The Inevitable Compromises of Wheelchair Life

Pretty much everyone who has been in a wheelchair for a while, especially when there is very little hope for becoming normal, has similar qualities. What I hypothesize is that these qualities are almost inevitable given the very similar situation of most people in wheelchairs and there are compromises that come with them.

The first criterion is to have been in a wheelchair long enough to have overcome the initial mental barrier to the dramatic change (assuming the person got injured in adult life), or if they’ve been in a wheelchair for a while, then the first criterion is for them to be an adult.

One common quality is “nice.” After having enough experience, anyone in a wheelchair will understand that life is very very difficult without some help. A simple example is when going to the store and needing to get something off the top shelf. If the person in a wheelchair is a total meanie to everyone around and then needs something on the top shelf, it’ll be very humbling/embarrassing to ask for help and probably not get the needed help. This goes for many things, but basically, anyone in a wheelchair HAS to be nice by default because they should know that needing help is inevitable.

This is a compromise. Not that being nice is bad but when someone MUST be nice a majority of the time, it isn’t always good.

Patience is a virtue, but at what cost is it attained? One of the greatest compromises I’ve faced is that nearly everything takes longer. Getting dressed, getting in the car, showering, doing the dishes, etc. After a while, I’ve gotten acclimated to this and can plan accordingly, but it means that the things I can do in a day are reduced, depending on what the day involves. A multi-stop driving tour where I get out each time – the extra in-out time adds up.

Another compromise is living. Whether in a house or apartment, the needs vary but are a lot more than any normal person who could walk up some stairs, squeeze through some tight areas, or even just turn around without taking up more space than a circle maybe 1-2ft diameter. Even for myself with minimum requirements, the apartment I live in is much more expensive than what I could otherwise get. It turns out to be surprisingly hard to find apartments with an elevator, or even as the bare minimum, a kitchen or bathroom that I can get around.

There are many other compromises that are made, some alleviated by having a good friend(s), others alleviated by a community of good people, but a lot are not going away and a lot of them are far from trivial. What’s the result of this? Mainly that many people in wheelchairs have similar experiences, which leads to similar life philosophies – like always being nice, believing that people are good given a chance (unsuspecting folks holding open a door), having patience, and accepting life as it is in the moment. But also some negatives such as dependency or isolation.

I guess I made a clear case – given enough people with a similar and major life situation, they will have similar qualities. But what about it? Nothing. It’s not good or bad. It’s just an observation that doesn’t change anything and you shouldn’t feel bad about these compromises that are made by people in wheelchairs. With true Stoic insight – it is what it is.

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