Wheel a mile in my chair: Living life to the fullest

efena otobo wheel a mile in my chair she leads africa
Overcoming the pain of loss is an intricate process that requires time Click To Tweet

Wheel a mile in my  chair…what comes to mind when you hear this clever turn of phrase? It definitely needs greater clarification.

You’ve heard the expression; walk a mile in my shoes right? Well, I am making a bold attempt to draw out specific lessons from my experiences living with a spinal cord injury and being confined to a wheelchair —and that lesson is, appreciating life whatever situation one might find themselves whilst overcoming the crippling devastation from pain and loss.

Have you ever stared at the ceiling contemplating what turn your life has taken?

Have you ever dragged yourself out of bed in the hopes that today will differ from the previous hours of excruciating boredom and listlessness? Each minute seems to pass by with minuscule expectation of reminders of the little joys in life; of a purpose…or dreams once shared.

At times, people look around and feel a deep, ‘justified’ dissatisfaction with their current situation. Despite the job, house, relationship, rate of family expansion, choice or non-choice of partner, non-existence of a lover, even the absence of precious ‘me’ time.

Countless minutes are spent trying to comprehend how things are not progressing like they should. How one day a person can feel like they are on the apex of a mountain and the next, plunge themselves into helplessness and despair. I am no stranger to moments such as these and I am a hundred times certain that you aren’t either.

I challenge you to view the title of this article as a truth

View it as definitive sentiment. A mantra that can possibly shape, nay alter your perspective during the troubling times. Those palpable moments of  paralysing doubt, soul-crushing fear and nagging bouts of self-loathing and self-pity.

Wheel a mile in my chair is a mantra that can alter your perspective during troubling times Click To Tweet

Striving for perfection is certainly no fool’s errand. Experiencing all these turbulent, crippling emotions is natural. But dwelling and revelling in them will not only hinder personal growth but actually contribute to the perceived obstacles that seem to be ripping your dreams and aspirations to shreds.

My life used to have a somewhat defined path; a certain structure that could fit all my hopes, dreams and desires. I wanted to have a cushy job by the age of 25 and a car with a chauffeur. A nice little ‘nest egg’ for rainy days and free time to write, read, practice bikram yoga and chill on the beach with my amigos.

Alas, it took a drastic, unexpected, catastrophic detour.

Gone were those carefree days. As soon as the doctor gave the tragic diagnosis and said the wheelchair would be my new mode of transportation, I had to recalibrate my understanding of my circumstances. How could I possibly overcome this type of loss? What tools of the mind would be strong enough to defeat this level of excruciating agony?

First course of action was to open the floodgates to let my turbulent emotions through. Express every dark thought buried under hazy recalls of the traumatic events surrounding my injury. I needed to purge everything in a safe place —to my therapist, mother, father, sister and brother.

Next, I decided to focus on recuperating, retraining my brain to carry out simple tasks of sitting up, changing position in bed with great caution, preventing my atrophying leg muscles from weakly falling and hitting the handle rails of the ‘cosy’ hospital beds.  Each task became a challenge, an opportunity to overcome the reality that I was experiencing at the time.

Everyday was a struggle but I had too much to live for. Click To Tweet

No more dwelling in pits of depression and defeat

I had an exercise schedule with goals to achieve. I tried to celebrate the little things like deciding to take the brave step to wear make-up or flirt with a cute occupational therapist. The possibility of seeing myself as a sensual being that could be loved seemed inconceivable. Everyday was a struggle but I had too much to live for.

The outpouring of love and support from well-wishers served as fuel to facilitate the process of healing and restoration. Months of intensity, working through the neuropathic pain so I could start ticking things off my bucket list. Live in Southern California, go to Universal Studios and ride a roller-coaster for the first time since 4/21/14; go to Warner Bros and experience the joys of filmmaking, meet all the famous people that are making a difference; perfect my writing skills.


Geographically, my list extended to the Napa Valley, Sausalito, San Francisco, Vegas, ATL, San Jose and Rancho Santa Fe. My world opened up drastically and the spots of darkness grew smaller as the light of hope began to overshadow them.

The key to dusting off the “funk” was to allow the waves of emotions to wash over me Click To Tweet

Dusting off the funk

The key to dusting off the “funk” was not to revel in it but to allow the waves of emotions to wash over me. Pushing forward to better moments helped heal me from the inside until joy emanated from every single pore. Overcoming the pain of loss is an intricate process that requires time. By drawing on different sources of strength, both internal and external, moments of doubt and helplessness became few and far between.

Experiencing all these things is part and parcel of human condition. By looking beyond the darkness to the ray of hope at the end of the tunnel, peace and  tranquillity can and will be achieved.

Love. Laughter. Camaraderie. Literally enjoying your simple pleasures. Conquering the demons in and out of the mirror will be an attainable feat for any courageous individual trying to restore the shattered pieces of their souls back together.

Brenda Areto Okotkotber: I wanted to prove that I wasn’t finished

Brenda Areto Okotkotber

Let’s be real for a minute, we live in societies where single motherhood is seen as a almost a crime and disability, a limitation. Brenda Areto Okotkotber is a single mother and accident victim dispelling these stereotypes. In 2010, Brenda was involved in a motorcycle accident when a speeding car knocked her down from behind.  She sustained blunt injuries to her ribs and majorly on her spinal cord.

This brought her studies at Makerere University to a rude halt but Brenda is not one to lose a fight. Though Brenda has had to press pause on some of her dreams, she is determined to be independent even if it means having to lie on her side all day making beads.

Jessica Layado, our contributor got Brenda to share her story with us, get ready to be inspired.

Tell us about the things you’re passionate about

Oh my, I love music! You know, that combination of MDD (long ago it used to be called Musulu Dala Dala…it means “very stupid” in Luganda. It was believed that people who do Music, Dance and Drama as a course at university were too stupid to pursue anything meaningful).

I also love the arts with all my heart.

I’m passionate about helping the needy. Growing up, I always knew that when I started earning money, I’d build an orphanage, pick up every child in the streets and be a mother to them.

I don’t know about that anymore but right now, my desire is to help people like me.

Have you always been an artistic person?

As I mentioned earlier, art is a part of me. Right now, handmade craft is my passion and one that I wish to grow. I also desire to perfect my painting. Currently, though, I am more into women accessories.

Interestingly, in my school days, I used to be every art teacher’s prodigy. I was always the first to do my sketches and then shadings. It wasn’t just about the assignment but how great my work was done.

Only few students could beat me in the arts. I actually wanted to pursue Industrial Arts at the university but I wasn’t given that subject. I settled for IT which wasn’t my passion at all.

Let’s talk about the accident. How has it affected you, both physically and mentally?

As a result of this accident, my spinal cord was injured. It affected my limbs right from below my breasts. This has affected my ability to move or walk. This, in turn, has affected my productivity in most ways.

It’s also affected my social life. A woman of my age should be married and looking after a family. On the bright side, though, I have my son to look after.

I lost love from many people who I held so dear to my heart and this affected me greatly. I also lost my dignity as I had to live on charity. I am not one to enjoy lying on my bed and calling for help.

It was such a setback and a humiliating one and to some extent, still is. However, it’s different now. I am hopeful now, productive and doing something on my own.

brendaAre you still into the arts?

When I lost function of my limbs, I could not go back to school anymore. The first reason being my faculty at the college was not disability-friendly.

I also had no money to finish my degree. My son and I needed to survive and so, I just didn’t see getting an education as a priority.

I had dreams of singing after my degree and even approached Benon of Swangs Avenue, a very popular recording studio in Kampala. The injury affected my diaphragm and I could barely control my voice.

I also dreamed of working in the tourist industry (travelling, adventure). That too, I can’t do anymore.

It’s amazing that instead of self-destruction, you chose self-development. How did you do this?

My first inspiration is my little boy. I grew up in poverty and didn’t have much but I promised myself that no child of mine would suffer. I therefore started building my self-worth.

Like everyone, I desire the good things in life. With determination, I’m hopeful I’d be able to provide for my son and I.

I also wanted to prove that I wasn’t finished. I needed to prove that I was just getting started and wasn’t going down easy. I am a fighter and survivor. I couldn’t afford the luxury of depression. That, I always say is a disease for the rich.

However, in all, I can’t tell my story without mentioning the most important factor, God. He has been the ultimate, the most significant in all. He still stands by my side and says to me, “You can make it because I am with you” (Phill. 4:13).

He’s been true to His word that He won’t ever leave my side (Deut 31:6). I wait upon Him whenever I feel I can’t go on. I hang on His every word (Habbakuk 2:2). I am a child of God, I learnt who I am in Christ and held onto that. He will never put me to shame (Romans 10:11).

brenda-neck-pieceHow would you encourage that person who feels down and out right now?

It is not the end of the world. Put your trust in God and He sure will never let you down (Prov. 3:5). If you ever fall, get right up, dust yourself and move on. Do not allow a situation hold you down. When people see that even after a bad fall you’re still ready to fight on, they’ll be willing to lend a hand.

There are people who are just naturally kind. God will place such people in your path, if you’d trust Him. I met such people and till now, they still hold my hand through my journey. That they do it with pleasure is the most amazing part of it all.

Just when I thought I had lost it all —relatives, the ones who were so dear to me— God brought me such great and encouraging individuals. God will do it for you. Do not look at the situation you are faced with. Look up to the great God, who is above it all.

I am not there yet but I’m sure not where I was when I had the injuries.  And all glory goes back to the lord God almighty. Don’t ever allow depression rule over you. You have a life to fight for.

If you are to get out of that situation, then you would need positive thinkers around you, not sympathizers. Find the ones who will instill some tough love in you.

I hate poverty and this has served as my driving force. I dislike pity and that’s what keeps me on one side of my bed all day, beading. Yes, I work while lying down because of my body pain.

How can your prospective clients locate you?

Currently, I operate from my home in Nansana. I do deliveries in and around Kampala.

For those who won’t mind, they can pick up their products at my place.

Inspire us with your story. Let us know about the amazing women in your communities here.