Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Last 10 Years...

Ah how I love my Monday night insomnia. Every Monday night I get into bed and every Monday I find myself lying awake in the early hours of Tuesday, which doesn't even make sense! It's not that I have a problem falling asleep, in fact it's the complete opposite. As soon as I'm lying vertically with my head on a pillow, my body begins going into 'Power Saver' mode, something that: a) Makes it more or less impossible to watch anything in bed, and b) Means that, if by some small miracle, I have a girl with me, I really do only have a finite amount of time to 'entertain' her (or at the very least trick her into staying)! So yeah, as soon as I'm in bed, it's lights out, and pretty much every night I'll more or less sleep through, with the occasional adjustment of position if my legs start getting sore or my arm goes dead. But not on a Monday night. On that special weeknight I'll go to bed around 10:30pm and can be pretty much guaranteed to wake up somewhere between 1am and 4am. Then I'll just lie there like a tortoise on its back, a multitude of different thoughts bouncing around in my head, and I'll grow more and more frustrated at my state of consciousness which in turn makes me feel more and more awake. And more often than not, this is how I'll remain until my alarm goes off at 6:30am and it's time to get up. Of course, by lunchtime that day I'll be a drained wreck, a wheelchair zombie, the rolling dead. My eyes will start feeling heavy and my body will tell me to find a nice, quiet spot to curl up in and hibernate. But it's too late by then, I'm at school and I don't think the children would appreciate discovering one of the teaching assistants (albeit a voluntary one) asleep in the cloakroom, atop a pile of their coats! And in a roundabout sort of way, that leads me onto what I had initially planned on posting about this time. Namely, what I've been doing AD (After Disability) and what made me start writing a blog...

The initial couple of years after swapping legs for wheels were definitely transition years, I needed time to process what had happened and how best to move forward with my life. And the first step, if you'll excuse the ironic choice of wordage, was to find a place of my own. I'd had to move back home after being discharged from hospital, and as much as I love my parents, they rather thoughtlessly hadn't considered, when purchasing their house some 25 years previously, that their (at that time unborn and unconceived) son may one day lose the use of his legs and thus require a downstairs bathroom, shame on them! So, after a year of daily bed baths and bed bowels (which are as unpleasant as they sound) I decided it was time to fly the nest...again, and after 6 months of form filling and house hunting, I moved into the ground floor flat, complete with wet room, that I currently still inhabit some 8 years later.

Another important push in the right direction was getting an adapted car I could drive. Losing the use of my legs definitely made it feel as though it was now going to be harder for me to get out and go places, plus the lack of strength in my arms and grip in my hands meant I was finding it tiring to push long distances. But when I got a car, it felt as though I had regained some of the freedom I thought lost. I was now able to jump, well...slide, into the driver's seat, disassemble my chair, put it next to me, and then I could essentially go anywhere I wanted which was a massive deal after having spent the best part of a year needing to rely on other people's schedules to fit me in. The hand controls certainly took a while to get used to however (for all those that don't know, it's basically a lever to the right of the steering wheel that you pull towards you to accelerate and push away from you to brake). There was a period of a good couple of weeks where I was jolting forwards when accelerating and then practically headbutting the steering wheel due to every instance of braking becoming an emergency stop! It was reminiscent of when I started to learn to drive using my legs really, not knowing how much pressure to put on the pedals and ending up lurching forwards 2 metres at a time as my mother looked to the heavens in silent prayer from the passenger seat. Motability didn't just throw a car at me and wave me on my merry way though I should probably point out. I had to do an assessment at a disability driving centre in Newcastle first, home to some of the more disorganised and patience testing people I've met since the injury. They seemed breathtakingly unprepared for a quadriplegic, firstly expecting me to just hop out of my chair and onto, what was basically, a stool, and then, once in a test car, finding they didn't have a steering grip that would fit the wheel properly, resulting in it coming loose from the wheel and losing control at regular intervals like something out of a Carry On film! They assessed me and told me I'd need a car that was part-Transformer, part-KITT, with a computer console from which I could operate lights, indicators, ignition etc, and a robot arm to grab my chair and then drag it into the boot! Oh and best of all was when they told me I'd need a harness seat-belt which would be really cool because it would, "make you feel like a racing driver"! It was so patronising I half expected them to pat me on the head and feed me a sugar cube for being good and not dribbling on the upholstery! Fortunately they can only advise you as to what adaptations you should have, so I was free to thank them for their advice, ignore it completely and get a car with a push/pull lever, a steering aid (one that fit this time), and nothing else!

During the transition period I had also begun to play wheelchair rugby. Did I mention this in my previous post? *Quickly scans* Bloody goldfish-like memory, I can see this becoming more of an issue the more I post. Anyway, my involvement in wheelchair rugby came about after a couple of members of the local club, the North East Bulls, visited me in hospital and essentially press-ganged me into playing! And it is probably the best 'forced' decision I have made post paralysis. It's a sport that is exclusively played by those with disability in all 4 limbs, be it through illness, injury or birth defect. Can we still say 'birth defect' or have the P.C. police ruled that out and changed it to something cosier like 'birth difference' or 'birth uniqueness'? Anyway, I'll doubtless talk about that more in future posts (wheelchair rugby as opposed to birth defects!), so for now let's just say that I've been playing for the North East Bulls for nearly 10 years, it keeps me fit, gives me opportunities to travel, and is something I really enjoy, even though lord knows I have no idea what I'm doing! Also, up until *checks watch* 12 hours ago, I was in charge of our Facebook page. However, one too many expletive-peppered, tongue-in-cheek swipes at various people and aspects of the game have landed me in hot water with GBWR (Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby duh!) and I fear that my trouble-making, hell-blazing period may now be over. And don't worry guys, the only C-bomb I'll be dropping here is the occasional 'cripple', this is strictly PG-13 shiz for the kidz aight *swivels cap to sideways angle*

Okay, once again I've become tangled in my own waffling and gone on way longer than I had planned, so let's hit the fast forward button! In the years following my injury I managed to finish my degree and graduate with a BA Hons in English Literature, having used extremely temperamental software to 'speak-type' a 15,000 word dissertation on Blake and Wordsworth, a harrowing process that I would not wish upon anyone! If I could offer one piece of advice to people with disabilities who are looking to return to education, it would be this: If at all possible, for the love of god, type don't speak, your sanity will thank you! The human race has done some truly amazing things throughout history, creating computer software that accurately types what you say, sadly is not one of them!

Following that, I began volunteering at a nearby primary school, firstly as a reader and then as a teaching assistant, having gone back to college and done the necessary courses, sans speak-type software this time! Fast forward to present day and you'll find me living an alarmingly busy life: I've been volunteering at the primary school for over 7 years now, I've been working as a teaching assistant at a college for the last 2 years and have this year begun to work for an awesome, disability-related company called Active Hands, who specialise in creating gripping aids for those with limited to no finger movement, and even those with no fingers at all. And I'm going to talk more about them, their products and the connection they have to this blog in my next entry, as I feel I've doubtless exhausted any poor soul still reading by this point! Apologies for not getting onto what has made me start writing a blog, but it'll all tie-in next time I promise...there's method behind the madness, and then more madness behind that!


Thursday, 9 April 2015

In The Beginning Was The Word, and The Word Was God-Dammit-I've-Broken-My-Neck!

Hello, I'm Gareth and this is my shambolic attempt at a blog all to do with my life as a disabled or 'differently abled' person! I've never actually understood people who use that expression, "I'm not disabled, I'm differently abled!" Are you? Really? Surely if you were 'differently abled' then instead of walking you'd be able to fly or teleport, something that a regular person couldn't do. (Disclaimer: If it so happens that you can do one of these things in place of walking then I will be the first person to apologise, acknowledge you as 'differently abled' and then beg to know your secret. But for the rest of us, I'm afraid we're just plain 'disabled'). And you know what, that doesn't have to be a bad thing unless you yourself decide to make it one. I'm sure it'd be wonderful if we lived in a world where every illness and affliction had a simple cure, where there were no wars, no poverty, no famine, and every time a person farted a bunny was born. But we don't live in this idyllic, methane-layered, rabbit-ridden society. We live in the real world where things aren't perfect and sometimes you're dealt a bum hand. And it's in these instances above all others that you need to remember that life is what you make it: Choose to give in to your bad situation and fall into an emotional pit that you may never climb out of, or choose not to accept that the cards you've been dealt have to mean it's game over for you and look for the positives in the situation, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem at the time. Cling to them, use them to drag yourself out of this pit of despair you've plunged yourself into and open yourself up to the world of possibilities that are still out there. Aaannnddd breathe. Seriously, how am I not touring the States as a motivational speaker?!

Anyway, I've no idea if this is how you're meant to start off one of these things but I'd been sat watching midget fetish videos deep in thought for long enough, so I figured I may as well just bite the bullet and see what came out when I started furiously bashing keys. This could (and quite possibly already has) rapidly descend into the incoherent and nonsensical ramblings of a madman, so I apologise in advance. Although, in my defence, I did suffer a rather severe blow to the head 10 years ago...

I suppose that's where I should start, the injury. I could write a novel on the events of 2005 but I'll try and stick to the basics for now, although I don't really know what constitutes as 'basics' and what doesn't so we could be here a while! At the very start of 2005 I was just your average 22-year-old: A dashingly handsome, charismatic, philanthropic, charming, and above all, modest, university student of superior intellect, a Tony Stark-esque figure if you will. *Sigh* and with that solitary Iron Man reference, the truth comes out...I was in fact, a short, socially awkward, comic book reading, film watching, game playing, closet geek, and I'm sure many people who know me would say I still am! But I was a university student, that much is true. I was studying English at the University of Stirling and was about to enter my final semester. I'd managed to somehow convince my parents to get me insured on my dad's car and had driven up from my home in Teesside to university for New Year and (after several days of fun and frolics) on the morning of January 3rd I set off back. It was a 200 mile journey and all was going swimmingly until I got within about 10 miles of home. I don't remember why exactly, but I had to suddenly swerve out of the way of the back end of a car on the motorway, causing me to go into a skid and begin sliding towards the central reservation. I remember thinking to myself, "Please don't hit it, please don't hit it, my parents are going to kill me if I hit it!" And then with a crunch, the driver side wing mirror was torn off. "Balls." The next few seconds are a bit of a blur, but at some point during my dance with the steel barrier the car flipped, going (according to witnesses) head over heels and then rolling sideways. All I know is that on the second flip, the roof came down on my head and knocked me out. Next thing I remember is waking up in what was left of the car, which had thankfully come to a halt the right way up, and having the fire brigade cut the roof off so the ambulance crew could scoop me out and pump me full of sweet, sweet morphine...*ties tourniquet round arm, starts smacking up veins*. I then spent the next 5 and a half months in the spinal unit of James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough: 2 weeks intensive care, 2 weeks high dependency, 4 and a half months rehab. I had broken my neck and severely compressed my spinal cord at a C5 level and whereas the cord wasn't completely severed, it was damaged enough to make sure I wasn't going to walk out of hospital. Hell, I could barely push!

Ever the hit with the ladies...
Some things never change!

So, in a nutshell, that's how I came to be the special little fella I am today. The injury has affected all 4 of my limbs to differing degrees. My biceps are fully functional, I have a small amount of tricep on each arm, my fingers are hit and miss but my legs are more or less dead weights, although I can move a few toes here and there, something that obviously comes in handy whenever I ever feel like ever-so-slightly wiggling them to a catchy song I hear! I also have sensation and feeling throughout my body, not like I used to by any means, but good enough to know if I'm in pain or if my shoe is coming loose or if someone is playing footsie with me under the table (usually a cat), so I'm grateful for small mercies. BC (Before Crippling) whenever I saw someone in a wheelchair, I always just assumed that their legs didn't work for one reason or another and that that was their only issue. You don't realise just how much is affected when you damage your spinal cord, losing the ability to move certain limbs is the tip of the iceberg, I can't even sweat below my neck...a silver lining that has saved me hundreds of pounds on deodorant over the years, although on the downside I no longer have an excuse to go in front of the mirror and do that homoerotic diagonal spray across the torso that they do on the adverts!

And there you have it. This has been my not-so-brief opening blog which I hope you've, at the very least, found tolerable. In the next one I plan to talk about what I've been doing since the accident and what's made me start writing a blog.

Oh and for anyone who's looked at the blog title, read this post and then done their maths, I know society considers me an *scans dictionary* 'ad-ult' (?!) and I know this is called Diary Of A Gimpy Kid, but let's face it, this is surely one of the more innocent examples of a 32-year-old man masquerading as a 'kid' on the internet!