_WELLNESS / NAVIGATING THE CITY
Navigating the big city
The Ins and Outs of Accessibility
I had dreamed of this moment ever since I was a little girl. I had just graduated with a degree in fashion design and was off to New York City to pursue my career. When the big day arrived, my parents and I packed up my dad’s old pickup truck and drove the twelve hours from my small town in Indiana to New York City. As we approached the city, I was immediately captivated by the skyline. Bold and majestic, it represented all the big dreams ahead of me…
Within a few days, I was settled in and excited to start my new adventures. I knew if I was going to live in New York City full-time I would have to learn how to use the subway system, because $40 Ubers were not exactly plausible on this recent graduate’s budget. When I spent a semester of college studying in midtown, I avoided the subway, not knowing how to use it as a wheelchair user. Luckily both my school and internship
through my community, I felt confident I could make it in NYC
where within walking distance. But now I was up in Harlem with friends all over the city and a job interview the following week in Midtown. As much as I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw jumping in and out of yellow taxis, I could not avoid public transportation forever.
A few months back when I was in New York for fashion week, I had lunch with a friend who has been navigating the subway system as a wheelchair user for years. She told me what apps to download, how to know what stations had elevators, and if those elevators were working. It was time to put her advice to use and head down to the Target store in Herald Square for some apartment shopping. Several hours later, my parents and I found ourselves drinking white zinfandel listing to a Prince tribute band in the East Village. We never made it to Target. Instead, our trip downtown had been one obstacle after another, starting with the fact that I needed a separate, doctor-approved metro card just to get onto the subway. From litter-strewn or out-of-service elevators to impossible subway gaps, I found myself feeling trapped and vulnerable as a result of the subway system’s lack of accessibility.
I was angry. It was 2020. Thirty years had passed since the Americans with Disabilities Act and yet here I was being denied equal access to public transportation. I understood now why the woman at the Help Desk told me my fare would be reduced. It’s because the system is barely functional for people with disabilities.
Being New York tough seemed even more important if I wanted to make it as a disabled woman in the city. New York City could be challenging for anyone, even without the accessibility issues. Although the MTA seemed like a roadblock in the pursuit of my dreams, I was determined to overcome this obstacle and find a way to navigate my new city. Luckily that weekend, Lucy of Wheel New Yorkers reached out to me about a self-defense class for women who use wheelchairs. Lucy was starting a social group for New Yorkers who use wheelchairs. In the coming months, she connected me with women all over the city who use wheelchairs. They were just as ambitious and determined to thrive in this crazy place as I was. Within the first meeting at our self-defense class, I shared my struggle and anxiety with taking the subway. They planned a “subway adventure” that started in Harlem and ended with meeting up with a group of other wheelchair users for brunch on the Upper West Side.
It was amazing to be surrounded by confident women who were aware and used to the accessibility struggles of living in New York City. Because of their help and willingness to take me under their wings, I gained confidence in navigating the subway. I was so excited to text them my victory of taking the subway from East Village to Harlem by myself for the first time with no major hang ups. I learned that the bus system was much more reliable for wheelchair users and can be handy when the elevators go out in the subway stations. And when I did run into problems or wasn’t sure what route to take, my new friends were just a text away. Moving to New York City was everything that I hoped it would be and even though it came with new challenges and obstacles, I was grateful to be in a place that inspires my creativity and provides endless opportunities. The city connected me to some amazing people and through my community I felt confident I could make it there.
_WELLNESS / HOW TO AVOID PTSD
We’re all living through trauma, here’s how to avoid
Tips on how to take care of your mental health
If you spotted someone sporting a stylish teal ribbon recently, it symbolizes PTSD awareness, which had its official month in June.
PTSD awareness couldn’t come at a better time. After all, post-traumatic stress disorder, a common and treatable anxiety problem triggered by exposure to jarring events, affects people in all walks of life, not just combat veterans.
This awareness is vital now that PTSD is predicted to grow exponentially as we all cope with the pervasive stress from our Covid-19 induced anxiety and hyper-vigilance. The World Health Organization recently issued a report on its impact on mental health, noting the long-term consequences of physical isolation, fears of infection, and economic turmoil.
PTSD wreaks havoc on the mind as sufferers are often trapped in negative thought patterns and are unable to relax. Just look at how terrifying common pleasantries like shaking hands, holding a door open, or sharing an elevator have become.
It also damages the body. A new study shows people with PTSD had increased dysfunction in their small blood vessels, which is often a precursor to stiffening or narrowing of the larger arteries. That can lead to a heart attack, stroke, hypertension, or other forms of heart disease.
“PTSD is not just a mental disorder, it’s a physical one, too,” says Ryan Garten, PhD, professor of Kinesiology & Health Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, and an author on the paper.
Fortunately, those teal ribbons are working. PTSD awareness is growing and losing its stigma.
Hospitals nationwide have invested resources in counseling after recent studies have shown that medical workers who treated Covid-19 patients suffered increased rates of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Massachusetts General Hospital, for example, has certified some of its doctors as health and wellness coaches to support frontline clinicians.
While talking to a trauma counselor is the best medicine for handling or avoiding PTSD, here are three other strategies you can do on your own.
“PTSD is not just a mental disorder, it’s a physical one, too”
Ryan Garten, PhD
Garten and his team suspect that people who suffer from PTSD are over-burdening their flight-or-fight response hormones. When we feel “keyed-up” or on-edge, as so many of us do during the pandemic, our sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, which can lead to cardiovascular problems.
“One of the best treatments is exercise,” says Jennifer Weggen, a PhD candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University and a co-author of the study. “Moving the body with vigor can really help calm down the nervous system.”
Vigorous exercise exhausts the body, which quiets the mind. That’s an essential ingredient in handling PTSD since it allows sufferers to sleep deeply and to escape negative-thought patterns
As for what type of exercise is best, Weggen says whatever you enjoy is what you should do.
She notes that team sports or working out near friends has the added benefit of social interaction and accountability, while a solo yoga practice is wonderful for working the trifecta of the body, breath, and mindfulness.PUT A RAINBOW ON YOUR PLATE
An overworked flight-or-fight response leads to a chain reaction in the body that boosts oxidative stress. When that heightened sense of anxiety sneaks up on you, it’s beneficial to have some antioxidants nearby.
Garten and Weggen found that when study participants downed a cocktail of vitamin C, vitamin E, and alpha lipoic acid, their blood flow returned to normal and their nervous system calmed down.
“Antioxidant-supplements modulate the sympathetic nervous system,” says Garten. However, he cautions, “they aren’t effective in the long-term like a healthy diet is.”
To stave off damage from oxidative stress, it’s important to consume a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Red, green, orange, yellow, and purple foods all contain different antioxidants that protect cellular health.CHECK YOU, CHECK TWO
The check you, check two protocol helps maintain balance in your own life while supporting others.
The idea behind the system, which several hospital systems adopted, is to slow down, self-assess, and attend to your own needs. That means eating well, hydrating, resting, pacing yourself, and decompressing when you need to. These daily breaks offer temporary relief from stress and anxiety, which can stop future PTSD from creeping in.
From there, you touch base with two other people for two minutes, ask how they’re doing, to listen attentively and to honor their experience.
These mini-breaks coupled with peer-to-peer checks keep up social connections, keep us from reaching our wits end, and help restore energy before returning to the demands of caretaking, parenting, or staying infection-free.
_WELLNESS / I N T E R A B L E D R E L AT I O N S H I P S
The beauty of disabled/abled relationships
An insider’s look at relationships between a disabled person and an abled one
Interabled relationships between a Disabled person and an abled person are really misunderstood. It’s often presumed that they’re really one sided. That surely someone who needs extra care isn’t capable of giving care in return. The abled person is painted as being saintly, the hero of the story. Someone who deserves a medal (yes, this has been said to us) or someone people feel sorry for because surely being with a Disabled person must be a burden? A relationship devoid of sex and joy.
Maybe there are interabled relationships like that out there. Just like I’m sure there are abled relationships that are one sided, joyless and sexless, too. All relationships are different, but ableism and the ablegaze (the way able-bodied people perceive disability) see interabled ones as being a negative thing, because ableism sees being Disabled as a negative thing.
“No, my partner doesn’t deserve a medal for being with me”
I can’t speak for all interabled relationships, but I can speak for mine and I know from the curious glances we get when we’re out together that Jase being my partner is not the first thought people have. I’d wager it’s “carer,” closely followed by “kind friend”. Insert many eye rolls here.
Our relationship isn’t one sided. Jase is not the sole carer. The notion that Disabled people requiring more care means they can’t give care in return is silly nonsense. We both give care to each other in different ways. He helps me take my shoes off at the end of the day. I help him pick clothes that aren’t terrible. He helps me up if I fall. I listen to his worries when they arise. He pushes my chair if I get tired. I stroke his head when he is. He helps with any continence needs I might have, and I squeeze his spots.
We both give and care in different ways. We hold each other on our good days and our bad days, and we both bring very different things to the relationship. I can’t walk and Jase can never find his keys. Jase takes on more housework, but I do pretty much all the organizational stuff in our lives. We all know how boring life admin is (pretty sure, I’m the one who deserves a medal) But hey if you need to book a dentist appointment I’m your girl.
Yeah, he’s seen some stuff that some people would be embarrassed by but aren’t those some of the best moments in any relationship? Those times when you’re vulnerable and you let someone take care of you, and they DO take care of you. Those intimacy-forming moments do nothing but bring you closer together. We gave up inhibitions a long, long time ago and unsurprisingly that makes for some really brilliant sex.
I’m not lucky to have Jase because I’m disabled. I’m not grateful to have Jase because I’m disabled. I’m lucky to have him just like he’s lucky to have me. Disabled people aren’t any less worthy of love and affection than non-disabled people. An interabled relationship can be just as wonderful, magical and saucy as a non-disabled one.