stairs to enter, for example, plan ahead to either relocate, or arrange for someone to lift you in. People usually love to help, so there’s no reason to feel like your physical condition is holding you back from doing anything.

Three of the big lessons here are to be patient, ask for things you need, and be proactive in finding what works. Disability makes life a little bit trickier but, as long as you’re okay with problem solving and making some things a team effort, you can do anything. Almost literally anything.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of a book, Greater Things, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at www.kristinbeale.com. Her comics can be found on Instagram @greater.things.comics.