How My Walker Taught Me to Accept My Body and Myself
I’ve had mild cerebral palsy my entire life. The one thing no one tells you about cerebral palsy, however, is that getting older is hard. While cerebral palsy in and of itself doesn’t get worse, the things it does to my body — osteoarthritis, uneven hips and mild scoliosis to name a few — do.
As an adult, I have chronic lower back pain that can often times be debilitating. I still walk with a limp despite four corrective surgeries to fix my left-sided hemiplegia. I am also, at 27, incredibly stubborn. I have always been this way, especially with assistive devices. In my teens, I wanted to be rid of them as soon as I could so I could pass for being “able-bodied.” The less people asked, “Why do you walk like that?” the better.
So when my mother scored a Hugo walker for $15, I was grateful but uneasy. My mobility was deteriorating, and I needed something that was not only going to help me walk but keep me walking and let me sit when I needed to take breaks. Naturally, I came home with my walker in tow and sat on the couch and cried. I’d never truly “felt” my cerebral palsy until that moment. Instead of “passing” as able-bodied, I had no choice now.
Initially, I didn’t take it anywhere. I stayed home and let my girlfriend do the shopping for me. I stayed in bed and played video games. At one point, I even put it in the car for a while. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
That was before the wedding and an almost two-hour flight to Houston, Texas. I would have to take the walker. There was simply no getting around it now. At first it wasn’t so bad. Over the years I have gotten used to stares, as I used to wear an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) with shorts and long tube socks in the summer. (Trust me, there is nothing worse than wearing ankle socks with a plastic leg brace. Nothing.) I even noticed I was walking better and standing more upright than I usually do. On the downside, I had to get used to not treating the walker like an unwanted shopping cart and tripping over the large wheels. I also had to get used to seeking ramps and other accessible areas that would lessen my hurdles. On the plus side, though, people generally moved if they saw me, and I had absolutely no fear of being knocked over weaving in and out of large crowds.
Once we were in Houston, there was a constant transfer of walker to SUV, of walker to car, of walker to truck. At certain points I thought, “No, really, it’s OK. I’m fine. Leave it here. It’s cool. I’ve got this.” Until I started walking somewhere and thought, “I would’ve been absolutely stranded had I not brought this thing.”
The wedding was beautiful, and I had a great time. A time I probably could not have had without my walker.
That being said, if you have a walker yourself and are using one for the first time, I have some suggestions:
• Don’t think too hard about it.
• Practice using it around the house before you go out. This will especially help you to get acquainted with the walker and how to walk with it.
• Think of the walker as an extra hand to help you. If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly asking for hands, arms or shoulders to get down curbs or to help you walk when you aren’t feeling fully supported. In this way, your walker will give you even more independence.
There are also some things I wish people knew. I’m different in the sense that I am disabled and have my challenges. But I am human. I am more like you than you realize. I am not simply my mobility device, but it is an extension of me. In coming to accept this, it has made it easier for me to fully grasp the independence I have been given. (Thanks, Mom!)
So here’s to you, my shiny blue four-wheeled companion. You have taught me to fully accept myself and my body for what it is: not something broken, not a burden, but capable and strong. I simply wouldn’t be myself without it, walker and all.
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