Over the last year as my health has diminished I realized I would need a mobility aid to keep up with my life. Grocery shopping wore me out, long walks made my knees hurt and give out. Taking my kids to parks or play dates was an exhausting idea. I have three children, 5 and under, and I use a cane when I need to be upright for any significant amount of time, I also use it when I know I’ll be walking on uneven terrain.
(My daughter ran off with my cane for an “adventure.”)
The reactions I’ve received to my intermittent use of a mobility aid vary from disbelief, to empathy. Some people seem to really get it, making remarks like “I see you have your cane, has today been a rough day?” But the most common response is about my strength, which is a welcome affirmation in this current season. It hasn’t been often, but the next reaction definitely stands out; the comment I feel a need to shut down ASAP is not really about me at all. In fact, it’s usually directed toward someone else.
“What’s your excuse?!”
Sometimes able bodied people use disabled people as inspiration for bucking-up during a hard time, or getting out and exercising. Let me be clear, I know I work hard to maintain my normal… but that’s not really for anyone else to judge except me. What’s more, I don’t believe it’s really appropriate to guilt trip ANYONE (even yourself) by using my story. The disabled community will be the first to tell you that we all fight invisible battles and it’s about time we stop comparing ourselves in this way. It isolates us, and actually works to make help harder to come by.
The me you see today using a cane, might be the seemingly “ok” me that you try to push to try harder tomorrow. The me that is in the ER one day, might be the “healthy” person you yell at for using accessible parking another day.
You just don’t know. Visible disability is not inspiring, it’s your inspirational porn. Yes, you heard me.
It’s romanticized, it’s what makes people cry and hug their loved ones a little closer. It might be what gives you that nudge to sign up for that 5K, “if a man in a wheelchair can do it, surely I can.” It’s what makes us feel guilty and say, “it could always be worse.” Let me just clear the air, using a cane does not make me someone to admire. I took my kids to the park today, that doesn’t mean you are full of excuses if you choose not to. Make your choices, only you know the variables. Do not let anyone project what you are or aren’t able-enough to handle.
Let that settle in for a moment… by saying “what’s your excuse?” or suggesting that I’m somehow inspiring just by walking the earth, you are silently judging that you didn’t think I could handle it. You don’t really know what I’m capable of, neither do I know what you are capable of. I’m proud of myself, please do not muddy the water with judgements. Just be happy with us, and I will be happy with you! We who are differently-abled thank you.
Instead of “what’s your excuse??” try, “Live each day to the fullest!” Instead of “Look how strong she is, taking on the park with a cane and two kids!” come say hi and let’s be friends. And if you look out and see someone who you feel could use some motivation, rethink your observation… show up, be a friend, and watch how they blossom.