Earlier this week my wife and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. We didn't go anything too grand, other than a trip to our favourite local restaurant, because for nearly a year now I have been unwell. During the rehearsals for my performance as part of the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony in 2012 I incurred an injury that is still not healed up over a year later. So that's what I think of every time I hear about the Paralympic legacy. What is most annoying is that this injury could have been avoided if there had been better access provision at the rehearsal space, but that ironic fact is not what this piece is about. You see when my wife and first met I was a famous TV presenter, singer in a rock band and a 24 hour party animal. There was no way that she could have known what she was signing up for when she went into a relationship with me.
Performing together on stage
Of course I was a full time wheelchair user, but at that point in my life it didn't really impact on my health or lifestyle at all. In fact I was a rather robust example of what disabled people could do if that were given the opportunities, and broke almost every stereotype of disability out there. Then one day, coming home from a meeting with a major TV company, I was involved in a major car accident. I injured my shoulder quite badly, and after treatment I carried on with my career. But during this period I noticed a dramatic increase in the amount of pain I was enduring. Pain had always been a part of my disability, thanks to some nerves that were trapped in scar tissue near my spine, but it was now becoming very difficult to cope with. I began to use stronger and stronger pain medication, and this began to impact on my professional career. However it my was personal life that took the biggest hit.
We went from an "IT" couple who were seen at all the coolest parties and clubs, to a pair of home bodies who were engaged in a battle to find out why I was in so much pain. Eventually my surgical team discovered that I had broken my back for a second time during the accident but no one had noticed as I was already a wheelchair user. Oops. I then had major spinal surgery and had to spend nearly a year on bed rest. During this time my wonderful wife looked after me like an angel, while also carving out a successful career as a computer games designer. Anyone who works in that industry will know how demanding it can be, yet she managed to juggle long hours at work with my care. As soon as I was well we married, which was the happiest day of my life.
Our wedding day.
Of course it took a few years until I was healthy enough to go back to work, but by that time my TV career had kind of ended. Most people who knew who I once was no longer worked in TV and if there is one thing harder than breaking into the TV industry, it's breaking back into the TV industry. This process was made even harder as my need to use strong pain killers had been mistaken for drug use before I had to withdraw from the media to be rebuilt like the 6 Million Dollar Man (I now have a titanium spine which is worth over £250,000 as scrap, so it should really be quarter of a million pound man) meaning the few who did remember me thought I might not be a safe bet. But slowly and steadily, with the support and assistance of my wife, I rebuilt my career focusing mainly on my writing alongside occasional TV and radio appearances.
Now why is this article called Oh, Lucky Man? Well a while ago Anne Young, a fellow writer for the online magazine Disability Now, wrote a piece called "What happens to disabled people when they get old?" which set my mind racing. It occurred to me how lucky I am that I have someone who loves me, supports me and, when I need it, cares for me. It has become clear to me that no matter what life throws at me as I get older, my wife will be there at my side. I of course I have done the same for her when she has needed it and plan to be there for her throughout our life together, so it is a two way thing. That is of course another stereotype, that all disabled people need caring for but never care for others. Possibly that's another article eh? I have always been lucky when I needed help though. When I was a child my Mother was always there for me, and when I was very ill as a teenager she got me through a period that was one of the darkest imaginable. That is lucky enough, but to then find a partner who equally cares for me is like winning the lottery every weekend.
On a recent night out
So as my wife and I battle through another bump along the road we travel together, I am struck every day by how lucky I am. So many people, disabled or not, never find what I have. This feeling of luck is something I want to apply to the rest of of my life. Am I unlucky to be unwell right now, or lucky to have been so healthy for so long? Am I unlucky to have become a wheelchair user, or lucky that my disability led to me experiencing a life I would never have known if I hadn't been so ill as a teenager? Am I unlucky to have spent so long trying to rebuild my media career, or lucky to have done all the amazing things I have done already? Anyone who knows me will say I am a bit of a glass half empty kind of guy, but I feel that this is about to change. In fact it makes me see that good things really can come out of bad times. Wow the power of positive thinking really is taking effect!