a woman in a wheelchair in a few different scenes including having lunch with a friend and getting marries

I’m Not Broken Because I Use a Wheelchair

I opened my email and read the headline, “Out of the Wheelchair and Onto a Bicycle: Dr. Terry Wahls' Story.”

I looked at Dan and rolled my eyes.

Not that Dr. Wahls doesn’t have an incredible story. She truly is a champion who inspires us and has a phenomenal story to share.

It was the headline that got me upset.

Regarded as damaged

With a headline like that, I, as a person with multiple sclerosis who has to use a wheelchair, am instantly regarded as someone who is damaged and must be fixed. Someone to feel sorry for or who could improve her health if she only tried a little harder.

Because certainly I can’t be happy, fulfilled and productive if I have to live my life in a wheelchair. It’s as though being able to walk is a prerequisite for having a good life.

Yes, I would love to walk. Yes, I miss the days when I could stroll through the parks. Climb a flight of stairs. Stand all by myself to get into bed or go to the bathroom.

But my aggressive disease quickly progressed, and I haven’t been able to walk in nearly 16 years. This is who I am as a person.

I’m not broken

I’m not broken.

And for as much as those of us in the MS community are eager for others to understand what we’re going through, Dan and I are hoping for the same from people living with our disease.

We often hear people with MS say to us things like, “I’m afraid I’m going to end up in a wheelchair,” and I’m sitting right there.

Maybe they’re doing what I want them to do: See me and not my wheelchair. Or, maybe their fears supersede their sensitivity to present company.

Making the most of my life as it is

Either way, I get it. I felt the same way when I was diagnosed more than 20 years ago.

But now that this is my reality, I feel I need to verbally stand up for myself and others who need to use a wheelchair.

I, like so many others, am making the most of my life as it is.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not complacent, and I haven’t given up hope that someday researchers will find a cure for this disease.

I still take a disease-modifying therapy and am dieting and exercising to keep my legs strong and body limber. But let’s be honest. Many of these self-care activities are things that people who don’t have MS also do.

I'm not putting my life on hold

Would things be easier if I didn’t have to use a wheelchair? Sure, but I’m not putting my life on hold because I need to use one.

You see what I did there? I USE a wheelchair, I’m not CONFINED to it.

My wheelchair is the key to my independence. It helps me experience life. I can do things like go to the grocery store. Gather with friends for dinner at an accessible restaurant. Meet a cute man and get married. Travel throughout the United States. Attend classes as a non-traditional graduate student and earn my master’s degree (BTW: I was non-traditional because of my age and not my disability).

Perhaps my fears 20 years ago about “ending up in a wheelchair” were rooted more in the fear of the unknown.

I hope that I’m helping to show that life doesn’t necessarily end if your disease progresses and you need to use one. In some ways, both literally and figuratively, my life didn’t really start rolling until after I started using a wheelchair.

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