By the time I was at the end of my ten month trip around Asia, when I was thirty one, having to walk distances with luggage at airports and stand for long periods in customs and check in queues, were making travelling an ordeal. I’d end up in agony and devastatingly exhausted, and I still had to get transport, sort out my accommodation and eat, while dealing with the challenges of being in a strange new place. The alternative however was to go ‘wheelchair assist’ and I resisted this as long as I could. Similar to how I saw getting a walking stick, having to use a wheelchair was crossing another line towards an outward acknowledgement of my disability I did not want to cross (see Taman ). Even if it was only in airports, I did not want to be seen in a wheelchair. I felt there was a stigma to it in others’ eyes, and my pride would not let me go there. I couldn’t accept what felt like an unacceptable option.
Three months later I had resigned from my Environmental Science job and was about to head off to the Poona ashram again. I began dreading the journey, I couldn’t bear to go through the hardships of so much standing and walking. I had to face the fact that I couldn’t travel as I had, in fact I could not keep travelling if I did not use a wheelchair. I saw I had no choice. Coming to the point of no choice often helps us move through our denial and pride. Oh the relief when I finally accepted this was what I needed to do and I gave it a go. A whole new world of easy airport travel opened up, and as a bonus it was wonderful to be met by a lovely helpful person. They wheeled me past all the queues, presented my documents and money if needed, they hauled my luggage off the conveyor belts, and onto a trolley and then took me out to my transport. I was through in thirty minutes. No stress, no pain and no ordeal.
It was weird the first time being in a wheelchair in a very public place. I didn’t feel I belonged because I could still walk, like I was an impostor. As we zipped along I felt more stares than usual, though that could have been my imagination. But then I thought “These are not people I know. What does it matter what they think?” Especially when I was experiencing the benefits of breezing through the airport effortlessly, to get caught up with what strangers thought, seemed silly and irrelevant. Dented pride was a small price to pay for the liberation in the ease of travelling.
And I discovered there are some advantages to having a disability. All those travellers stuck in queues for hours at an airport, and I sailed past them and was out into my transport before they had reached the front of their first queue. “Ha ha! Take that all you able bodied people, I’m cruising here.” I thought to myself.
This was an important breakthrough because it opened the door to being able to continue to travel, even on my own. If only I had accepted the reality earlier I would have saved myself much suffering. Like many of us, my stubbornness, denial and pride have cost me a lot in my life, whereas acceptance has given me everything.