Hello, I thought I would write a blog to take my mind away from tomorrow’s launch party and the stomach-lurching thought that I’m making a speech!
Don’t pity the stick!
I often talk about the stigma of mental health, but there are many things that have stigma surrounding them that I think we only notice when they directly affect us. Another one for me is the stigma of using my walking stick.
Firstly, let me say I love my stick! I don’t see it in a negative light at all, but I know other stick users that do and have been very reluctant to purchase one. They believe it makes them look ‘old’ and that people will have pity for them.
The pity part I get because I have had a few people say to me “will you always need that stick?” with an awkward pained look on their face. When people have asked how my recovery is progressing, they look at my stick and ask when I will cease to need it as if that will be the final sign that I have made a full recovery. Like someone who has broken their leg, or had a knee replacement, they seem to think one day I will just be back to ‘normal’ and can discard my ‘ole faithful stick.
HOWEVER, as I may have mentioned before, it is impossible to make a 100% recovery from a spinal cord injury. That’s not to say there aren’t odd cases of great recoveries like mine and I have stumbled across the odd ‘walker’ who doesn’t use any walking aids.
Why I love my stick
But I have grown to love my stick and I’ll tell you why: firstly, I feel it disguises my ‘wonky’ walking. I may slightly exaggerate here, but I do have a slight limp and on a bad day I walk with definite awkwardness and often have a wobble because of my poor balance on one side. If I am walking without my stick, I think I look odd! I imagine a young child saying to his mum “why does that lady walk like that?” Or perhaps someone thinking I’ve had one too many to drink! With a stick however I don’t think you would notice because it automatically tells you that I may have an injury or disability.
The other reason I love my stick is because it warns people that my balance isn’t great! If I’m crossing the road or there are steps to tackle, it highlights that you should give me space or perhaps hold the door open for me. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
You’re as young as you feel…
I think stigma comes from people automatically assuming that using a walking stick is a sign that you are getting old. Yes of course statistically more older people use sticks because they have a lot more going wrong with their bodies sadly, but young people use sticks too! (Okay… and maybe some of us ‘middle-aged’ people as well!)
In my opinion, you are as young as you look, feel and act. Why not have a choice of funky colours to match your outfits and wear your stick with pride? After all, they are great for tripping people up when they piss you off or whacking your husband when he steps out of line!
Maybe I’m more accepting of my stick than most because of the nature of my injury. I am so grateful that I progressed from a wheelchair to walking and not a day goes by where I am not thankful to be able to walk my dogs again. Going from two walking sticks to one was a huge achievement for me (although I still use two walking poles when I walk my dogs). I guess I’m the type of person who looks at ‘how far they have come’ and the positive, rather than ‘how it used to be before’ or the downward slope to old age.
There are days when I can walk a little without my stick, but not only do I tire more quickly… I miss it! I seem to have got so used to it in my daily life, that I feel incomplete without it. I’m torn with bettering my recovery from the point I am at now. Yes, ideally, I would like a bit more strength so that I can partake in more exercise; perhaps even be able to jog again, but I don’t really want to lose my faithful stick.
Should the time come that I do have to make my stick redundant, there is one plus point that would make it worthwhile… at least I would have both hands free to carry more shopping bags!