London has rarely seen a summer like it, and maybe neither have I. The heat wave lasted for weeks going on months, and felt like it brought with it a certain kind of madness. For me, it’s been in many respects the best since the injury 12 years ago, but that’s also brought with it many challenges.
Although it’s hard to medically explain why, I’m now easily the least disabled. I have been since the injury. When I was first paralyzed in 2006, my body was almost completely immobile from the shoulders down. I was dependent either on a hugely bulky electric wheelchair that was hard to control, or an electric wheelchair pushed by others. By quite literally only went where I was taken, particularly when it came to central London.
Now, on a good day, at least, that feels like a distant, mercifully poorly remembered nightmare. The recovery I’ve clawed back over the last years has been limited, but it’s given me one fairly functional left arm while my current electric wheelchair – still largely controlled with my head – is by far the most functional I’ve had. It means I can now operate on my own for five, six, sometimes seven or eight hours at a time, going out on my own and exploring across the capital.
Crucially, for most of this summer. I’ve also been able to spend much longer in the wheelchair. From the end of 2011 onwards, I’ve really struggled with periodic small skin lesions and pressure sores that have massively ramped up the amount of time I spend in bed. This year, I seem to have managed to keep those to a minimum – most of the time, anyway.
Every morning, I check my skin – or rather, get my carers to take a photograph, which I scrutinize ferociously for signs of damage, wear and tear or otherwise. It’s by far the main determinant of my mood. Any signs of skin breakdown can leave me stuck once again inside and in bed, and I still find that very, very difficult to handle.
More broadly, I’ve felt my emotions freeing up, again the most since the injury. That’s been a rather more mixed process, not one that has always been that easy for others to handle.
This summer, I realized I’d fallen for someone who wasn’t in the same place, and that’s probably something I could and should have handled better. More broadly, I know my raw intensity over the last few months has put some other people off, at least a little. I’m hugely grateful to those who have stuck with me, and very understanding of those who have not – or who have at least put seeing me again off until the madness of the season has passed.
For all the challenges, it’s been a very precious time. I pushed myself further across London on my own than at any point since the injury, and that’s been hugely empowering. I’ve been experimenting a little sexually and romantically – including my first threesome, which I’m very much still processing…
Over the last week, I’ve struggled to write this blog more than I anticipated. It’s true that at many points this summer, I felt more alive than at any point since the injury. But that means the negative moments are also more overwhelming than anything I’ve felt in years. Throughout most of the time since the injury, I’ve endeavored to make it look – both to myself and others – as if I have simply taken the whole injury and all its associated issues on the chin.
Now more than ever, however, I really do sometimes find myself feeling the full weight of the trauma of what has been both a full but also sometimes very difficult life.
As you can almost certainly feel from the last piece, I remain very much in touch with – And in some ways more protective of – the 25-year-old reporter I was before the accident. He was young, fierce, tried desperately hard to do the right thing – and deserve much better than he got.
I’ve had to be reminded several times this summer by those close to me that what happened was not in fact my fault – clearly, winning a large financial settlement from my employer hasn’t always been enough to convince me of that, although it certainly should have been. In any case, there’s no point in going back and regretting the choices I and others made, even if the temptation is always there.
I’ll miss this summer when it’s gone, although at the same time I am looking forward to whatever comes next. I’ll be moving house, new responsibilities will be coming my way – although exactly how that works is still very far from clear – and, of course, I’ll be aiming to continue with this blog.
I do want to get more into the issue of the injury, although I’m very aware I feel conflicted about doing so. Revealing too much, I often fear, may reduce my chances of getting what I want in terms of career and relationship options. I know I and others often view the disability as irredeemably toxic, and the simple truth is that I need to work through that if there is any way of doing so.
Keep pushing me to write, though – and we will see where this keeps going…