According to research conducted by the UK government (2014), there are 11 million disabled people living in the UK. It is thought that 1.9% use a wheelchair in their daily lives (Perry, 2015). This statistic highlights the rarity of requiring the use of a wheelchair. Falling into this unique category of individuals often dictates someone's life script. Whether one is born to use a wheelchair or, if the use of one is required through a twist of fate, living life on four wheels is definitely different.
My name is Anthony and I am a wheelchair user from Harold Wood, Essex. I have a congenital condition called Arthrogryposis and this affects all four limbs. This condition is an umbrella term for a range of disabling variations. An individual can be affected in just one hand or they could be struck in the feet, hands, legs, arms, jaw and back. Fortunately, it is not a progressive condition and normally, operations and physiotherapy can improve the lives of those with Arthrogryposis.
I can honestly say that growing up as a wheelchair user, I was very happy and hardly ever thought about my disability. My mum and dad treated my three older sisters and I exactly the same. The name of my condition was barely mentioned and only cropped up during doctor appointments or logistical challenges, such as, moving to secondary school. Throughout my early education I was confident, comfortable and felt like all of the other pupils.
It was at university when things started to change.
I started to become shy, anxious in seminars and quite unsociable. In regards to educational success, I did well; I left university with a first-class honours degree in English Language Communication, Journalism and Spanish. As a child, I always dreamed of becoming a football commentator/journalist. I decided to qualify as a journalist in the hope of my dream becoming reality. However, after receiving the qualification, I soon became aware that wheelchair users and press boxes do not mix.
It was not a sudden or dramatic realisation, it gradually seeped in overtime. Failure to launch my sports journalism career meant that I spent many weeks and months at home. For someone who likes mental stimulation, this was not good for me.
Frustration with relationships, the lengthy process of receiving an adapted vehicle and the inability to land a job all culminated in me changing in persona. My disposition altered to being downbeat and withdrawn. I often burst into tears and just wanted to be on my own.
All of these life events and emotions were due to me finally acknowledging the fact that I was a wheelchair user and not like 'everyone else'. For so long I thought that everything would come to me and would fall into place like it did for others. The best way I can explain this initial awareness is by using a famous animation character. Stay with me now.
In Toy Story 1, the space ranger Buzz Lightyear suddenly realises halfway through the film that he cannot travel in space and cannot go to infinity and beyond. In fact, he is just a toy. Like Buzz, it dawned on me for the first time that I was incredibly different and unable to do many things. I like to coin it as the 'Buzz Lightyear Effect'. Although, I am doubtful that it will catch on.
I wanted to be like other young men, going to clubs and getting drunk. Before going out I really looked forward to the night ahead. Nonetheless, the alcohol repeatedly brought my inner feelings to the surface and regularly made me sad and tearful. Not much fun for the people that accompanied me. Trying to be 'normal' in a nightclub setting always felt like watching through glass and being invisible.
Looking back, I was probably very depressed and I did not want to admit it. Depression is frequently a consequence of having a disability; often due to personal abuse, loss of identity, access issues and low income (Chevarley et al., 2006). Living with a disability can cause monumental obstacles that can then result in a decline in one's mental health. It is vitally important to speak about feelings, thoughts and emotions. Perhaps if I had addressed how my disability impacted on me earlier, I may not have crashed so acutely.
Luckily, my fantastic family and friends helped drag me out of the rut that I was in. Fast-forward a few years and I am now back to the optimistic and happy person that I was in my teens. I drive a car, Live with my family and girlfriend, enjoy socialising and am a trained integrative counsellor. I am aware that not everyone can pull themselves out of turbulent and rocky times. I find it so rewarding listening to others and helping them find solutions to the concerns in their lives.
As far as I can tell, there are not many services geared towards assisting disabled people with their mental health. I want to provide an outlet for people like me who need someone to understand their predicament. Therefore, I want to offer discounted online/telephone counselling to U Can 2 Magazine's readers and to anyone who reads this article. By using the discount code, UCan2-19, you can book an online/telephone counselling session with me. This code can be used six times (six sessions).
Whether you would like to speak to a friend, a family member, or me, verbalising your mental health concerns is important. Do not suffer in silence.
Find out more by contacting Anthony, who is a counsellor for South Essex Counselling.