Jenny Bathurst: "I have no shame in saying that when my wheelchair arrived at my door I cried"

Sussex student Jenny Bathurst chronicled Covid week by week. Now she returns to share thoughts, fears and hopes.

Jenny is studying journalism at the University of Brighton.

"After being diagnosed with an incurable chronic illness, I thought that it would be lights down and curtains closed on my love for the theatre. Anybody who knows me even the slightest bit will be aware of how much the musical world means to me, and so the idea that I might never again be able to sit in the red velvet seats awaiting a couple of hours of escapism was admittedly a rather devastating realisation.

"However, this fear of mine was shattered at the weekend when I went to see my first show since an influx of illness that began last November. Actually, I tell a lie. Just days after a nasty concussion I decided just to ‘push through’ the pain and fogginess and commit to a showing of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ - a show entirely surrounding people having accidents and concussing themselves. I don’t think I have ever winced so hard in my life.

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    Jenny Bathurst

    "But since then has been an entanglement of health issues which has prohibited me from being able to pursue my favourite activity, until a few weeks ago. I decided to book tickets to see ‘Crazy For You’, Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer musical. However, it wasn’t the experience that I have grown used to when planning a trip to the theatre, because this time I had to factor in my wheelchair. I’ve called her Mabel, for some reason.

    "It makes me sweat slightly even to type that out, so you can imagine how much more afraid I was when it came to the actual situation. Not that I think wheelchair users should be ashamed in anyway - absolutely not. But there is something about suddenly acquiring this new piece of equipment to help me live my life that is incredibly daunting. Suddenly I couldn’t just waltz in, take my seat and start reading the programme, I had to be shown to where I could place the chair, set it up correctly and be constantly aware of if I was in anyone’s way. I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful boyfriend’s help, which makes me wonder the disaster that would have unfolded if I had to navigate it all on my own.

    "I am fortunate enough to only need to use my chair for situations in which I would typically be sat for a long time rather than to replace walking, such as in the theatre or the cinema. Due to my condition, PoTS, I find it so much more comfortable to be slightly reclined, meaning my brain and my heart are at a similar level. As I say, I only require the chair on rare occasions, but I’ve realised you really don’t realise how self-conscious and self aware you are until you are placed in an alien situation.

    "I have no shame in saying that when it first arrived at my door I cried. What was this black, clinical looking thing that implied weakness and a lack of freedom? And now I hate that I had those feelings, because Mabel doesn’t restrict me, she empowers me. (It sounds like I’m praising a complimentary elderly lady.) I admit to still feeling some sense of awkwardness and self consciousness when having to use my chair, but it has enabled me to return to activities that I had completely written off as being possible. And, correct me if I’m wrong, living my life to the fullest is worth a lot more than other people’s opinions."