As somebody with a fluctuating chronic illness, I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user. I use my wheelchair and my power-chair outside the house considerable amounts of walking and standing would be involved, but I’ve never used these aids inside my house.
Although my condition affects me 24/7, I recognise my privilege in being able to live in a non-adapted flat and move around without needing my wheelchair. It’s a good job really, given that I currently live on the top floor of an inaccessible building…
All of that said, over the years I’ve discovered a fair few tips and tricks that make everyday living more comfortable and suitable for my condition management. Today I want to focus on my bathroom, and share some of the aids and life hacks I’ve used to adapt my non-adaptive bathroom for my individual needs.
My shower stool was the first mobility aid I ever purchased, back when fatigue and autonomic dysfunction were first beginning to affect my ability to stand.
Originally I thought I’d like a wall-mounted folding shower stool that I could just flip up and down as required, but due to landlord issues with the student accommodation I was renting at the time, I had to opt for a free-standing adjustable shower stool instead.
However, I’ve got along surprisingly well with this aid of choice… and discovered an unexpected benefit of having a free-standing model. Although moving the stool in and out of the shower requires some exertion and might not be possible for everybody, it means it can be used as an aid in other ways as well.
I use my shower stool when showering, of course, but when it’s not in use, I leave it positioned next to my sink. That way, I can use it to have a handy little sit-down when I’m brushing my teeth as well.
Before I had lived experience of an energy-limiting chronic illness, I had no idea just how draining the little things could be – one of them being bending and reaching to grab things from cupboards or shelves. I don’t mind telling you there have been times I’ve bent down to grab something from my under-sink bathroom cupboard and wondered whether I’m going to make it back up again.
Because of this, I’ve learned how helpful it can be to have as many things as possible within comfortable and easy reach – especially in the bathroom where there are multiple products you need to access at least once a day.
My Dad stepped up to the challenge with this one, and managed to build a made-to-measure corner unit for me above my bathroom sink, at a level where I could comfortably reach what I needed without the over-exertion that could cause my fatigue or pain to flare.
I’m a rather small human being so the top shelf is still slightly out of comfortable reach, but fortunately I have my bathroom step to help with that one.
Extra hanging space
This one might seem like common sense and holds true even for non-disabled people, but having as much hanging space as possible in the bathroom is always a plus. The more capacity you have for hanging not just towels and dressing gowns but also shower caps and any other bathroom accessories you use, the better - it can make them easier to access without additional exertion.
These days, you can find grab rails that also make great towel rails; these are are both practical and aesthetically pleasing. In an ideal world I’d absolutely love to have a heated towel rail one day. As a permanently cold human being who has to mentally hype themself up to get out of the shower on a freezing winter morning, the idea of having a toasty towel on stand-by and ready to snuggle into sounds like the ultimate bliss.
In the meantime, however, you’ll usually find me urgently trying to defrost myself with the help of a humble hairdryer.
In the past, bathing hasn’t always been accessible for some disabled people. However, with increasing innovation and the availability of bath lifts and walk-in baths, I’d like to think that more people than ever are able to enjoy the benefits and luxury a soothing bath can bring.
I have a standard bath rather than an adapted one, but I honestly don’t know how I would cope without it. On the days where I feel too broken to do much of anything, the very first thing I do is run myself a warm bath full of Epsom Salts and muscle therapy bath soak and stay put until I feel like I can Do Life again.
One of my friends once described this process of pain relief as ‘bath marinating’ and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since...
Finally, something I’m yet to invest in but have been looking into recently is the benefits of grab bars. One of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had with my chronic illness, right back in the early days, was when I almost passed out trying to get out of the bath – standing up too quickly, plus the quick change in temperature from the hot bath to the cooler room, plus the dehydration I hadn’t got on top of yet, were a rather brutal combination that had unfortunate consequences.
Luckily I was fine, but it’s something I’ve been overly conscious of and fearful of happening again ever since. I often talk about how disheartening it can be when mobility aids appear overly medical in appearance, so it made my heart happy to see colourful grab bars – practical in function, pretty in design.
If I ever do go down this route and install grab bars as a safety precaution for my unpredictable body, these kinds of designs are exactly what I’d be looking for… and give me the ideal excuse to buy new towels to colour co-ordinate with them. It’s the little things in life, right?
Thanks for reading! Do you adapt your non-adaptive bathroom? I’d love to hear any of your own tips – you can find more from me at Life Of Pippa, and join in the conversation on social media over at @lifeofpippa.