Yesterday was the annual ChairLeaders event here in town. And I took part. Which means I spent the day in a wheelchair to see what I learned. I would post pictures but for some reason they will not upload at the moment. (readers with whom I am FB friends can find some pictures there)
We gathered first thing in the morning to get our chairs and do an obstacle course to get a feel for them. Said course included trying to make a basketball shot--I was about as successful at that sitting down as I usually am standing up. Then the disabled transit bus arrived so we could learn what it is like to get loaded up in same. Next step was to head off to the mall for lunch and the rest of the day.
The afternoon was spent exploring the mall, seeing how easy it is to maneuver in stores, noting what you can and can not see from that perspective. Then the day ended with a victory lap down the main corridor and back up the hil to the bus stop to go back to where we began.
What did I learn? One that keeping the chair in a straight-ish line was really hard on my left (non-dominant) arm and shoulder -- the chair kept wanting to drift left, requiring more push on that wheel to keep straight. Another was how important it is to have a properly fitting chair. The one I was in was not right (although with a seat cushion it would have been better) and my legs kept cramping up. Also, one is unaware how uncomfortable it is to stay in one position for that long. I did not realize how often I must change position on a regular day until I wasn't doing so. As far as the shopping, the difficulties in maneuvering around in stores were not news to me, shopping with a stroller has the same challenges (if not more because a stroller is longer than a wheelchair and does not turn as well). And of course stock is not placed well when you are seated. It is placed for standing adults to see. On the other hand, it gave a handy place to sit while trying on shoes.
I also know that we got off easy. Last year's group was taken downtown and sent out on the sidewalks and streets. Being indoors meant we had essentially flat surfaces to deal with (although you could sure tell when you hit a slight slope in the floor). We did not have curb cuts or gravel or broken pavement to deal with.
There were also some interesting reactions. I actually started this process on Sunday, leading worship from a wheelchair. There were some on Sunday who were convinced I was going to roll off the chancel platform. There were also those who had a slight panic when I wheeled in to the sanctuary, wondering what had happened. Same reaction from one person I ran into at the mall. I had been working with her at the church garage sale last Thursday and she was worried about what had happened to me in the intervening 4 days. (side note: my Sunday experience showed that if the church were to have a regular worship leader in a chair, or using a walker, the chancel area would need some reorganizing, and plausibly some work on ramps. still it is better than some chancels I have been on--at least there is a ramp on one side where most only have steps)
It was a good way to spend the day. Part of the time I was carrying a child on my lap. And we have a picture of the (almost) three-year-old "pushing" daddy in his wheel chair. But as an awareness exercise it is a great idea. Maybe I'll do it again next year?????
Apparently this past week has been Canadian Mental Health week. And I was totally unaware of it until I saw a poster on the bulletin board at the church this morning. Which pretty much sums up the attitude towards mental health in our society doesn't it?
I mean if it were national Breast Cancer week there would be fundraising activities and stories in the newspaper and everyone would know of it. Same with any number of other issues. But mental health week can come and go with barely a mention. Why is that??
I would suggest it is because mental health is not a comfortable topic with many people. I would suggest that mental health (and its' counterpart mental illness) is still seen as something that is not to be talked about. Which leads directly to the stigma that comes with mental illness.
But let us be honest. Each of us deals with mental health issues. Each of us needs to take care of our mental health just as we have to take care of our physical health. And to be equally honest, sometimes we do just as "good" a job at it. And how many people know someone who lives with depression, or bi-polar disorder, or some other mental illness?
I think it is time to lift mental health out of the role of second-class brother to physical health. I think it is time to give it equal treatment to the rest of our health care issues. Yes that means funding it properly. Yes that means being willing to talk about it. Yes that means reducing the stigma that comes with admitting one's struggles. But in the end we will ALL be healthier for it.
So tell me, what did you do this week to support your mental health? What will you do next week?