Stick Semantics

Until January of 2008 no one could tell there was anything wrong with me. Every day I left my purple house and crossed Park Street to stand on the Watchung Avenue platform and take the Midtown Direct to NYC. At Penn Station I walked up the stairs and then a few blocks, then down the stairs and up the stairs and down the stairs, and up the stairs and one block to my office. And while this was a challenge, it was something I was proud to be able to do. I have had Multiple Sclerosis since my 20th birthday. Walking and stair climbing has always been an effort for me. MS has robbed me of balance, coordination and stamina. Yet in spite of this no one would have noticed that I was different from any of the hundreds of commuters that move as one.

When dizziness was added to my MS symptom buffet, everything changed. With an increased unsteadiness even the most basic things were not a given and the commute was more like an outward-bound adventure. But I loved it; being part of this mass of silent people moving in unison toward their destination. I knew if I wanted to continue I would need something to ground me. But what were my options? A cane? A cane means old, disabled, infirmed. I’m young. A cane just doesn’t fit.

So I didn’t get a cane, I got a walking stick. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a cane, but I call it a walking stick.  So I got it home and tried it out, and the internal debate began. Could I make this part of who I am?

I was just about to turn 40 and though I had been living with a different-ability for two decades, I didn’t announce it to every one I passed. A cane, excuse me, a walking stick would do that. So I pushed myself like a kindergartener on the first day of school. Forcing myself to be outed, to show the world who I really am.

What I didn’t know at that time was how empowering this decision would be. I thought that by using this walking assistant I was admitting defeat. As if I was making a statement to the world that MS has me in some way. But what happened was really quite the opposite. The stick has given me power. With this visual recognition I brought out the best in the people around me, who treated me with concern. They recognized I had more to contend with than the average commuter. And with that, I learned how to walk proudly while carrying my big stick.

~This short essay ran in the Montclair Times during MS awareness month.. that being now!

9 thoughts on “Stick Semantics

  1. Jill says:

    I love this story, Amy! You also could have bopped anyone who inappropriately messed with you. So you were protected in yet another way!

  2. Ken Frank says:

    Amy, you are an awesome and inspiring individual whom I am so grateful to have in my family, my life, and my world. You are loved very dearly!

  3. I’m glad I got to read this Amy. I searched and searched online, hoping to find it and was very disappointed that I couldn’t do so. I feel much better now, as I often do after reading something you’ve written. It is always encouraging to read of others who are able to walk proudly, walking stick and all!

  4. Connie Nichols says:

    Amy, what you discovered when you began using your walking stick rings true for me as well. From the day when I finally realized a cane was needed, up through the present time, with a walker, I have discovered that the device brings out the best in all people!

    Mind you, I would still rather be rid of the device, but its presence has opened my horizon in ways I never expected,

    Thanks for another great essay!

  5. Michelle says:

    this couldn’t have come at a better time, for me. good job!

  6. Mindy says:

    I love the stick! Be one with the stick, Amy. You could even get creative and find different ones to suit your moods. And, as a bonus, you have something nice to bash the bad guys over the head with if the need ever arises!

  7. Bonita says:

    Always nice when something that “scares” you turns out to be a positive. Congrats on getting the article in the Montclair Times.

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