*The following post is sponsored by Millercare Mobility Specialists, the leading mobility aids company in the North West of England.
A quiet stigma frequently surrounds mobility aids. Negativity which manifests in various ways. Whether walking aids like a walker or cane. Or mobility devices such as a wheelchair or scooter. Sometimes the stigmatizing reflects within language used. You probably recall an occasion seeing the news describe someone as “confined to a wheelchair.” Confined suggests limits, restrictions.
In fairness to the media, the stigmatization exceeds their choice in language. Heck! We with physical disabilities can prove guilty ourselves. Adopting self-defeating attitudes. At least I personally prove guilty. When 14 years old I began what would evolve into an extended on-again, off-again relationship with my cane. Although originally the connection seemed like a one-and-done deal.
My cane entered my life during a turbulent summer. Complications to major back surgery resulted in my right leg temporarily paralyzed. Pre-surgery I walked unassisted, albeit with an awkward gait. Post-surgery I required assorted mobility aids. First a wheelchair. A month later I switched to a walker. Another month passed and I worked down to a four-prong cane. By summer’s end I walked around using a standard cane.
The echo from my cane’s tip hitting the school’s vinyl floors lasted throughout the entire academic year. A reality I accepted begrudgingly. Begrudging because I anxiously desired to move past all the mobility aids. Get back to walking unassisted.
Those self-defeating attitudes referenced earlier fueled my anxiousness. Since my peers needed no assistance to walk, needing a walking aid made me feel weak. Thankfully I eventually learned to stop comparing myself to others.
If only I knew what I know now, back then. Instead I let comparisons best me. Besides leaving me feeling weak, using a cane emphasized my differences. Disastrous to my attempts to blend in and “be like everyone else.” Oppose to appreciating the extra sturdiness my cane offered, I shuddered embarrassed. The self-inflicted stigma stood strong.
Given the stigma’s strength I abandoned my cane at first chance. Entering the next school year, I appeased my parents agreeing to keep my cane in my locker “just in case.” Silently though, I vowed “That cane is never leaving my locker.” A vow my determination brought to fruition.
Maintaining the on-again, off-again relationship analogy, my cane and I broke up. A gleeful goodbye I believed. I could move forward, free to live life on my terms. Ignorant, I failed to see my outlook’s misguidedness.
Admittedly, day-to-day I remained fine. Well, assuming I kept to flat land. Unchallenging tasks too. Essentially by dismissing my cane, I inadvertently confined myself to certain spaces and activities. A realization which gradually materialized over a decade.
Without my cane escaping my accidental built confinement required seeking a helping hand. Often quite literally! An okay solution considering I fortunately possess great friends. Problematic however perchance like me you aspire to maximize your independence.
Calling the Ex
After awhile I experienced enough. Enough apprehensive walking navigating tough terrain. Enough softly asking “Could I get a hand?” Feeling like a burden. A hiking adventure with friends loomed. To obtain the most enjoyment, I understood what I must do. I rekindled the old flame.
Rather than diminishing the afternoon hike, my cane exponentially enhanced the outing. I maneuvered uphill and downhill independently. The cane even added some humor, becoming an unintentional accomplice to a friend’s joke. A prop amid a spontaneous prank against onlookers. Nothing mean-spirted. Merely lighthearted jest.
Inspired I started taking my cane along to other potentially troublesome outings. Bonfires located in my friend’s undulating backyard. Walks alongside friends through hilly parks. There engrains the on-again, off-again relationship status. On-again, using the cane, to handle challenging endeavors. Off-again, walking unaided, to tackle life’s everyday dealings.
Sounds basic, huh? Not always! Lines occasionally blurred. One situation comes to mind.
Do I Or Don’t I?
June 2017 hesitancy encompassed me. I had four months to become marathon ready. To build myself up to the point I could walk 26.2 miles. Consecutively! Initially I trained sans my cane. Yet the thought lingered. “Should I use my cane?”
Each time the question arose, so did a stubborn dismissal. Nevertheless, the idea continued reoccurring. Equally persistent. To break my mental stalemate, I asked myself a key follow-up. “Why do I not want to use my cane?”
Answering this I uncovered a hidden stigma I still held. “I don’t want to cheat myself out of the full workout.” A notion suggesting accomplishing a feat utilizing mobility aids lessens the accomplishment. Hogwash!
Indeed, my marathon experience supports the opposite. Mobility aids can add to achievements. Get people to rally behind you. Over 300 marathoners crossed the Towpath Marathon’s finish line Sunday, October 8th, 2017. With that said a single competitor created newspaper headlines. “A Man, His Cane, and 26.2 ‘Unreasonable’ Miles to Prove His Own Doubts Wrong.”
Mobility Aids Destigmatized
Once upon a time such a headline would embarrass me. Now though, I welcome the attention. Not because I am narcissistic. Rather I believe stories like mine helps to expose the quiet stigma surrounding mobility aids. Essential to destigmatizing and ultimately, creating a more positive perspective.
Through what I shared today I hoped to show mobility aids do not confine. Limit. Restrict. Instead the opposite holds true. NOT using you cane, walker, wheelchair, whatever device confines you. Do you agree? Comment below and leave your input.
Until next time, remember. Don’t blend in. Blend out!