Impulsiveness Takes a Holiday

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on May 11, 2021 # COVID-19, Lifestyle

I was listening to NPR the other day, and in the wake of the ebbing pandemic, at least in some parts, a group of college kids was gleefully recounting all the crazy, impulsive stuff they were going to do once they could leave their homes or dorm rooms. “We’re going to hang out and have fun!” was a general sentiment. You know, drive 500 miles to nowhere, get drunk for three days, crowd into one cheap motel room, drive back, and crash for a week. They loved, in a word, the spontaneity of their rediscovered lust for life, wrapped up in the catchphrase of the day, the “new Roaring Twenties.”

We all want to break out of this button-down life, just for the novelty and/or the Mexican food. Some of us have hated the quarantine lifestyle more than others. This leads me to my principal points:

  • COVID means restrictions. If you are disabled, you’ve already learned to live a restricted life. COVID just added another layer.
  • For many disabled people, the isolation and health consequences have been devastating. I’ve gotten off easy – I have a loving family and a sedentary job. The restrictions, believe it or not, have had benefits.

Please understand that I am in no way making light of the massive hardship and suffering brought on by the pandemic. The 469,000 deaths, the pain of losing your job, house, or mind, the emotional damage to school kids – it’s all too real. My own experience, for what’s it worth, was much different.

It’s simple. I try to exercise every day for my mental and physical health, but beyond that, moving around the world in a wheelchair has its issues. Most physical activities – driving to work, dealing with a ramp-less world, etc. -- take planning. In the end, everything to do with living with paralysis takes planning. It’s a spontaneity killer. You’re never going to get on a plane, train, or automobile and take off. Things done without the proper amount of caution and forethought could have dire consequences – you could get injured or, more likely, injure yourself.

With proper planning, of course, you can do damn near anything, but not in lockdown.

The pandemic has saved me a lot of transition time, not my favorite time filler. Because I sit here all day and write, I have only sat and written more, which is hard to call a bad thing. People, disabled or non-disabled, have felt the absence of mobility. Everyone, in their own way, adjusts to it or ends up angry or depressed. If I were a car salesman or vendor at Dodger Stadium, I’d feel differently. I have a desk job, the best kind when you are under house arrest.

At least part of the day, my urge to embrace solitude is borne out of two opposing proclivities. One is the tendency to withdraw, something many disabled people struggle with and a detriment to most. Conversely, the need to concentrate, something many of us have a tough time doing, is immeasurably enhanced. You can, of course, languish that state between depression and engagement, but if you feel the inbreed Calvinist needs to do something, that’s no fun.

The absence of socializing demands some outside contact. I don’t care what your condition, and Zoom, has been seriously helpful. Besides all the business stuff that takes much less time and effort, my wife and I were recently drawn into a social Zoom gathering, repeated every Friday at five. Like the new kids at school, we were a bit shy and self-conscious at first, since we had never met half the people on the call. But with the warm generosity of the people, we did know, friends for decades; we clicked into what turned out to be a group of smart, funny people whom we look forward to chatting with weekly. There is more than one way to make a friend.

Maybe I’m fooling myself into believing that I haven’t missed the outside world. Maybe it has been so long that I’ve forgotten how to interact with others in the flesh. It could be like the horrible awkwardness of adolescence. Getting out and rubbing elbows with humanity will undoubtedly change my mind once they sound the all-clear signal. I’ll get back to you.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.