An unexpected statement perhaps, considering the way disability is often portrayed in the media, particularly when someone ends up in a wheelchair. It is seen as the end of a life, a digression into a life of misery and pain. For me, it was anything but. Let me tell you why.
I've been disabled all of my life. As a child I had hip dysplasia and trouble walking. I also had severe malformation of the jaw, which precipitated my nickname of 'Frankenstein'. I was mocked for my funny shoes, my funny face, but for so long I just thought I was different, defective somehow.
I continued to have issues with my body into my 20's. Though multiple surgeries has fixed my teeth and face, I was still in excruciating pain, day in day out. I tried to build my strength by spending 2 hours a day at the gym, 1 gymming and 1 swimming. I was built and I was as fit as I could be. I decided to train for a marathon, and this is where I met a crossroads.
It turns out I have EDS, a connective tissue disorder. Without going into all the minutia, is means the stuff holding my joints together (the connective tissue) is defective and too stretchy. It can become like an overstretched spring and not be able to spring back. This is what I found out while training, after I blew out both of my knees.
Fast forward to 5 years ago. I was 29 and virtually housebound. The pain and mobility issues that result from my condition mean that I can only walk a few steps with crutches, which still aren't ideal as they put pressure on my shoulder and elbow joints, plus my wrists and hands. Life stopped, unless I was going somewhere where I could drive right up to the front door.
Enter my now husband, who brought so many gifts with him. He took me on my first foreign holiday ever, where he initially pushed me in a manual wheelchair. We ended up renting an electric wheelchair, and I couldn't believe the freedom is brought me, instantly. Even in Spain, I could whizz about and buy an ice-cream, check out the souvenir shops, whizz along the prom. For the first time in years I felt free!
When I returned home, I looked into buying a powerchair straight away, and soon found one that fit my needs. It was the turning point in my life. With Jason (the husband) able to use ramps to get the chair in and out of the car (I still drive an adapted car) I could go shopping, go to a restaurant, just get out of the house and 'go for a walk'. My life opened up so much! My wheelchair gave me the independence and the confidence to do things I'd never imagined I could do, such as wheeling the catwalk in fabulous swimwear next to Katie Piper and a group of amazing girls who are now like family. I had autonomy over my life and my body and it felt amazing!
Earlier this year, that proud little wheelchair with its zebra print arms gave up on me, and I found myself once again stuck on the sofa. After 5 years of freedom, there was no way I was going to go back to being stuck in the house. After seeing friends, who were getting wheelchairs for the first time, their first taste of freedom, I knew what I had to do. These friends had raised money for their powerchairs using gofundme.com, a crowdfunding site that I found extremely accessible and easy to use. I set up my crowdfunding page, and started to share the link on social media. The donations poured in, and within 20 days I had raised £2000 for my new powerchair.
I was blown away by peoples kindness and eagerness to help. Travelling in my wheelchair now means so much more than just freedom, it represents all of the people who were happy to help me 'get back on my feet'. I eagerly posed for pictures in my new wheels, wanting to show people the fruits of their kindness - my independence!
My gofundme.com campaign is still open, as I am in need of better ramps to get the wheelchair in and out of the car, and other vital mobility equipment. If you'd like to read my story, share on social, or perhaps donate, my campaign can be found at gofundme.com/vickyspowerchair. I have also been blogging about my experiences for the past 5 years at aroundandupsidedown.co.uk, where I write about living life as a wheelchair user, and loving every minute!