On the bright side
Reading time: 9 minutes
When you first get injured, there’s no doubt that you’re flooded with a white water rush of those negative thoughts. We’re almost wired to think about the bad things in life, if not from our primitive roots, it’s definitely been inhibited through our comparisons on social media and a generally gloomy world, maybe not totally but more than the peace, love, no war 70’s. If you’re really into psychology, there are some very persuasive explanations for why we’re more gloomy than before.
While the grey skies clouding our sun, adding a truly life altering injury doesn’t exactly bring out Mr. Blue Sky. Or does it?
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you use your injury to your advantage or let it use you.
Because I’m feeling good, I thought I would inform you or remind you that being in a wheelchair can actually be a quantum leap to heights that would otherwise take a lifetime. In short, this is a non-exhaustive list of the benefits of being in a wheelchair. So, if you’re new to the game and you’re not sure what to expect other than negatives, here are the positives that outweigh it all.
In a list + experience format, here is a short list of the grand benefits that answered the door when my caffeinated mind knocked and asked, “what are the benefits that make being in a wheelchair so nice that I almost want to stay. Almost.” (and that I wish I could tell everyone who’s in rehab).
- Parking – starting out with just something that has always bugged me. It truly drove me bonkers when I had to spend 10 minutes winding through a parking lot, just to get stuck by a car ahead of me waiting for a spot and then eventually find a spot in the back.
I’ve had some problems with parking even with my handicap pass, but 95% of the time, I can pull into the parking lot, go right to the front and get my executive slot. We’re spoiled, but we deserve it.
- Skip lines – every now and again, we’ll be able to skip a line. Typically, this doesn’t apply at Starbucks, but in airports – where the worst lines in the world exist – it’s absolutely unparalleled. After traveling almost too much, I have plenty of stories, but I’ll spare you. All I’ll say is that I’ve saved hours of waiting time, and this perk is very enviable when you’re flying international and another added benefit is your entourage gets to tag along and reap the benefits.
I’ve actually been invited to events just so that the group I went with would get to share my benefits with me and sometimes I’ll also be the one to drive the group.
- Extra care – people will heed you, unless you’re among a sea of wheelchairs, you’ll most likely stick out like a Goldfinger. When I went to EAA Oshkosh, you would not believe the presidential treatment I got, the parking especially. I got so close to the ground that it was almost unfair.
When I was waiting for the theater to open so I could buy tickets for Phantom of the Opera, the security guard and I made respectful eye contact and he opened the door in front of me first. This was a student rush, where any college students get to grab the misfit, loner seats at a bargain and everyone waits outside the doors in the cold just to rush in and try to get the best low hanging fruit, they open one door at a time. People will also, in general, be most attentive and caring for how they could best help you, be it at a restaurant or the gym.
- Moral high ground – this one is an ace up our well fitted sleeves. Only to be employed where it’s appropriate because with great power… We always have this card. The ability to shame someone and take the high road. Usually this is when there’s an ever so slight inconvenience or a major one, if something isn’t working you can almost always win an argument or get something. Of course, this is something that can make you look like an unwiped asshole if you’re not careful.
An example of a time I could’ve made a scene was when I went to a restaurant with my extended family and they sat us at a high table. I simply just ate on my lap or from the table, but it was at chin level. The owner came up and apologized too many times because this of course is normally unacceptable, however it was thanksgiving and they were quite crowded, though I’m not sure they even made much of an effort to find us a new table. In summary, being in a wheelchair gives us the option to take the moral high ground twice as much as the average dude, maybe three times as much.
- People are nicer – some people will be rude, but a lot more people are nice. It can make the difference when someone decides to have a nice chat with you. People are more receptive as well, at least in my experience. So, the world seems to smile at you a little more. Just a few days ago (at the time of writing), I was going for a walk along a beach side path, from a pier looking over me and into the Indian ocean, there was this child, a girl about toddler age, or whatever age that kids made comprehensible sentences and she screamed out in excitement, “LOOK a man IN A wheelchair!” It was pure excitement, as if I were Brad Pitt. She said that same sentence many more times, boasting to those around her as if she were Indy and discovered something so mystical, it belongs in a museum. I waved and couldn’t help to laugh a bit at her amazement that she saw a man in a wheelchair, she didn’t even wave back, she just kept telling everyone to look. It was nice.
- Able to inspire much easier – anyone can be inspiring if they do something inspirational. How about going to college? Everyone does that, so not really. How about a college with extreme snow and a reputation for being especially difficult? Still, there are lots of students at that college. So how would that person inspire others? Even getting a 4.0 and doing a sport isn’t unheard of, it’s definitely inspiring, but not all that rare anymore.
Being in a wheelchair adds the extra edge to make you an inspiration with almost anything you do, so long as you’re challenging yourself. I was a pretty average college guy. I stood out a little bit and caught the attention of the people that were around me for a while, but I wasn’t entirely prominent. Now, being in a wheelchair, I have the same extreme ambitions, plus some, and I’m suddenly inspirational. I don’t deny it, but for me, I’m just picking up where I left off, and adding some things. But I’m still going for the same things I was initially after. So, if you have the ability to make the world better and inspire someone else to do something great, then you have to. It’s the law. If I can prove to be an inspiration to others when I’m getting into my car during the snow, something that wouldn’t be inspiring if I were walking, then you can definitely inspire others – it’s a great feeling.
- Become a unicorn – like I mentioned above, you have the rare opportunity to become a unicorn. Like a black, female astronaut in the 1920’s (I know astronauts weren’t a thing, which makes it all the more impressive). Whatever you do, being in a wheelchair adds the horn to the horse and thus I knight you as a unicorn. Everyone wants to be different. We’re all the same at least in that we all think we’re different, but now we have a true testimonial to our belief.
- Scholarships – if you’re in college or will be going to college at some point, you are now able to get scholarships that are wheelchair or handicap specific, which can be a great advantage. I’ve applied to many scholarships and programs that require the applicators to be in a wheelchair, it shrinks the competition, albeit the competition becomes all unicorns.
- Uniqueness/pattern interrupt – when I showed up to a formal even, with all the attendees wearing dresses or suits and ties, I wore a button up shirt and my sexy jean jacket. Show up different, be a pattern interrupt. I always imagined myself, as we all do, as the center of a film. For me, whenever I walk into any building, or go anywhere, I see myself as James Bond. In reality, like the Churchill quote, no one was thinking about me at all, they were absorbed in their own self featuring silver screen. Now, no matter what you wear or do, you’re interrupting the pattern just enough that you become, at the least, a supporting character in everyone’s first person plot. It gives you that seasoning, the sugar and spice, the dish at the potluck that was cleaned out first. Some people don’t like attention, but they all want to be special and remembered.
- You have a story – a story people want to hear. A peel from the same banana above, when you go somewhere, you have a little mysterious aura around you. You’re in a wheelchair and there’s definitely something that happened. I’ve been working on mastering my story telling, you don’t have to be extreme, all you actually need to do is write out the long, medium and short story of what happened to you and once you have your story sorted out (you’ll stumble over your words if you just go from memory without writing out once), you’ll be able to tell a captivated audience a story they want to hear, probably an inspiring one.
- People wanting your perspective – it depends on who you are, but more likely than not, your opinion is now held a little higher, maybe a lot depending on who you are. You have a new perspective and people are interested in that. This is more conditional that the rest of this list because you have to present yourself as (and actually be) intelligent and astute. For me, when I was working at Kimberly-Clark for an internship, a lot of people wanted to know any recommendations I had for helping them improve and be a disability forward company. I was never good at giving great advice because everything was actually really good, but I was still asked and when people seek out your opinion, you feel and are important. Not many interns were asked the same amount of perspective questions as I was, or at least not of the same nature (I was the only one in a wheelchair, a true unicorn).
- Opportunities like crazy – the best for last to end this with a big explosion. Once more for the cheap seats, this post is for anyone in a wheelchair or in any unique situation that seems like a disadvantage and I’m giving examples of how to look at the positive side of life, which makes life all the better.
So, through many opportunities given to me, which I may map out one day, I find myself at a Disability:IN conference. I find myself talking with an especially important woman, who has become a mentor of mine, the CEO of Disability:IN! Because of looking on the positive side, having my story, my ambitions (being a unicorn) and wearing a jean jacket along with many other factors that hindsight can’t even discern, my life took an imperceptible turn for the best. It brought me 10 years into the future. If I weren’t in a wheelchair and never had gotten injured, my ambitions would’ve been close to the same (a little less) and it’s very possible that I would’ve gotten to where I am now in terms of success, measured by my own goals and their progress, but it would’ve taken a lot longer than just 8 months.
Although I love to brag, I hate to be boastful. That doesn’t make sense but it sounds good.
What I mean is that none of this is me just telling you how great my life is, although it literally is, the deeper meaning behind this is that whether you, the reader, have just gotten injured and you’re in dire need for something good to look forward to, or if you (the lovely reader) are going through any obstacle in life, you can look to my experiences and notice that everything I focused on, down to the small stuff such as parking, is all positive. I don’t neglect the negatives, I deal with them sternly, but I don’t let them take over my mind. I choose to focus on what is good in life and I’m giving you the exact things you can likewise focus on (if you’re in a wheelchair).
If my past self, in rehab, could read this passage and realize that being in a wheelchair will give me an extremely favorable advantage, it would’ve helped me out immensely.
The world is grand because it’s yours for the taking.
Immediate actionable items: Write out some of the positive things that are going on in your life as a result of something that may have been an obstacle, failure, or perceivable set back.
Summary: Being in a wheelchair have insane benefits. Focusing on the positive will make everything even more positive. My list of some of the benefits I’ve had along with some examples are: Parking, Skip lines, Extra care, Moral high ground, People are nicer, Ability to inspire, Unicorn, Scholarships, Uniqueness, Story, Perspective, and Insane opportunities.
Overdeliver: When you catch yourself focusing on the negatives, write them down and next to them, write out the benefits and opportunities that can or have come from them. If you can’t think of any, look at the negative and complete the sentence “This is good because ______!”