YOLO

I’m now 24 and it feels like I’ve been around forever. Every personal experience, every daydream, everything I’ve ever done or thought to do all contained in 2 and a quarter decades.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine not existing. Actually I’m pretty sure it’s impossible. Yet it’s a scientific fact that somewhere in the future my ability to experience life and all that surrounds it (i.e. everything) will be lost, just as I wasn’t around to experience anything for millions upon millions of years pre-1991. Human life seems so long and big, yet the average tortoise is set to outlive me.
What are we supposed to do with this information? I don’t know. It’s just something I like pondering from time to time. You only live once. YOLO! I hate that this phrase has been sucked dry of any meaning.
’Yes, I will get another drink. YOLO.’
It’d be great if, whenever we heard the phrase or saw someone wearing one of those t-shirts (someone somewhere is wearing one), we’d be triggered into thinking about the temporality of everything, and how special all of this is with the atoms and the molecules and such. And what a shame it is that people like Carl Sagan aren’t around to enjoy the privilege of being Carl Sagan anymore, but man is it cool that they existed so that we, the living, can look back in awe of their person/work/art/influence. And if this is my first and last chance of living, I’ll take time out to enjoy this bizarre journey to nowhere. Etc.
But nope, YOLO is LOL wearing antlers on its head for a laugh.

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The big question

’If you could remove your disability, would you?’

**Cue inspiring sad music**
I don’t know. Next question.
Actually, of all the questions you could be asked as someone with a disability, this one isn’t terrible. If it’s on a Youtube video with 1m+ views, I guarantee the people questioned give an assertive ’No!’ and say phrases like ’It’s a gift’ or ’I still need to show the world how strong I am’ and the comment section will be full of people apparently inspired to do something sometime.
Nothing wrong with those answers, though. Me, I’d need a comprehensive break-down of the offer. If you mean we go back in time and redo my birth with a better doctor, then my answer is no. My disability has been present in so many life-decisions and goals that it has partly made me me, and I kind of like me.
If you mean I can transform overnight while retaining awareness of my life so far, then I’m flummoxed. Losing the cerebral palsy would be like losing a heavy backpack that I’ve carried around for so long that it may as well not weigh a thing: it’s a part of me. In there is where I’ve stored physical limitations, inventive adaptions and pieces of my identity. Without it I’d probably feel light on my feet but also a little empty.
But losing my disability would mean I’d also lose the clueless assumptions that come with it. Everyone has some kind of judgement stuck over them, but when you’re in a wheelchair it seems there’s 3 main types of disability you’re assumed to have: you can’t speak, are quite deaf and have the IQ level of a 3 year old. Even clever people have let themselves down by shouting in my ear reeeally slooowly in a quiet lecture room. Conversely other assumptions would be completely reversed. For example, even the most ignorant of people would assume I have man-parts and am as much a slave to biological desires as most humans, which would be handy to say the least. If I wasn’t disabled this selection of people would be more likely to have a normal conversation with me. Would we get along? Who knows.
Being newly ’abled’ would also bring on a cascade of new choices, and I’d master every single one of them. Give me a week of guitar practice and I’d be murdering Jimmy Page with my riffs. And my paintings would be considered more revolutionary than every revolution ever. Yeah, right. When you know you’ll never have the physical ability to strum a guitar let alone make one weep, it’s easy to overestimate the amount of passion and work you’d invest into becoming a rock God. If I couldn’t physically type out these letters, I’d be imagining myself becoming a world-renowned novelist, slogging away 24 hours a day on an old typewriter, sipping whiskey and looking miserable. To be honest I don’t know how I’d deal with a world of boundless choice. What can you do with a ’healthy’ body? Anything, and that would scare me.
When people watch those inspirational videos – ’girl walks on crutches for first time’ (because she has the ability and it’ll improve her independence and the physios made her do it…) – the majority are looking for a kick up the butt. They want to think to themselves, ’If this disabled child can walk a few steps, what’s stopping me from beating Bolt at the Olympics/finding the ultimate antidote to death/rebuilding the Brazilian rainforest from scratch?’ Here’s the answer. Ready? You lack the commitment, skill or passion, and you can only accomplish so many goals to such an extent in one short lifetime, each of which has room for failure at every bend.
Are you inspired yet? Seriously though, if I really could achieve whatever I wanted to achieve I’d struggle to achieve anything at all. If I visited a sweet shop and saw hundreds of sweets I’ve never tried before (and I have no allergies), I’d rather buy out the whole shop than be forced to decide on 3. Tell me, in addition, that I’m only allowed one visit to this shop and every sweet I see is a final edition never to be sold anywhere ever again and I’ll snap like a piece of candy cane.
If you could remove your disability, would you? This isn’t a question with a yes or no answer, it’s a hypothetical conundrum which I’m glad I’ll never have to face.

Items I’m glad aren’t just for disabled people

Whoever’s tried buying any special disability products will know how pricey it can be. It’s the old supply and demand adage. A good accessible bath could cost you billions. Not really, but you could pay a few thousand for the privilege of a bath with a built-in chair lift. Here’s a short list of stuff that could’ve easily been exclusive disability products, but thankfully aren’t.
Straws
If it wasn’t for the invention of straws I’d have to take a shower each time I finish a drink. That’s around 8 showers a day. Plus I’d be dehydrated because my shirt would’ve soaked up the majority of the liquid. I have no idea what’s so fun about the concept of party straws, but keep on partying you crazy straw partiers. If straws were exclusively for the physically disabled, it’d probably cost around £60 for a pack – of one.
Ereaders
Before the ereader reading was a bit of a task for me, especially when it came to reading big 400+ page novels. Beginning them was fine. I’d hold the left-hand page down with my knee, and the weight of the other side held itself down. The closer you’d get to the middle, however, the more challenging things became. Wrestling with paper and punching pages in the face is all in the past with the ereader*. If this was an item just for the disabled, I dread to think what the device would cost, and for a lot less books, no doubt. I’d think that only do-good authors would make ebooks available to the device, since so few would be buying. Argue away over how paper’s the best, devices are breakable etc. Just please keep buying the things for those friends who do like them.
Remote controls
One person’s lazy is another’s independence. Without TV remotes, I would’ve unintentionally beaten so many TVs to a pulp in heavy-handed attempts to find a good channel. The remote is more or less indestructible. The only time it’s a pain is when the infrared sucks, but you can try fixing this by slamming the remote against the wall once or twice. This is how I know it’s indestructible. Nowadays you have remote apps too on tablets so you can have remotes of TV remotes, and now I can be lazy as well as independent. Either I turn half a circle and change Sky over using the real remote on my floor or, as I’ve just finished messing around with an app and am still on the iPad… I can also work my sound system completely off my iPad. Good. Viva la lazy revolution.
It’s great that there’s people out there creating niche products that will make other’s lives easier, and some specialised things are cheap. But when a product is both useful and mainstream, I’m all in.

*If you are a stubborn paperback fan with jerky movements, try using a long paperweight or a sand-stuffed toy that can stretch across the entire book. Remove when turning the page or the weight’s blocking a line. You probably figured that one out by now anyway.

Forget about wrinkle-cream: all you need is a special brain. (Oh, and a wheelchair).

What are normal 20 year olds concerned about? Hair? Cars? The sun, since without it they wouldn’t be feeling much like a 20 year old (or anything else)? Well, when I was 20 a few years ago, my main concern was this: am I really 20?

It wasn’t an existential crisis – that’s just now starting to kick in. The question was whether my brain had been tricking me my whole life into thinking I’d existed for way longer than I actually had.
The internal debate came to a head when I went to Spain in 2011 with my parents. We went on this nice bus trip around the mountains. Everything seemed normal, the bus crawling up a road 3-6 inches wide as we all admired the rocky descent off the cliffside. I felt a young and alive adult (nudge nudge). Then the bus guide started to talk.
’They have names for these roads,’ he joked. ’This one’s Oh My God lane, another’s Oh No road, and the one we’re now approaching is Holy Sh-’ He stopped, swallowing his words. Nodding in my direction, he said ’Sorry, I forgot who’s here with us today.’
I looked behind me, expecting to see the Pope on his day off, his white cape smeared with tomatoes and, uh, peppers and stuff. Nope, everyone was looking at me. Was I the bus’ uninformed swearing modulator? Or was there something a little more eerie going on? We set up WTF hill and arrived at the restaurant stop.
Earlier on we all made our orders. An old woman giggled as I said I wanted bread and soup, almost as if surprised at how advanced my vocabulary was for my age. Hmm.
The meal was a 3 course and as soon as we sat down the starter was in front of us, then 5 seconds later the mains. Somebody had switched the waiters onto ’Pour into mouths and get them out’ mode. Eating the meal was such intense labour we nearly had a breakdown, mistaking the beef for the cheesecake and mixing tea into the latte, while the unfinished starters were removed with incredible stealth. Sweating and defeated, we threw down our forks. Whether I was full or malnourished, I didn’t know, didn’t care. I needed a break from the snatching waiters and their deadly speeds, some escape from the madness.
’Ready for your alcohol everyone?’ shouted the bus guide. Faces resting on tables, we managed to emit some sound. At last the waiter arrived at our table with 2 shot glasses. Huh? There were 3 of us.
’Where’s mine?’
’His drink is on way’ said the waiter to my Dad. He soon returned with the drink. ’Sin alcohol,’ he said, with an air of professional pride.
We talked for a bit, me addressing Dad, Dad addressing the waiter, the waiter referring to me in third-person. I gave in.
’Just give me the goddamn shot,’ I said, slamming my fists upon the table. Not really, he just left the squash – or whatever it was – in front of me and walked away. I gulped it down like a boss. ’Hey, get me another one.’
To this day I blame him for my squash problem. I can’t go 20 minutes without taking a shot of Ribena, strong and pure.
At the time I concluded that I was clearly about 10 years advanced for my age and I think that still makes sense. I think and feel 24 right now, so that means in reality I’ve just hit puberty and, trust me, that explains a hell of a lot.
Many people will tell me ’Come on man, this is all about attitudes and dumb assumptions,’ to which I reply: Ha! Nice try, brain. I’ve discovered your secret scheme, no use backtracking with your illusional human plants now. I’m 14 and you can bet your ass I’ll drink squash until I’m 40 in 26 years time. Oh sorry, language.