So the normal disclosure… if you’d rather not hear details of my MS experience that may make you uncomfortable about your uncertain future… consider yourself advised.
I’ve been using my walking stick for almost three weeks now. It didn’t take long for me to get used to having it around…and to learn how to juggle it with my commute gear. My backpack, my water bottle, my reading material, my ipod, my train tickets and then Metrocard. It takes some practice..but I’m finding the rhythm.
I’m move back and forth between considering what my needs are and how I am perceived. It shifts from day to day, minute to minute and scene to scene.
What started as a strange feeling that I am perceived as someone who is faking it… evolved into a better understanding of why I need this. Because I clearly don’t have problems with my gate (unless I stumble with a foot drop once in a while) it occurs to me that it almost seems unnecessary for me to be using it. I felt questioning gazes that I answered for the first two weeks with a sticker I put on my cane that read “I have MS”. The gazes turned to squints as subway passengers sat across from me looking my way.
I was reminded of the attempts I made as a young person (middle child) searching for that extra attention. The ace bandages and slings on perfectly normal arms, wrists and ankles. The troubled looks beefed up by eight year old winces wanting to stay home for a little extra mom-time.
But this was legit. Even though I was using the opportunity to examine how people treated me with this implement… I legitimately need it. It wasn’t a show.
As I got used to carrying it… and using it to provide extra support I found that I was able to move quite quickly with it. It seemed that as moved with the crowd people would frequently bumpt in to it, kick it, and one time a woman actually pulled it from my hands (inadvertently) when giving it a “flat tire”. Very apologetic of course.
During this time I questioned my role with the cane further. When leaving and arriving at work I had it with me and people I interact with daily expressed concern over my well-being. Most don’t know I have MS. My response to their concern changed over time. What started as a sometimes detailed explanation (I always try to educate whoever I can about MS) became “I have balance issues”.
It was a funny coincidence that during this period the Science Times had an article that described a more dramatic situation than mine. ( PERSONAL HEALTH; A Stable Life, Despite Persistent Dizziness – New York Times JANE E. BRODY)
Somehow finding this explanation helped me to identify myself in a more comfortable way. And even though no one asks me why I’m using it, I tell myself throughout the ride. “I have balance issues” and somehow that feels good. Not, “I have brain damage”, or “I have an uncertain future” just balance issues.
I like that somehow. I can own it. And the cane… just shows that I have more to contend with than the average joe (or jane..as it were) commuter. That works for me too.