Here a piece I wrote a few weeks ago and like to share with you.
Yesterday I had a normal day out. Going for a swim with friends, although I didn’t know any of the three people I shared my outing with. The only ‘un-normal’ part was that I was transported in a van, which advertised my disability… perhaps more about that later?
Anyway. After meeting with Andrea Lloyd, from the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) a few weeks previous, I had my first outing under the Outreach Service Program: do something on your own, with the support of the IWA.
My first thoughts what I would like to do was swimming.
Thursday the 13th June was my day.
I was picked up by Miriam (my support for the day) and driver L., in the IWA wheelchair bus. My chair and myself were loaded on. We picked up P. and his chair along the way. He was joining us to spend time in the swimming pool.
To be honest the drive down to Youghal was tough in places as the road is not the best (bumpy potholes) and I did my best to concentrate on the moment and not feel the pain in my body, and not feel the tiredness increasing even before I got my toes in the water. I imagined being a toddler in a buggy and awaiting a bath when the got ‘home’. Little did I know.
When I saw the beach I would have been quite happy just to sit along the boardwalk if the pool proved to be to full with children. I had worried about having youngsters doing crazy jumps into the pool. But we were lucky, there was hardly anybody there.
I was driven right up to the pool in my wheelchair and ‘glided’ into the water via the few steps although there was a chair-hoist available to lower me into the water. You see, I still so much want to do things on my own, without help…
I had decided I was here for a fun day, a relaxing time other that use the time in the pool solely for exercise, my body just wasn’t up to that. Miriam, my support, was also in the water and offered to hold me to float through the pool. Independent minded… I opted for ‘floaties’ instead. A giant piece of ‘foam spaghetti’, and a board to put my head or arms on. Together with Miriam we floated back and forth through the pool, chatting away. At times meeting P. and L. for a chat.
It really felt like a normal day. Nothing to do with being ill, having a disability, no difference between the IWA staff and P. and myself. We were all equal in the water, all at the same eyelevel and all floating or swimming around.
After a good while I tried to float on my back and tried to get comfortable with the use of the ‘floaties’ but Miriam stepped in: “This is how we do this”. She put her hands under my waist and when I finally fully gave in, I rested my head on her shoulders as she suggested. She swam me through the pool like this.
This was the most amazing experience I have ever had of letting go and letting myself be cared for. Ever. Closing my eyes it felt like mediation. Incredibly powerful. The memory still brings tears to my eyes. Tears of gratitude. For once I let myself be minded, be looked after, without working hard to resist it and trying to do things for myself. I am not sure if Miriam is aware of the huge step forward she has helped me to make.
I had great difficulty getting out of the pool via the three or four steps. I went up on my bottom, and needed to be pulled up to make it to wheelchair. Next time (I’m a slow learner) I will use the chair hoist.
To warm up we spend a short while in the sauna before getting showered and dressed in the spacious wheelchair adapted wetroom. I was offered help with this but Miriam was not surprised that I did not call her for help… I‘ll learn. I promise.
I am grateful for being made aware of the outreach service from the IWA and having had a chance to experience this wonderful day out. Can’t say my body was happy (it took 5 days to recover), as I used more energy than I had, and used more muscles than was obviously necessary resulting in a lot of pain, but the overall feeling is one of joy.
The outreach service will be fully rolled out in my area later in the year. Anybody with a physical or sensory disability can avail of the service, to do something you normally don’t get a chance to do on your own. Do something normal, like anybody else. The only “un-normal” I suppose is that the van/bus that gets us to where we want to go has the huge letters of the IWA written on it. Advertising our difference. It does not diminish the quality of the service but it might put people off using it. I am glad I overcame that issue and stepped onto the bus.