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3 Thoughts: Wheelchair Woes

2019 November 214 min read

I'm just now beginning to recover from over a month of being confined to a wheelchair, almost paralyzed in my entire body from some utterly undetectable super-virus. It's a long story, but suffice it to say during that time, cooped up in my room, my private journal was filling up with an above-average concentration of depressing thoughts. Here's some.

- 1 -

Consider a stack of large, empty binders. It will be always true of this stack that either:

  • every left-facing binder is underneath a right-facing binder; or
  • every right-facing binder is underneath a left-facing binder.

Either one or the other is true, but not both. And every time a binder is placed on top of the stack, the nature of the stack completely changes in this way. This is just an essential property of finite alternating sequences.

In my life, it is always true either that every downswing has been followed by an upswing, or the opposite: that every upswing has been followed by a downswing. When I'm in an upswing, it is a source of encouragement for me that I can look back at the depressive periods of my past and remind myself that every one of them eventually subsided. When I'm in a downswing, the opposite is true: there is not a single happy period in my life I can look back on that did not eventually end in disaster. Again, this is all just a mathematical inevitability, but it may also be why every depressive period I've had as of late has been worse than the last; each upswing and downswing is just yet another confirming instance for whichever of the two mutually exclusive and exhaustive statements happens to be true.

- 2 -

At one point during a recent therapy session, a psychologist tried to use metaphor as a tool to combat suicidal thoughts. I had mentioned to him that I used to do distance running, so when I started talking about suicide, he asked me, "what's the longest distance you've ever run?" I knew exactly where he was going with this, and after about thirty seconds of silence, I said, "I really don't want to go down this road." But he insisted, telling me that he used to run as well, and that there are always times during a run where you feel like you can't go any further, that your body is completely giving out and you've lost all motivation - but those are the moments that are the most rewarding when you get through them.

To this, I responded that the last time I had a moment like that, I got through it, and ended the race with intense foot pains that would trigger the beginning of the gradual, painful deterioration of my feet culminating in my now being in a wheelchair.

I apologized for bringing this up, of course, but I couldn't help seeing the dramatic irony in it. My suicidal thoughts were only there because my physical condition seemed like it was untreatable, and at that point I was unable to envision another way out of my struggle. But now, I am finally starting to get through it, and believe me, it is definitely at least as rewarding as finishing a 5k run.

- 3 -

Imagine how many people out there have gone through, or are going through, the same kinds of debilitating mental problems that are currently affecting me, problems that have baffled psychologists and resisted all attempts at diagnosis - but when they describe their situation to counsellors, they can't say "two years ago I was a Schulich scholar with a 4.3 GPA and an unending list of extra-curricular achievements". Imagine this kind of stuff happening to just an average guy who worked a couple of minimum wage jobs and didn't have a three-page "proof of disability" in the form of a resume like I do. Imagine how quickly the system would just swallow these unfortunate people whole; imagine how quickly they would be written off as just lazy, angsty college burnouts who never learned how to handle responsibility.

During periods in my life when I'm more mentally healthy, which is to say more self-centered and less empathetic, I can appreciate how lucky I am not to be one of those people. But when I'm depressed, all I can feel is yet more pity on their behalf.

(Also, solidarity with lazy, angsty college burnouts who never learned how to handle responsibility. They, too, deserve a good life, just as much as we do.)

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