It’s pretty normal for me to be indoors for days at a time. I have a chronic pain condition that means I struggle to be on my feet for too long. At least once a week, I have a day where the pain gets so bad I can’t leave the house. If I come down with a cold, I can remain housebound for about a week.

As I write this, I’m currently struggling to stay awake after spending roughly five hours outside of my house. I should really have come home after two. But one hour of that was class, and the next was me waiting for my doctor’s appointment – and then I still had to get my medication, run errands, buy presents, and then walk home with my heavy bags. 

I’ve had this condition since I was about 9, and never had any accommodations for it. Frankly, there was nothing my schools could have done. Standardized testing is notoriously inflexible, and it was worse at my college prep high school where we were all trapped in a forced march on deadlines. Since I could take the bus, or get driven to school, and then spent the entire day sitting, the fatigue that set in was surely nothing more than typical high school stress.

When I started university last year, my chronic pain grew unbearable, and with nothing to hide how badly I was doing, I sank under it. I spent most of autumn and spring term stuck in bed, and I was lucky to attend one class a week.

So, here I am. I’d essentially accepted being stuck at home aside from making arduous treks to Sainsbury’s or campus, until my boyfriend pointed out the intensely obvious.

I’d been watching one of Jessica Kollgren-Fozard’s videos on her disability, and explaining that she uses a wheelchair to get around when…

“Why don’t you get one?”

“A what?”

“A wheelchair.”

Honestly, I’d never even considered the possibility of a chair. Me? Pssh. I’m not that disabled! I swear!

This kind of blatant denial could only last so long. I got the damn chair.

The process itself was surprisingly painless, but what really scared me was how I’d be treated now I was visibly disabled. I follow enough wheelchair users online to know that being on wheels is seen as license by many to be invasive, rude, and pushy.

I decided to practice riding and being pushed around in the chair at home a couple days before the real test – a short trip to London.

I was so unbelievably scared. I felt uncomfortable, and as if everybody was staring at me. What was worst was having people who knew me look completely horrified when they saw me in a chair. I get it – seeing somebody that you’ve assumed is healthy in a wheelchair can take you aback, but what I really wanted in those moments was for my disability to be completely ignored. I still kind of dread seeing my friends for the first time when I use my chair – the sympathy and concern stresses me out no end. 

In any case, I’d conquered my building’s tiny lift, and had braved the first wave of questioning. Now, it was time for me to pack and set out to London.

My other great worry at this point was how I would be treated by strangers – would people try and move my chair without my permission? Would people ignore me and speak to my boyfriend about me instead? Both of these things happened – the last one several times! I got pitying looks, uncomfortable stares, and awkward silences when I got up from my chair so I could carry it off trains. My boyfriend also reported that pitying people would try and smile at me. Luckily for us all, that literally went over my head.

Getting on the tube in was nothing short of a nightmare. Only a quarter of all tube stations are completely wheelchair accessible, and of these, the lift is guaranteed to be hidden in a dark corner. And worst of all – being in a wheelchair means that when somebody in a rush attempts a sneaky fart, you will roll right into it and get a nice big whiff. Please, God! Restrain thyself! 

Despite these calamities, the chair opened up a world of possibilities for me. The last time I was in London, I was able to do approximately one thing before I became too exhausted to stand, at which point I would be stuck dropping massive amounts of money on an Uber instead. But now I got to be outside of the house for the entire day. And at the end of the day, I still had energy! I got to do 4 or 5 things, not just one! Being in the chair gave me the freedom to actually enjoy travel. I could finally spend an entire day outside, not desperately napping after a short outing.

I’ll be definitely using my chair again the next time I travel, and I’m currently trying to get a motorized chair so that I can go shopping and then have the energy to do more than just collapse. Will I continue to get nasty looks? Probably. But being able to live my life makes it all worth it for me.