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Friday, 26 February 2010

Do I have a disability?

In order to improve the running experience I have invested in a kind of cummerbund which holds me tightly round the middle and stops me feeling as if I am about to open up like a book.

One day I walked at speed to the forest recreation ground (mile and a half) which warmed me up, and then started to do the run / walk routine. Plodding so slowly and oafishly round the field whilst others seemed to spring painlessly past, carefree of their natural energy. Bastards!

I discovered that on the forest there is an outdoor gym which uses your own weight rather than weights. I sweated round all the bits of equipment and it felt really good. I felt almost euphoric as I pumped and pushed. I was me again.

I had also decided was that I was going to swim again, and so Clare and I arranged a visit to a company called Ostomart to look at some high waisted-swimmers. I was not really sure about these as have been used to budgie smugglers all my life. The thought of wearing such a voluminous garment in the water gave me black and white and grainy images from the mid 1950’s, and did not appeal.

We found ourselves in an office staffed by about 5 women behind computers, and on phones. They showed me a pair of the sail like swimmers; and these were the small ones. My god! You could catch fish with these things. I decided against them. I asked about changing my prescription to be with them and before we knew it we were in a room stacked to the ceiling with “products” and “supplies” The woman showing us round this odd new world seemed to know everything. She was easy to talk to, very re-assuring.

“People get used to a product and don’t like to change, so we have to stock old designs as well as modern ones.”

She described how some people have a rubber bag which they keep on for a really long time and which they wash out. Not what I want.

The sartorial problems of swimming seemed to half solved when I bought a pair of Bermuda shorts. These in combination with a pair of high-waisted elasticised pantaloons from Ostomart, seemed to offer the possibility of swimming again.

So yesterday I walked to the Noel Street Baths, and asked for a ticket to swim. The woman asked if had a city card. No I said, so she gave me a form to fill in.

I admit that forms can defeat me quite often but this one looked a doddle; name, address etc. But then I got to the question

“Do you have a disability?”

I was stumped and I didn’t know what to put. Does anyone out there know the answer to this question?

Having got my ticket I entered the pool area. It’s one of those really old pools that have changing cubicles all round the sides, and vitreous tiles .

I slipped into my new pantaloon / swimmer combo and opened up my new goggles. I was ready to swim. In the pool I started swimming with great pleasure. It was wonderful. I used to swim everyday. I really miss that, and the sauna too. As I got to other end I did a quick grope to make sure everything was still in place. The Bermuda shorts had slipped down to my hips, and my bag was poking out of the top like a large dog’s tongue.

I leaned against the wall and flipped up the goggles on my forehead and started to adjust everything. It was at this point that one of the goggle eyepieces slipped back down over one eye.

I had suddenly become a strange squinting man fumbling with his nethers in the shallow end. Not so cool. Shorts tightened to the max, I set off again, but at the other end I was one eyed and fumbling again.

I returned to the changing cubicle and bodged two holes in the waist band of the swimmers with my car key. These allowed my to rethread the boot lace at the front in such a way that I could really tighten them up. I emerged from the cubicle like a man wearing a whalebone corset.


In the pool I was swimming again. Brilliant.

And I’m so much better at swimming than running.

I’m happy


  1. That sounds bloody great. At last back in the water. That must have been pretty strange at first. xx

  2. Nice to find your blog! Good job on being so savvy in your swimsuit engineering. :)

    Hope you don't mind, but the mental image I got when you were describing your activities in the shallow end gave me a bit of a chuckle.

    Glad to hear you are happy and doing what you love!

  3. I received this interesting response on facebook:-

    "Just read your blog update 'am I disabled' - sorry babe, but yes you come under disabled. You actually have what is called a hidden disability, a bit like me - and it's only really listed there in the event the life guards need to know (in the case of the pool). You can think yourself lucky - at least you don't have to announce it to the life guard every time you go swimming like I do. A top tip - when/if you tell them say... 'Do I need to tell you I have a colostomy bag?' (well, I'm epileptic, in my case). I'm afraid it's the way of things for you now - you cannot really be 'disabled and demure' - you have to be 'disabled and devil-may-care/proud'!"

    Thank you

  4. That's awesome! Big congrats on getting your feet back in the water. Love swimming myself, its a hell of a workout for sure!

  5. What's disabled anyway?

  6. I know this question also. My own muscle stuff only affects me now and again, and so if I put 'yes' I have an irrational feeling that I might end up being seen in the same bracket as someone who claims disability and is then gets filmed on some investigators programme, happily referreing football, jsut to underline that stereotypical belief that 'disabled' and 'activity' can't possibly go together. Still seems like there's such a limited common perception of how wide the scope of disability is - and hidden disability is hidden, as above.

    Often I just put 'no' partly because I can't be arsed to get into it I admit, but also because I know the specifics don't affect the job/whatever. There are times when I need to, as any tasks involving me lifting stuff are going to be pretty perilous and possibly horribly expensive to those around me :)!

    The 'do I need to tell you' tip from your friend is great. It was so weird to have to think about all this relatively suddenly, so I do get how this is.

    Great to hear you're finding ways back into swimming and getting to do what you enjoy more and more :)

    PS. Re. walking/running - I was recently walking up a big hill carrying naff all, and got overtaken by an absolutely *ancient* bloke with two entire bags of shopping. What is happening there?!?! It's just not on :):)

  7. New to your blog - great post. I often pondered that disability question myself when in the grips of a flare. In the past i have often suffered from pretty severe associated arthritis, massively (and i mean MASSIVELY) swollen legs, only able to walk in absolute agony, leaning on walls, at about 1m per minute etc etc. I did think about applying for a disabled driver badge. Then I thought about applying for one of those disabled spaces on my street, coz it is such a bugger to find a parking space. But then I started worrying about the inconsistency of the arthritis and, like Anonymous above, finding myself appearing on a 'benefits cheats' hidden camera show on ITV4...

    However, I did have one very unpleasant experience. I was on a train back from london and the arthritis had come quite badly. The train was packed when it got into croydon and an old lady got on. I was in the seat nearest to her, but could not get up because my legs were so bad. Outwardly however I appeared a pretty normal youngish chap. So another woman started to have a go at me (not the old lady I might add), then someone else joined in... I tried to explain, but you could tell they didn't believe me. I had to spend the rest of the journey facing some very dirty looks.

    Still i do play football every sunday. so I can't be disabled can i?

  8. Rich,

    Thanks for reading my blog. Hope it was interesting for you.

    That is a very complex and challenging situation you describe. The way you look V the way you are can be a very fraught area.

    My legs went horribly wrong as well, at first I tried to carry on as normal, and was often misunderstood. However when I used a stick and was visibly "disabled" I was accepted as needing help etc. Without the stick I was perceived as drugged or drunk. Surely not me.

    Now I look completely normal, I swim and walk with ease. My "disability" is now invisible again.

    I think there are many people we meet everyday that have a hidden disability. Maybe we should just assume that everyone has something difficult to deal with until they are proved to be invincible to time and gravity and physicality.

    Good luck

  9. You are beautiful Arkayeff.


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