I had spent all of the day before preparing for the beach. Usual things like preparing my lunch and deciding what clothes to wear. I dug out the biggest backpack I could find and filled the front pocket with all things medical. A job I routinely undertake when changing bags. A purse full of medications, tens machine, headache stick, heat pads, a cream for the pain. Despite it being a a large front pocket I found myself struggling to zip it up. I knew it was unlikely that I would need all of it, but based on previous experiences I knew to always keep these things close at hand.
Most of the day I had been sat on the sofa, in pyjamas chopping salad veg for my lunch. I’ve been on the rabbit food for a week now hoping to shed a few pounds. I found this surprisingly exhausting, by the end I could hardly move. I crawled upstairs and flopped on my bed where I stayed for the rest of the evening.
I woke up a while before I was due to be picked up. Dressing can be one of the most difficult tasks for me, especially in this heat. I try to pace myself but inevitably my face ends up dripping with sweat, I’m breathless and in pain. Thank goodness for setting spray, without it my mascara would trickle down my cheeks like a murky stream. After dressing and joyously finding out my friend was running late, I rested and composed myself. I had half an hour to calm my heart rate and slow my breathing back to normal.
I’m always a little nervous when going out with my friends. When you’re completely able bodied you don’t notice the little things that would make life difficult to someone like me. I never used to, like most people I took things like that for granted. Even after my diagnosis I was still quite mobile. It’s only in the last two years that I have really found it difficult. I now look upon the world with different eyes. Things that were invisible to me before now are glaringly obvious. I was afraid that my friends wouldn’t consider my abilities (more like my lack of ability!) I never for one moment thought they would do that to spite me, I just feared they wouldn’t realise the small things that make my life difficult.
I was mistaken. The first thing Ella* did after I opened the door was take my camping chair off me, to lighten my load. She then asked whether I would be more comfortable in the front or the back of the car. As designated driver, it was her choice of destination and she made sure to find a beach with easy access. The only problem with that was, the tide was in. I could get down the beach with ease with the ramp but unless I wanted to bob up and down in the sea in my camping chair, that particular beach was a no go.
So we went in search for another. After a while we found one, which had at least some sand for us to sink our feet into, and joy of joys it had a ramp! It was steep but with Annemarie carrying my chair and Zoe helping me balance I managed. That is until we reached some steps, or should I say mini cliffs. They were huge! Even an Olympic hurdler would do a double take at the size of these steps. Zoe and Annemarie went down them first and alternately held out their hands to help support me as I jumped down.
When we were nearly at beach level we came across a ramp that was practically at a 45° angle. If by some miracle someone in a wheelchair had managed to conquer the White cliffs of Swansea this ramp would have struck fear into their souls. Due to the angle, it suggested any person in a wheelchair that dared to undertake it, would be jet propelled down and launched off the edge. Undoubtedly the chair would get stuck in the pebbles causing it’s user to be flung into the ocean. Not exactly wheelchair friendly.
I had brought a big umbrella as a makeshift parasol. However it came in handy as an additional walking stick. I waddled across the pebbles with my arms outstretched, gripping onto my stick and umbrella for stability. I’ve no doubt I looked like a chubby ginger praying mantis as I tried to reach the sand. When at last we reached the sandy shore, we set up camp to relax.
Sitting in my chair with the warm sand between my toes and a gentle breeze felt like heaven. The smell of the sea was refreshing and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore was soothing. After about an hour of resting I decided to have a little paddle in the clear blue sea. My chair had buried itself into the sand a bit but I was able launch myself into a standing position with the aid of my stick. I decided not to use my walking stick to tackle the sand as it just dug itself deeper into the ground with every step. I chose instead to rely on Annemarie’s support… That was a mistake. I realised after saving her tripping over a pebble that she was just as clumsy as myself, if not clumsier. But it wasn’t far to the sea. We giggled and screamed as the freezing water touched our toes. The others were braver than I and went right in to swim. I had ‘forgotten’ my swimsuit so I just walked in until the water just touched the bottom of my jeans.
The next issue that arose was my camping chair breaking. I ended up getting stuck in the mangled mess. In the end I was essentially sat on the sand whilst squished between the frame. Once the girls returned from the water, they helped pull me up off the ground then Ella* found a huge smooth rock where I could sit. The girls then moved to this area so I was included. The rock turned out to be more comfortable that the chair, even before it was broken.
Although I was experiencing moderate pain at this point, the warmth of the rock helped a little. We spent the rest of the evening chatting and sunbathing. Well the others sunbathed I furiously applied more factor 50 ever 15 minutes for fear I would burn.
Going to the beach is something I’ve not really done a lot since being ill. I was scared I would be left alone and miss out because I can’t run or play. I told my friends I was happy not to go with them, because I didn’t want to stop them having fun, but they insisted I went along too. They were so helpful and considerate of my limitations. They helped me feel normal again and that meant more to me than I think they realised.
*Name has been changed