These photos mark my first time out in public with something noticeably different about myself. I have been building mentally towards this moment for a long time, so I decided to make it as peaceful and creative as possible. As is so often the case with my fears, it wasn't quite as bad as I had anticipated. 'It' being the anticipation of being stared at, marked out as one of 'them' rather than one of 'us'. I feared this new realm of visible impairment - as instead of shuffling about in a somewhat weak and pallid manner, resolutely still up and about on those socially acceptable two legs, I was seated, using four wheels, you know...one of those things that 'disabled people' or 'old people' need.
My condition has led to me needing a wheelchair, and I have needed one for quite some time now. Getting one is another matter, but I am not in the mood for ranting about the inadequacies of our health system.
Given that I am without wheels but in need of them, I decided I would take action and go out there and find some. Being stuck indoors in Springtime, apart from the odd brief taxi journey locally, becomes very tedious and frustrating after a while.
I went to the Botanical Gardens. No one shrank from me in horror or bewilderment (but she's so young!), no one leapt out of the way as I experimented with the speed dial on the motorised scooter I hired out, and no one gave me a single 'funny look' - what I was dreading the most.
Given that I felt sick in the taxi all the way there just at the prospect of 'going public', at the prospect of dealing with society-at-large's reactions, it made sense to me to go somewhere tranquil, on my own, with my camera. Rather than a shopping centre. Yes, they have scooters to try out too, but I have no money. And I'd rather photograph flowers...
I actually feel so enthused at having turned a fear-laden prospect into a creative experience that I now have fanciful notions of becoming a wheelchair photographer, with more than a nod to Wheelchair Dancer.
In fact, in the middle of writing this for Blogging Against Disablism Day I've just read some of her latest thoughts. To have been thinking of her seems uncanny when I flick over to her blog and see her recall her very first post:
I didn't need to choose a new life. All I had to do was to decide to
turn towards it. All I had to do was to accept it. This meant, of course,
learning to live in and from my body and not from anyone else's
There are so many people I have encountered online who turn their experience of disablism into a positive one. No, it isn't always easy, and living with the burden of other people's prejudices (or sometimes even just the anticipation or fear of them) can be as wearing as coping with your actual day-to-day condition. As I have read many times there are crappy comments to put up with, which I have yet to encounter. And the monumental struggle with bureaucracy and health and social care systems (which I am encountering in bucket-loads at present) seems universal.
But for now I believe my camera is going to help me in the transition from legs to wheels. As I have already stated, it will be a while before I own my own wheelchair so I will content myself with going to the Botanical Gardens from time to time, where I can acclimatise to motorised mobility in peace. You certainly get closer to flowers from a seated position. Ideal for macro shots that's for sure.
And just as I was lining up this shot, a gardener was waiting, rather impatiently, to water the bed in question with a hose. I took my time, as being surrounded by so much colour and vibrancy after many weeks spent largely trapped indoors peering out at the sunshine felt like being let loose in a sweet shop. When I did finally move she was most emphatic with her fastidious hosing and I did smile to myself at her impatience. What's the hurry, I wondered, on such a sunny day? Then it occurred to me that she works there, whereas I was there to purely enjoy all her efforts.
I was utterly wiped out on returning home from a two hour excursion. But what a gentle introduction to using a chair, or scooter. If anyone raised eyebrows or tutted that I was blocking the way, I didn't even notice, as I was so absorbed in taking pictures. Perhaps it is something of a welcome barrier, having a camera. The camera separates you from the reality, thereby offering a level of protection.
Only, in that case, to truly record my first outing on wheels I should have been photographing people moving out of my way, or not moving, or raising an eyebrow when I occasionally got up and left the scooter to get closer to a particular subject, or not batting an eyelid at all. But as I said, I never even noticed, I didn't set out to notice, and I've concluded I really don't give a monkeys anyway. Well, okay, that's not strictly true. I do care, and perhaps I deliberately set out NOT to notice. Taking on board people's reactions is something I will need to confront in time. But in my own time, when I'm ready.