Earlier this week, I bit the bullet and did something I thought I would never do.
I bought a cane.
A few people asked if it was because my Crohn’s disease has gotten worse, and over the last couple years, boy has it ever. But it’s more than that. I could have used a cane long before this and yet I never considered it. Disabled people use canes, and I’m not disabled.
My life is defined by limits–hard and fast rules of what I can and cannot do at any given time. I cannot go to the grocery store without significant pain and effort. I can’t stand up to cook dinner if I’ve spent too much time on my feet during the day. I can’t take my kids to the park without help from an able-bodied friend. Trips to the mall have to be planned on really good days with copious places to rest. Whenever we go somewhere, my husband is used to pulling up to places to let me out and then finding a spot to park farther away so I don’t have to walk. After I come home we always have to my body time to recover. Whenever we do leave the house Anthony is constantly checking in with me: how are your legs doing? Do we need to find you a chair?
These are just some of the terms and conditions of my life that I’ve learned to accept over the years, and doing any of these necessitates that I’m having a good day to start with. This is not normal, but it’s been my life for so long I’ve come to accept it as such.
I’m not sure how the thought was originally planted, probably one of my many, many daily text messaging sessions with Stef about her mobility aids. At one point I realized that a cane could really help me, too. Anthony was shocked at first but quickly agreed that it made a lot of sense to try one out. He, more than anyone else, knows what I go through, and has seen me struggle for years.
Isobel cried. That was hard for me. As painful as it was for me to admit to myself that yes, I am disabled and yes, a cane would be helpful, it was much worse to see the effect it had on the people I loved. There is no denying your loved one is ill when there’s a cane staring you in the face. You can’t ignore the disability when you can hear it clicking on the floor next to you.
After Anthony realized how much a cane could help me, he encouraged me to get fitted for one at our local pharmacy. Isobel brightened when I told her my friend Dave could probably make me a lovely cane we could decorate together, and her and Elias had a blast at the pharmacy helping me try them all out. She is so excited about it now that she wants a cane of her own so she can be like me. Elias also loves my cane, too, but he tends to think of it more as a weapon.
When I mentioned getting a cane on social media, several of you sent me links to some very badass canes, for which I am so grateful. No one has tried to shame me or make me feel embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed about this and no one is going to make me feel that way, but it warms my heart that I received nothing but support. Many people suggested I get a sword cane, and while I love that idea, they are very illegal in California and my son as already wreaked enough havoc with a cane that doesn’t essentially have a knife on one end, so I think I’ll pass. I picked out a simple, shiny black model to start, and while I was flipping through my choices at the pharmacy I felt like I had wandered into Ollivander’s. The cane chooses the witch, and a deep black one chose me! (Unicorn hair core, for the curious.) Eventually I’d like have a couple different canes so I can have wardrobe choices, because that’s important in life.
I don’t need the cane all the time. Often, if I’m out and have access to pushing the stroller or a shopping cart, that is good enough for me. But those days when I go anywhere with extended amounts of walking, or for when I am having a really bad pain day, a cane cane make a huge difference. If I am able to stay out one hour longer chatting with friends or family, if I am able to participate in one more activity with the kids, if I am that much more in control of what I can do and how I can do it, it’s completely worth it.
Besides, I am now able to literally shake my cane at anyone I dislike and tell them to get off my lawn. It’s so much more effective and fun with the proper accessory.
This is what disability looks like. It can look like someone who is otherwise able-bodied, but who occasionally needs a cane. My insides don’t look as normal as my outsides, but it is the outside that you can see. There are as many kinds of types of disability as there are bodies on this planet. My disability doesn’t look like yours, and yours won’t look like mine. It is not the beginning and the end of me. It is a part of me, not all of me. This is what disability looks like. It looks like me.