Following on from my last blog post, I’m happy to report that Friday’s appointment with wheelchair services (Wychbold, Droitwich) was surprisingly beneficial.
Admittedly, I had low expectations based on previous experiences. But the occupational therapist (OT) I met with was extremely helpful and conscientious.
I now have a long list of information and various options to consider.
I went prepared with some notes, outlining my needs.
Thus far, I have looked at various wheelchairs online and test drove the Quickie Salsa M2 Mini and the Quickie Jive M (both by Sunrise Medical). Sadly, neither of these chairs met my requirements.
The Salsa M2 Mini is an ideal size but not so great outdoors (compared to my current Quantum 600). TheJive M was just too big for my home.
Whilst at the appointment, I was shown the Invacare TDX. Before it was even measured, I could see it is far too big, more so than my current chair, and wouldn’t fit around my home.
So that’s one more crossed off the list!
Voucher vs NHS wheelchair?
The last time I approached wheelchair services was 10+ years ago. That appointment was brief and frankly a waste of time!
I was offered a voucher with a value of no more than a few hundred pounds. A lot of money you may think. But when you consider powered wheelchairs cost from £5000 upwards, (between £10-20k is more accurate), a few hundred quid doesn’t go far.
The only alternative to this was one, very basic, very inadequate NHS wheelchair – I suspect unsuitable for most people.
Thankfully since then, things seem to have improved greatly (around here, anyway).
My current options are:
– A voucher with a prescriptive value of approx £2000
– Accept one of the approved NHS chairs (none of which feature the rise function that I need)
– Accept a more compact mid-wheel drive (MWD) NHS chair for indoor use, and privately purchase a second wheelchair specifically for outdoor use (worth considering as I live rurally)
Right now I think my best bet is to take the voucher and choose my own wheelchair. Mainly because I do require both the rise and tilt functions. The NHS will only approve the latter.
– Attend NAIDEX (April 25-26th). I will be able to see many different wheelchairs and discuss my options with specialists. Trust me you need to see and try them before committing to anything. You can’t base a decision on images and information on a computer screen.
– Investigate options I had not previously heard of, including: Ottobockand the YOU-Q Luca by Sunrise Medical.
– Contact Sunrise Medical directly and ask them to visit my home with demo wheelchairs to view and test-drive.
– Ask Sunrise Medical for a list of reputable dealers.
Once again, I will keep you updated of any developments.
My Quantum 600 powered wheelchair, which has been my legs for almost 8 years, is gradually falling to pieces. I have patched it up no end with DIY repairs, and attempted to keep it going for as long as possible. But the electrics are now failing and so the chair is becoming unreliable. Consequently, I have no option but to start the search for a replacement.
As the wheelchair-users out there will know, this is never a simple task! It is a BIG decision, not least because wheelchairs are so ridiculously expensive. More so than a new car!
Throughout my life, I have had no choice but to privately fund all my wheelchairs – both manual and powered – since those offered by wheelchair services are wholly inadequate for my needs (and I suspect, most people’s).
So before committing to a purchase, I need to be absolutely certain that the wheelchair I opt for will be the right one for me.
My new wheelchair must:
– Have rise and tilt
– Be as compact as possible for indoor use
– Be durable outdoors as I live rurally
I have an appointment with my local wheelchair services on Friday 16th February. So I’m hoping they will be able to offer some useful advice and guidance, along with a voucher towards the cost.
A representative from Motus Medical has already visited my home to demo two mid-wheel drive (MWD) chairs:
– The Quickie Salsa M2 Mini – The Quickie Jive M
I found the Quickie Salsa M2 Mini to be an ideal size (the base is only 52cm wide, with a turning circle of 110cm). However, when tested outdoors over gravel and uneven terrain, it did not perform particularly well.
The Quickie Jive M was too large for the contours of my home (overall width 62-66cm). Furthermore, I felt that it didn’t compare well with my current Quantum 600 in terms of outdoor ability.
So that’s two tried, tested and crossed off the list!
I will continue to keep you updated, following Friday’s appointment.
20 year-old Shelby Lynch is an up-and-coming YouTuber from England, who happens to have a muscle-wasting condition similar to myself.
She was recently kind enough to chat with me about her disability, life as a YouTuber and her involvement with the Missguided #KEEPONBEINGYOU campaign.
1. Could you please tell us about your disability and how it affects you?
My disability is called SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). This causes my muscles to become weaker over time. I have a curve in my spine (scoliosis) and am unable to walk, so I use a powered wheelchair to get around. I also need to use a ventilator 24/7 to help me breathe.
2. What have you found to be the biggest challenges of living with your disability?
The biggest challenge of having a disability is having to rely on other people to do things for you. My daily life is affected – I need help with simple things like getting around, eating and personal care. I’d love to be able to do my own hair and makeup.
Also, not having as much independence as someone my age should. Independance for me is key.
3. What, if any, do you feel are the positives to having a disability?
There are a lot of perks! For me, the biggest positive that comes with having a disability is getting to skip the queue for certain things. Sometimes I can get free access to certain places too. But then others do take the piss and charge disabled people more than they would an able-bodied person.
4. Can you please explain why you decided to become a Youtuber?
I wouldn’t say I’m a successful YouTuber but if I’m helping people in a certain way then that’s cool. I started watching YouTube around four years ago. I thought it looked really fun so I decided to make a channel too. On my channel I talk about fashion, beauty, lifestyle and my disability.
Really, I just want to have fun with it to be honest. I want to show people that I’m just a regular 20 year old who enjoys doing what other people like to do. Whether it’s going to concerts or hanging out with friends.
5. Do you consider yourself to be an inspiration?
No, I don’t consider myself to be an inspiration unless I have done something to impact people. People usually call me an inspiration just because I’m disabled but to me, that’s not right.
6. Can you talk about your involvement with the Missguided campaign, and what it means to you?
I saw their campaign on Instagram and really liked the fact they were showing different types of people. So, I took a picture of myself wearing one of their jumpers, and used the hashtag #KEEPONBEINGYOU.
Only a couple of hours later they had reposted my picture. It was so overwhelming receiving so many nice comments from people I didn’t even know. Then somebody from Missguided contacted me, offering to send some clothes, and asking if I would like do a mini photo shoot and video for their campaign which felt like a dream!
Working with them was absolutely incredible! When they asked me if I would join their campaign I was over the moon. It was such a great start to the week. I was a bit nervous as I have never done anything like this before.
But Missguided is a brand that I actually love. And I feel like their clothes are different to any other fashion retailer. The clothes make me feel confident and cool, so getting to work with them was a dream come true.
In addition, it’s great that they aren’t afraid to break barriers by showing some diversity in their campaign. This is something I personally respect so much.
In my caption for my picture I spoke about how disabled people aren’t often seen as pretty or sexy because of their disability, and that’s not the case. We should feel empowered no matter what.
– “Keep On Being You means to be confident in your own skin, and not letting anyone in life tell you that you can’t do anything.”
I hope they ask me to work with them again as it was so much fun and they are certainly leading the way in showing diversity as a fashion brand.
Find out more about Shelby’s involvement with the Missguided #KEEPONBEINGYOU campaign here.
*Disclaimer* Please be aware, this is in no way an official, definitive guide for parents of children with neuromuscular conditions. Here I offer support and advice along with my personal perspective, having lived with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy for 29 years.
– I am a UK based disability blogger
– I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy
– Born in 1988, I am now 29 years old
– Born with ‘floppiness’ and dislocated hips
– Slow rate of progression: I didn’t start to walk until 19 months old and ‘bum-shuffled’ until then
– I was able to walk short distances, wearing custom-made leg splints, until age 10
– I would fall over a lot as a child
– I could never walk up or down steps or stairs
– I am now completely non-ambulant and use a powered wheelchair
– I have contractures in all joints
– I have a severe ‘S’ shaped scoliosis (curvature of the spine), which has not been surgically corrected
– Over the years, my condition has deteriorated
– As an adult, my primary concern is respiratory-related
– Education: I attended mainstream school, achieved A-Levels and a degree with Honours.
I would first like to say, a life with muscular dystrophy need not be an unfulfilled life! Many people with neuromuscular conditions lead full and active lives, whilst pursuing demanding careers.
Though severely disabling, muscular dystrophy is not synonymous with suffering or a poor quality of life.
It can, of course, be shocking and extremely distressing to learn your child has a muscle-wasting condition. In some cases there may be a family history, whereas for others like me it could be completely unexpected and unfamiliar.
I am the only member of my family with any form of muscle-wasting condition. So when I was initially diagnosed, aged 4, with congenital muscular dystrophy following a muscle biopsy, my parents were venturing into the unknown.
The year was 1992, there was no Internet, no Google, few resources and more to the point – they had never even heard of muscular dystrophy!
It may be helpful to talk to other parents of children with a similar condition. If this is something you think would be beneficial for you, ask your care advisor or neuromuscular consultant who will assist.
If you are not ready to speak to other families, remember this is always an option if you change your mind in the future.
How and when to tell your child
There is no right or wrong answer. Only you can decide what is best for your child. It is also important to consider siblings, as they should be included in any discussions you have as a family. However, I would strongly advise against telling siblings more about the condition than the affected child. Any information you choose to share with your children should be fair and equal, regardless of the gap in age.
When deciding if, when and how to tell your child of their diagnosis, consider:
– Their age
– Their own awareness of their disability – Emotional maturity
– Your ability to answer any questions they might have
From a personal perspective, I recommend an open and honest policy from the very beginning.
I cannot recall any formal discussion or disclosure of my condition, whereby my parents sat and explained the ins and outs of it all to me and my older brothers.
I was officially diagnosed with congenital muscular dystrophy at age 4 (specified as Ullrich CMD many years later), but I was always aware of my disability. I recognised that I was different from my peers – I was unable to walk, run and climb steps. I also looked different – I was very thin as a child, I had contractures and scoliosis causing asymmetry of the torso.
My parents told us that I have something called muscular dystrophy, meaning I have much weaker muscles than other children. At that age, this was enough knowledge for me.
For many years, when other children would ask the inevitable question, ‘what’s wrong with you?’
I would simply answer, ‘I’ve got muscular dystrophy so I can’t walk like you’.
Whenever and however you decide to approach this, I would urge you to emphasise above all else that your child is loved and supported by you and your family. Sometimes the comfort of a loving hug from your parents is all the reassurance you want and need.
– Do your research: Unlike when I was a child, these days there are many reliable resources of information. Of course, ask any medical professionals your child is seeing, including consultants, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. However, I will say that not all children with the same form of muscular dystrophy will experience exactly the same symptoms or at the same rate. For this reason, I recommend talking to those directly affected, such as other parents and adults with muscle-wasting conditions who, like me, have a lifetime of experiences to draw from.
– Always trust your instincts! As the saying goes, a mother knows best. This has certainly proved true in my case. My mother, noticing my delayed progression as a baby, sought medical help and was told she was an “over-reactive mother”. Thankfully, she persisted and met with a neuromuscular specialist who almost immediately identified my condition.
– Ensure your child receives the Flu vaccine EVERY year, as well as the pneumonia vaccination. You, as primary caregivers, will also be eligible for the Flu vaccine – take it!
Some children are diagnosed well before they reach nursery age, whilst others like me, will have already started school when they learn they have a muscle-wasting condition.
– Starting school can be daunting for any child: Being parted from their parents, away from home and surrounded by lots of unfamiliar faces. But for a child with a disability like muscular dystrophy, this transition can be even more challenging.
– Particularly in this day and age, there is no reason why a child with a muscle-wasting condition shouldn’t attend mainstream school. However, you must consider your child as an individual and decide whether or not you feel this would be best for them. Indeed, your child may have a preference. Some would rather attend a school for special educational needs.
– I suggest making several visits to any nurseries or schools you have shortlisted. Check that everywhere is fully accessible. One visit is not enough as we often forget to ask certain questions and fail to spot things on first impressions.
– It is essential to ensure staff are fully aware of your child’s needs and abilities. Meet with the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo) well in advance and if possible, meet and introduce your child to their new teacher and *teaching assistant/support worker (*where applicable). This will help them feel more comfortable and confident when their first day of school arrives.
– Ask your child’s physiotherapist and/or occupational therapist to visit the school and meet with staff to share their knowledge and expertise.
– Be positive, be optimistic, be encouraging. BUT don’t make promises you can’t keep: As your child grows and interacts with other children, they will become increasingly aware of their differences. This will inevitably lead to questions. They may ask why they can’t stand, walk or run like their friends. Furthermore, if your child has a progressive form of muscular dystrophy, they may ask you if their symptoms will get worse as they get older.
For instance, I was able to walk short distances until the age of 10. We were never told if I would continue to do so as I grew. Therefore, I would often ask, ‘will I always be able to walk or will I have to use a wheelchair?’
I appreciate why many parents would be reluctant to overshare and reveal what the future may hold in terms of deterioration, in fear of scaring their child. However, I feel strongly that it is important to be honest and unambiguous. If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know. Don’t try to comfort your child by telling them it will all be okay and things will not get worse. Knowledge and preparation is power!
– For most children with muscular dystrophy, the biggest changes occur during puberty.
– Growth spurts put extra strain on weakening muscles.
– If able to weight-bear, your child could lose this ability resulting in the need for a wheelchair.
– It is likely that your child will accept having to use a wheelchair more than you. Children are very adaptable. From personal experience, I can tell you that using a wheelchair is a great relief compared to exerting all your strength, energy and reserves on standing and walking. A wheelchair offers mobility and freedom. So please keep this in mind.
– Growth also leads to contractures becoming more severe. Regular physiotherapy (ie. stretching) will help maintain flexibility and movement.
– If untreated, spinal curvature (scoliosis) will increase resulting in asymmetry of the torso, a tilted pelvis, pressure sores and discomfort.
– Scoliosis, along with muscle deterioration, impacts on respiratory function. Should your child feel overly tired, nap during the day, or experience regular headaches, particularly on first waking, you must see a specialist respiratory consultant. It might be necessary to introduce noninvasive ventilation nocturnally.
– Noninvasive ventilation (NIV) comes in the form of either a CPAP or BiPAP machine (usually the latter).
– Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP): a face mask is worn (many different styles are available) and air is delivered from a machine through a tube to support breathing.
– Other respiratory equipment your teenager may benefit from, especially when ill: Nebuliser and cough assist machine (seek advice and information from your respiratory consultant and respiratory physiotherapist).
Other Family Members
Some forms of muscular dystrophy are inherited. This can obviously be a concern if relatives are planning families of their own.
A few years ago, my brother and his wife decided they wanted to have children. Because of my condition, he asked his GP to refer them to a genetic counsellor. They took with them a copy of my medical record.
In their case, it was determined that my brother is highly likely to be a carrier, while his wife is highly unlikely. Once pregnant, they were offered a test which involved inserting a needle into the developing embryo to ascertain if the baby would have muscular dystrophy. They decided against this due to the invasive nature.
I’m happy to report they now have a happy and healthy baby boy.
How to cope
As a parent, it is understandable that you will focus all your thoughts and energy into your children. Raising a child with muscular dystrophy brings with it many more challenges and emotional turmoil. This can have a huge affect on you, your health and relationships. It is therefore crucial to take care of yourself too.
Remember, it is okay to cry, scream and shout! There will be times you struggle, lose your patience and indeed you will have to fight your child’s corner in different situations.
It’s good to talk: whether you choose to confide in relatives, friends, fellow parents of disabled children, or healthcare professionals – don’t bottle up your concerns and frustrations. This will ultimately have a negative effect on your wellbeing and your family.
Make time for yourself:‘what time?!’ – I know, I know. I appreciate that caring for a child with any disability is a full-time job. But you must allow yourself some form of relief. Even if it is just dedicating yourself to an hour or two with friends for coffee each week. You need space. Your child needs space. It will be good for all of you – trust me!
If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment or contact me directly. I am more than happy to talk privately.
If you like this blog post, I would be grateful if you would share so that others may learn from it.
As some of you may know, my very first ceiling track hoist was *finally* fitted on Monday 11th December.
I now have a straight track in my bedroom and a separate H-frame in my ensuite bathroom.
Why I need a ceiling hoist
I am 29 and completely non-ambulant due to Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. Being rather petite, I have always been manually transferred (yes, lifted by family and carers) rather than hoisted. This method has always been preferable since it’s much quicker and frankly less faff. But, we’re all getting older and more frail.
I live with my parents who are both in their 60s. They are my primary source of support, though I do employ a carer part-time. My mother underwent a full knee replacement in August 2017, and is therefore limited in how much she is able to help me. Consequently, we have reached a stage where a ceiling hoist is a necessity.
A long and frustrating process!
Back in October 2016, Mom was told she needed a full knee replacement. The following Spring, my only carer announced she would be leaving within the next few months to pursue a career as a paramedic. With this in mind, I contacted my local community occupatinal therapy team to request an assessment. I was told they’re vastly understaffed and, with an extensive waiting list, I would need to be in a terminal condition in order to be seen. I appreciate their predicament, I really do, but I was unwilling to be fobbed off so easily.
I was instructed, over the phone by an OT I had never met, to “camp out”, meaning I should wash, dress and be toileted on my bed. Yes, for a prolonged and indefinite period of time, I should go without a shower and simply not wash my hair. (Due to my physical limitations and my wheelchair, there’s no way I could wash my hair over the sink).
Disgusted at her casual disregard, I asked my neuromuscular consultant to issue a letter of support. On receipt of this, an OT suddenly found time to visit me in my home for an assessment. Following this, representatives from Prism Medical and TPG DisableAids attended separately to advise, measure up and draw plans. Both rep’s then submitted quotes to the purse holder at County Council who, of course, approved the cheapest option.
NB: A portable hoist was trialled but proved unusable with the layout of my room and the type of bath in situ.
We were expecting Prism to arrive at 9am on 24th October 2017, as arranged. Having waited over an over with no sign of anyone, I called only to be told they weren’t coming because of a “technical issue”.
To cut a long story short, Prism claimed they couldn’t connect the track from my bedroom to that in my ensuite bathroom. This is despite consulting with occupational therapists and agreeing to do the job. Prism also claim they left telephone messages for both myself and the OT’s, on the previous Friday, to inform us that they wouldn’t be attending. Neither I, nor the community OT’s received any messages. I call bullshit!
Later, I learnt that Prism have similarly disappointed several others, resulting in formal complaints being issued against them. So when the purse holder at County Council told me she would renegotiate with Prism rather than approve funding for TPG to carry out the work, I insisted otherwise.
Having to fight for your rights and basic needs is, unfortunately, very much part and parcel of having a disability. ‘Tell, don’t ask!’ This is my motto. In my experience, if you are not clued-up and assertive, those in authority simply fob you off.
Thankfully, Funding was approved after a different OT, accompanied by the rep from TPG, visited to discuss and re-evaluate the situation.
Rather than trying to connect the single rail in the bedroom to the H-frame in the ensuite bathroom, it was decided that two separate hoists would be best.
My carer had by then handed in her notice and would be leaving at the end of the month. I was seriously starting to worry the hoist would not be in place before Christmas.
But much to my relief, TPG (who, compared to Prism, were infinitely more professional and efficient throughout) booked in for the 4th December.
Then, just my luck, we were hit by the worst snow in 7 years! It was like flipping Narnia.
I tried to remain optimistic though in reality I knew there was no way TPG would be able to make the journey from Hereford. And they didn’t.
So, it was third time lucky, on the following Monday that the long-awaited ceiling hoist was installed. I no longer need to worry about hiring new carers as lifting is not an issue. Furthermore, the pressure is off Mom – literally! And, the thing I am perhaps the most happy about – my dealings with community OTs and the County Council are over.
For now at least…
(Apologies for the poor quality of the images. All were taken by myself on a Samsung S5!)
I recently got chatting with a lovely lady called Rebecca, who contacted me after reading my blog.
Rebecca, who has cerebral palsy, is high-achieving, ambitious and incredibly interesting to talk to.
Consequently, I thought it would be beneficial for you guys to learn more about Rebecca, her views and how she manages life with a physical disability…
1. What is your disability and how does it affect you?
I have Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, which affects my four limbs and means that I use an electric wheelchair for getting around both inside the house and for outside activities in my day-to-day life. I also have a visual impairment called Nystagmus, which prevents me from going out unaccompanied as I sometimes struggle to see steps and kerbs in the street. My disability affects my life as I require 24 hour care.
2. What is the worst thing about living with your disability?
The worst thing is the stigma and negative attitudes that still surround disability. For example, strangers often make assumptions about my mental capabilities and underestimate my intelligence. However, I am learning to become resilient through my experience of this, and have developed coping mechanisms.
3. What, if any, are the positives to having a disability?
The free carer ticket to gigs/festivals/theatre/talks is a bonus! I also value my electric chair and the feeling of acceleration when I drive fast. On a more serious note, I view the fact that I feel I have a unique perspective on the world as a result of my disability as a positive. I have a greater tolerance of difference due to the empathy and understanding that my disability has taught me.
4. How do you feel about the term ‘disability’? Do you refer to yourself as having a disability or do you prefer another term, such as differently abled?
I used to physically jump at the word ‘disability’ as well as ‘wheelchair’ and ‘handicap’. This was because hearing myself being described as disabled hit home the fact that other people viewed and labeled me in this way. It made me feel as if my disability was my main or only attribute. This all changed when I attended counseling sessions in my early 20’s, where I was encouraged to unpack the meaning of these words and confront why they prompted a physical reaction from me. It is still the case that disability will never be my favourite word, but I’m now comfortable enough to describe myself in that way to others.
5. Do you feel under-represented in the media? If so, what changes would you like to see?
I can understand why some people would feel under-represented, and I agree changes do need to be made. But in my opinion, these changes reside in discussion, ideas and inclusion rather than purely exposure.
6. Are you a leader or a follower?
I used to be a follower, afraid to voice my opinions. Now I am comfortable taking the role of the leader in certain social situations, i.e. with less confident friends I am able to guide the conversation to allow people to be heard. As well as this, I hope to lead with my ideas surrounding disability ethics and the research I am doing in this particular area.
7. Optimist, pessimist, realist or idealist?
I live in the most realistic way possible so that I am most connected with reality and grounded in my thoughts. To be too pessimistic can prevent us from progressing, whereas being overly optimistic can also be counterproductive to personal growth.
8. Are you easy going or high-maintenance? Would those who know you best agree?
I would say that I am easy going because I have learnt how to balance my own well-being so as not to allow myself to become too stressed out. Those who know me best would probably agree, but I imagine they would claim that I’m more high-maintenance when I have an important deadline to meet!
9. Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
This really depends on whom I am with. In my professional career as a counsellor it is my responsibility to be the facilitator who steers the conversation, and this doesn’t allow for me to be introverted. However I can still become shy around people that I struggle to connect with on a deeper level.
10. Are you more creative or logical?
I am more creative in my thoughts and my writing and in the way I can construct an argument in a debate.
11. You are currently studying Philosophy at Cambridge University – why did you choose that subject in particular?
I have been fascinated by the world around me from a young age with my intuitive questioning of values and beliefs. This then developed when I embarked on a short course to find out more about the subject, which then inspired me to study philosophy at a higher level. What I like about philosophy most is that it’s a never-ending endeavour; there is always more to question, learn and explore. Philosophy can help to find new ways to think about old problems and with considering things from different perspectives, to overcome many of the hurdles that we encounter in our everyday lives.
12. What difficulties have you faced whilst at University, resulting from your disability?
Having to deliver presentations has been difficult for me, but luckily the University allowed me adapt my assessments, and have been really accommodating. One of my personal assistants delivered this presentation and I was able to answer class questions afterwards. I also require a personal assistant to write down my thoughts, and this can sometimes take a long time because conversations can be misinterpreted. For this reason, I always request the option of extra time because it can take longer for me than for an able-bodied student to formally express my thoughts in an assignment.
13. What do you hope to do following completion of your degree?
I am hoping to continue studying and develop my qualifications, embarking on a postgraduate course that combines philosophy and mental health.
14. Are you the type of person who always knew, from an early age, what job you wanted to pursue?
Yes, from about the age of 10 I remember hearing of people’s difficulties and wanting to help them by giving them advice at the time! This then developed into aspiring to become a qualified counsellor.
15. What is your ultimate ambition in life?
To gain as much knowledge and wisdom as possible to discuss new ideas and create meaningful change.
16. Bucket list: Can you list your top 5 goals?
I took some time to contemplate this question because I’ve never had a bucket list as such, but I’ve managed to come up with 5 things that are important to me:
1. Experience something daring in nature – i.e. wheelchair tree-top climbing
2. Using my counseling skills to change someone’s life for the better
3. Learn more about the psychiatry side to mental health
4. Finish reading a book in its entirety!
5. Finish my dissertation
17. If you won the Euromillions, what would you do with the money?
I would first of all build my own custom-made cabin in the forest. I would also double my betting stakes. (I do now and again enjoy a little flutter on the horses and football!) Although overall I am pretty content with my life how it is now.
18. Where is your favourite place in the world?
I really love spending time by the weeping willows in Newnham, Cambridge. These trees overlook the River Cam which makes it a very tranquil spot, where I feel safe and at peace.
19. Do you believe in ghosts, spirits and the like?
I have heard many stories about spirits and the afterlife that have led me to believe, or at least be open to the idea.
20. If a pill existed that could completely cure you of your disability, would you choose to take it, and why?
No, simply because I wouldn’t be me any more. And I wouldn’t have experienced the same things if I had been able-bodied. The only thing I would perhaps alter is the fact that I don’t get to spend much time on my own.
I’d like to thank Rebecca Sherwood for taking the time to answer my questions.
What do YOU think of Rebecca’s responses? how would YOU answer these questions? Leave and comment and let me know!
If you found this blog post interesting, please do share so that others can see it too – thank you!
Throughout my 28 years, I have on many occasions had to call on the Emergency Care services.
I live with the progressive condition, Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. Consequently, I have contractures of the joints, a severe ‘S’ shaped scoliosis, and respiratory decline. I lost the ability to weight-bear at the age of 10, and now use an electric wheelchair to get around. I live with my parents and employ a part-time carer as I require support with daily activities including personal care.
My primary medical concern is respiratory related. Ambulances, A&E and hospital wards are all too familiar to me, having endured several bouts of acute pneumonia, a collapsed lung and pleurisy.
Although general knowledge of my disability is limited within all areas of Emergency Care, on the whole my treatment has always been thorough and adequate, if a little clueless at times!
I have found that whenever muscular dystrophy is mentioned, medics immediately assume it is the Duchenne form. This can be incredibly frustrating as it clearly indicates a lack of education and awareness.
There are many different variations of MD, the effects of which are wide ranging. I do feel that comprehension of these various forms needs to be increased throughout the Emergency Care services.
Each time I have called for an ambulance or been admitted to hospital, I need to relay every detail of my disability and how it affects me. This becomes unnecessarily repetitive and extremely tiresome.
Worryingly, there does seem to be a large gap in the most basic knowledge of muscular dystrophy.
I cannot complain about the care and conscientiousness shown towards me by paramedics, nurses and doctors. However, I am concerned about being in a position where I’m unable to answer their questions regarding my condition.
For instance, it can be dangerous to give those with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy supplementary oxygen as we retain carbon dioxide. It is therefore preferable to support breathing with non-invasive ventilation such as a Bi-pap machine. Failure to communicate this vital information can be literally life threatening.
Furthermore, the fact that I require the presence of a carer whilst an inpatient can be problematic. This again, has to be explained again and again, thus demonstrating a complete lack of awareness.
Are you lacking in confidence and social skills? Do you suffer from low self-esteem, struggle to form meaningful relationships or find dating too nerve-wracking a prospect?
Well, if you haven’t already heard of him, allow me to introduce Amin Lakhani, the Dating Coach on Wheels. With hints, tips, and tailor-made “no bullshit” advice, he could be just the answer you’ve been searching for.
Amin, from Bellevue, Washington, has a progressive form of Muscular Dystrophy called Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome, which presents in overall weakness, particularly the hands and legs. Now 29 years old, he has been a wheelchair user since the age of 15.
He excelled academically, achieving two Ivy League University degrees within four years, progressing onto a successful career at Microsoft. Nevertheless, the Self-confessed “nerd with poor social skills” felt lonely and insecure, with only a few friends and no dating experience.
Finally, at the age of 23, Amin hired a dating coach whom he worked with for around four years. This enabled him to totally transform himself, his relationships and his life.
He’s popular, makes friends easily, has been on over 40 first dates, enjoyed sex and fallen in love. Now the Dating Coach on Wheels, image consultant and motivational speaker is returning the favour.
You became a wheelchair-user at the tough age of fifteen. How did this affect your sense of self and your personal relationships?
I didn’t mind so much at first because I have a huge family and a lot of support. In fact, it was pretty cool because I had this brand new wheelchair and I no longer felt exhausted all the time. Up until that point I could walk a little but I always used elevators and I sort of grabbed hold of the walls and furniture so that I didn’t fall.
But as soon as I started High School I felt different from my peers. I didn’t know anyone else who used a wheelchair, so the fact that I stood-out from the crowd made me really self-conscious. I was lonely, alienated and my relationships became strained because I wanted the impossible: I wanted to get rid of my wheelchair and be the same as everyone else. But of course, that could never happen.
I did have a few school friends but I never had a girlfriend, and was left out of all the usual teen dating etiquette. No girl ever wrote on my locker.
I felt unattractive and thought I had nothing to offer a girl, so I shut myself down. If ever a member of my family asked why I wasn’t dating, I would use the excuse that I was too busy for all that.
Where did you get the idea to seek assistance from a dating coach, and why did you choose that route?
I had tried online dating – the likes of ‘OK Cupid’ and ‘Plenty of Fish’. I was really thorough with my research and looked up what I should and shouldn’t be doing. I was enthusiastic and did everything right according to my research. I was, on paper, a catch. Or so I thought. I was a grade-A student, a high-achiever academically, I had a great job at Microsoft. But it just wasn’t working out for me and that made me feel hopeless. I think my downfall was the fact that I tried to hide my disability from my online dating profiles. I never showed pictures of my wheelchair and never mentioned it. I basically listed my achievements but failed to inject any personality or humour. Had I done this I think I would have been met with a more emotional response. Any response.
I look back now and cringe, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Ultimately it led me to search online forums which is where I found the guy who would become my dating coach. I was 23 at the time and he was doing a workshop called, “Conversation Secrets”. It was then that I decided to get his advice.
You say a turning point for you was being told, by your dating coach, that you will never blend in but that’s okay; rather you should make yourself stand-out from the crowd. Why did this realisation have such an impact on you, and why do you feel disabled people should aim to stand-out rather than fit in?
Yeah, that really did make an impression on me. I learnt that if you don’t like something you should change it. And, if you can’t change it, you should change your opinion of it. It’s true, disabled people are memorable because of their disability. It does make us stand out. But that isn’t a negative thing.
I do think disabled people should embrace their individuality and dress to grab positive attention. People are going to look at you anyway. By nature, humans are curious and we all check each other out – disabled or not. So, make people look at you and remember you for the right reasons. Make them remember your outfit or your style. If you put the effort into your self-image, you look good and feel good about yourself, people wont pity or feel sorry for you because they wont be focused on your disability.
I also learnt, from my dating coach, that being in a wheelchair gives me free rein to talk to any girl in the world. No one is going to slap, punch or snub a guy in a wheelchair, right? So effectively, I could approach any girl I like and just start talking because even if she’s with a guy, he’s unlikely to feel threatened by me. It’s all good practice!
You clearly pay a great deal of attention to your appearance – the signature bow tie, a pop of colour and an overall minimalist, classy aesthetic. How did you develop your personal sense of style and why do you feel this is so important?
I believe you attract what you project. So, if you want to attract a punky type of person, it’s probably a good idea to shape your image around that look. I now look completely different from how I used to. I changed how I dress and style myself according to the type of girls I’m attracted to. We all need to embrace our individuality, consider what we wear and how we wear it. If we don’t feel good about our own appearance, it affects our confidence.
Much emphasis is placed on sex, and for some disabled people this can be a cause for concern. How then would you coach someone whose disability prevents them from participating in the physical act of sex?
Okay, first of all, sex isn’t everything, it’s just a small part of what a relationship is. It’s more important to talk, flirt, connect and feel comfortable in each others company.
With regards to sex itself, I have clients explain their difficulties, circumstances and challenges to me. It’s all about individuality. Every disability is different therefore it’s important to consider everyone’s specific situation.
I have two main points:
Firstly, I ask what the client wants. Do they want someone to support them to participate in sex? Or do they want their partner to support them in the act? Either way, it’s essential to do your research and maybe find out from others with the same physical limitations how they approach sex.
Secondly, you’ve got to make it sound fun and exciting for your partner. Tell them what you want in a flirtatious way and make it sound hot and kinky rather than practical. Remember, you’re giving a gift to this person – to your partner. It’s a hugely intimate thing you’re asking and you’re entrusting your body to them.
You have talked candidly about sex and your own personal experiences. Why do you feel it is important to share this in order to help others?
Yeah I think it’s helpful for me to talk about my own experiences with my clients. It enables us to relate to each other. I’ve been through the same struggles myself and so I can identify in a way that an able-bodied dating coach couldn’t.
I offer advice that is sometimes unconventional. For example, I tell people it’s okay to feel like shit when you get rejected or things don’t go to plan. But you’ve then got to keep going, get out there and try again. All experience is beneficial.
It’s fair to say your target demographic is men. Why is this? Do you think men struggle more than women with confidence and making themselves attractive to others?
Obviously as a guy myself, I can relate more to men, although I have had more female clients recently. I have a wealth of dating and relationship experience that allows me to relate and identify with male clients especially.
There is definitely a gap for guys. They just don’t know how to get in the drivers seat. Women want them to take control but in order to get their guy to that place, they themselves have to take control. So a lot of the time I’m trying to help guys take charge.
Can you please explain your working methods to Disability Horizons readers?
As a dating coach I help people build their skills to make themselves more attractive to others. It’s not just about sex and dating, but also forming meaningful relationships and friendships, too.
For the most part I communicate with clients through video calls and we also Email in between. The length of time I spend with a client depends very much on what they want me to help with, and how hard they are willing to work to achieve their goal. I spent up to a year working with one particular guy who is actually able-bodied. He was incredibly reserved in social settings due to a lack of self confidence, and was looking for more than just a few pointers.
What is the one question you are asked most frequently, and what advice do you give in response?
Men want to know how to ask a girl out and how they can tell if she likes him. I tell them there’s no way to really know for sure if a girl likes you back. You’ve just got to rip off the band aid and go for it.
Women mostly ask how to find a guy who’s interested in more than just sex. My response is to learn to say no! Take your time and make a guy work for it. Don’t give it up on the first date as it leaves a bad impression. Inevitably the guy would assume you give it up to all guys just as easily, and that’s not what men want ultimately. We love the chase and value what we’ve worked hard for.
What are your top dating tips for those who are particularly nervous or lacking in confidence?
It’s okay and totally natural to be nervous. I still get nervous going on a date for the first time. It takes courage and courage leads to nervousness; everyone feels it. You’ve just got to do it. No matter what, you have to try. We all have to go through awkward stages and you will probably look back and cringe at yourself and your failed dates – I know I have. But again, that’s okay.
I also recommend bringing up your disability early on, but in a humorous way. Don’t try to hide it, but at the same time, don’t disclose everything in great detail. You don’t need to be 100% emotionally okay with your own disability. We’re all a little insecure about something. Just put your best foot/wheel forward so you can find the people who prioritise things other than their partners physical abilities. These people are a rare breed, so it will take work (and inevitable heartbreak) to find them.
In terms of date conversation: Pauses, I think, are actually a good, powerful thing. They can be sexual and flirtatious, allowing you to lock eyes and check each other out. I am consciously quiet for extended periods when I go on a date. During these pauses I look my date up and down and make it known that I’m checking her out. This lets her know I like her and will probably make her giggle and flirt in return.
Remember not to talk too much and don’t attempt to fill the silences. It can be exhausting as it’s impossible to process all that verbal information quickly.
Do ask questions, but not just typical introductory questions. Become interested in your date and respond to their answers. If they answer a question very briefly, realise that perhaps they don’t want to talk about that particular topic. Dig deeper into what they do want to talk about and tap into their interests.
Do you think there’s a limit to who you’re able to coach, and have you found any of your clients to be especially challenging?
Oh yeah absolutely. It’s all about motivation. If a client isn’t motivated or willing to do what it takes and work hard for it, they won’t get results. At the end of the day, they need to trust me and do what I tell them, no questions asked. I can’t do the hard work for them.
Where do you see your career taking you and what more do you hope to achieve?
I’m kind of happy where I am right now. I really just want to help more people.
I enjoy writing but mostly I love making videos, talking and being myself on camera. So, ideally I’d like to be more active on Youtube. There’s something about being recorded that’s more effective than someone reading something I have written. In a video, you’re hearing my voice, seeing my mannerisms and humour. You’re receiving the information exactly how I want you to. You just don’t get that through writing.
I feel like I was born to do the work I do. All of my personal struggles have been for a reason. I now have a sense of purpose and can make an impact in a way that I couldn’t if I were able-bodied. In that way, my disability is beneficial.
I’d like to thank Amin for taking the time to talk with me.
Please do connect with the Dating Coach on Wheels on social media:
The dark nights are drawing in and the weather is turning increasingly colder. The harshness of winter fills many disabled people, myself included, with dread. So how can we best prepare ourselves for the months ahead?
We are 80% more likely to catch a cold during winter. Bearing that in mind, here are my top tips to stay well and defend yourself against those nasty winter viruses.
Click here to check out ‘Part 1’, in which I offer my tips to keep warm.
1. Stock up on supplies: Medication –
• It’s always advisable to keep a stock of essential supplies in your home. Several factors, including adverse weather, can prevent you from getting hold of medicines at short notice.
• All my medications are on repeat prescription so that I don’t have the bother of getting hold of a GP every time I need something.
• As someone with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, a common cold for me can develop scarily quickly, and so I ensure there’s always a reserve of antibiotics at home should I need them.
• It’s important to go and get your Flu jab annually and, where relevant, the pneumonia vaccination. Don’t leave it too late to protect yourself from influenza – it takes two weeks from the time you’re injected for your body to build up an immunity.
• It’s good practice to have a List of contacts in case of an emergency. Include medical professionals (e.g. doctors, consultants, physiotherapists and hospital ward/department direct lines) so that you or your next if kin can contact them quickly should you become ill. Keep your list somewhere easy to find, such as on the fridge, and make copies!
• I choose to take supplements including a daily multivitamin and probiotics, in order to boost my immunity. Supplements come in various forms: tablet, capsule, liquid and powder. So if you struggle to swallow pills, there’s always another option out there for you.
• I’m not a fan of water so I drink a lot of herbal teas, such as lemon and ginger, to keep me hydrated and flush out toxins. Both ingredients are naturally antibacterial while ginger also helps ease migraines, inflammation and nausea (the latter being a common side effect of antibiotics). Add some honey for sweetness and to soothe a sore throat.
• I find smoothies and soups are an easy way to get your recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals. It’s really important to eat healthily to aid your bodies defence against all those coughs and colds circulating throughout the winter months. Remember: you are what you eat!
• Top foods: lemon, ginger, garlic, onion, kale, cinnamon, turmeric, honey, apple cider vinegar, grapes, natural yoghurt and chicken soup.
• I keep a little bottle of antibacterial hand gel in my bag (you can buy them really cheaply from most shops nowadays). I use it particularly when out and about or using public transport. It’s a simple way to prevent the spread of germs from surface to surface and person to person.
• It’s stating the obvious but do wash hands with soapy water and maintain clean surfaces within the home. It’s often difficult to prevent all members of a household becoming ill when one gets sick. But simple precautions such as this could make all the difference.
• Grab yourself a few packets of antibacterial wipes and remember to clean phones, remote controls, computer keyboards and door handles regularly. You’d be amazed how much bacteria harbours there.
• Be considerate and try to cough and sneeze into a tissue rather than the air. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of tissues in stock. Please don’t do what my Dad does and carry a snotty cotton handkerchief around with you all day – bleurgh!
• Finally, don’t forget to replace your toothbrush after you have fully recovered from an illness.
• It’s beneficial to stay as active as physically possible, particularly throughout winter as immobility makes us more vulnerable to infection.
• I am completely non-ambulant and so this is a major issue for me. Immobility results in muscle decline and poor circulation, which in itself leads to further complications.
• Although I cannot exercise in a conventional fashion, I basically wriggle and move about as much as I can. For example, I flex my feet & wiggle my toes, lean back and forth and side to side in my chair. Don’t be afraid to put some music on, loosen up and just MOVE however you can, for as long as you can.
• If you are able, go swimming as this is the best exercise for those with physical disabilities.
• Remember to pay attention to your lungs! Deep breathing exercises are an essential daily requirement for me. Following the Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) helps to keep me as strong as I can be.
5. Avoid germs:
• I am particularly susceptible to respiratory viruses. If I go anywhere near someone with a cold, 9/10 I will catch it. As a common cold for me can quickly progress into a much more serious condition, I do my best to limit exposure to infected people.
• I avoid overcrowded spaces and public transport when I’m feeling run-down, whilst taking and shortly after a course of antibiotics as this is when my defences are the lowest.
• At times when coughs/colds are prevalent within the local community, I try to stay away from enclosed public places e.g. trains, buses, cinema, supermarket/stores, pubs, clubs etc.
• If you must go out, remain in the fresh, open air (but wrap up warm).
• I always wear a scarf when out and about. When necessary, I can use it almost like a mask, pulling it up over my face. This prevents me from inhaling and contracting airborne viruses.
• Why not add a few drops of Olbas Oil (eucalyptus) to your scarf. That way, when you do need to pull it up over your nose and mouth, you can breathe in the fresh scent and it won’t feel stuffy.
I really hope this was helpful! If so, please share this blog post so that others can benefit too.
I’d love to hear from you – what do you do to stay well throughout winter?