Planet Earth: Disability and Environmentalism I

It’s funny how disability can reach out and touch everything in your life. Everything, you know what I mean? It’s like sand in your mouth – you can grind your teeth, cough, drink water, whatever – you can’t escape it.

After watching a documentary on oil consumption in the United States (“A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash”), I’ve been giving more thought to my own carbon footprint and what I can do to help planet Earth. And there’s some things I’d love to do to “save the planet”, but because of one disability or the other, it’s just not feasible. Here are two examples, with some side-notes:

1. Riding a bike. Because of my cerebral palsy, I’ve never learned to ride a bike. Or at least not a “real” bike – meaning a bicycle. My parents started me out on a tricycle, like most kids, and I did just fine. But beyond that, my balance was (is) too shaky. I couldn’t maintain a center of balance – forced on the seat of a bicycle, I wobble, and shake, and fall over.

My parents bought me a modified tricycle, called a banana peel, when I was a young child.  It was bright yellow, with a sling of fabric for a seat, and a tall orange flag attached to the back so that oncoming traffic would have a chance to see me instead of flattening me into the pavement. To this day I’m not sure why they bought it – to appease a child who desperately wanted to ride bikes? Something as simple as making sure I would get exercise? I don’t have a very good memory, and especially not regarding my early childhood years, so it could have been any reason.

Anyway, I really enjoyed riding it. I liked pedaling around, the wind in my face, eyes roaming the fields. But my parents were always after me to remember to “stay close” – the roads were winding, with sharp curves and steep embankments, and it was quite possible that a car would hit me regardless of the flag on the back – and my grandmother hated me visiting her by biking down. And, I think, on some level it started to sink in that I would never graduate from the banana peel to a “normal” bike, and that none of my friends would ever own a bike like mine. So eventually I stopped riding it altogether.

I haven’t ridden any type of bike since. And, since I’m not living in a metropolis, it’s rare that I can walk wherever I need to go. So it’s my car (modified, by the way, but that’s getting off topic) or nothing. And to be honest, I have a lot of emotional attachment to that car – it’s my mobility, it’s my freedom, and it’s my safety. And I realize how fortunate it is that I learned to drive, because it’s always been so calming and empowering to me.

But of course there’s the whole emissions and fossil fuel dependence complication. I’d like to change my car dependence, but I have no idea how to go about it.

I’ve done zero research. This is probably because I am easily discouraged and whenever I’ve gone into bike shops, the only bikes that are stable enough for me to ride – i.e. some kind of tricycle – are generally considered something your grandmother would ride, and only then if she wasn’t easily embarrassed. I’d like to ride something, yes, but I want it to be stylish and affordable and something that won’t automatically make me look like a circus clown.

To be honest, I have a complex about “looking” disabled (and that’s a whole other twisted can of worms, oh god, so please keep in mind I know how messed up that is and take that statement at face value and avoid leaving me angry comments) and I’ll flat out refuse to buy something if there’s a chance that someone will point and say, there’s the crippled girl on her funny bike, isn’t she just so determined? No. Just no, thank you. Take whatever complex blend of pity and amusement you have and shove it, I respond to this imaginary person.

2. Reducing water consumption. This is something I’m good about in small ways – turning the tap off when brushing my teeth, for example – and bad about in larger ways. I have a medical disability called vulvodynia (which is essentially a catch all term for “pain of the vulva”). During my episodes, my pelvic area is engulfed in burning pain. I feel much as if I am burning from the inside out. And the only way I’ve been able to get through these periods is by taking a long hot bath.

When I’m having a particularly bad week – such as this one – I can take anywhere from one to four baths a day. Obviously, that’s a lot of water. And yeah, I’ve read a lot of research on the global water crisis – I talk about it, read about it, make sure to avoid all bottled water by carrying around a thermos of water from the tap, etc. But there is absolutely no way – no way – that when I’m in the throes of pain you’ll be able to quote to me about lake beds drying up. I’ll claw your face off and then pour my bath anyway.

So, until next time, there are my two environmental stumbling blocks. If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions I’d really appreciate you leaving a comment.

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