How Using My Cane Helps Me Be True to Myself


A visit to the ophthalmologist confirmed that I’d lost more vision, which wasn’t much of a surprise. I have retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition. I still had good acuity at this time, but my vision had narrowed, like seeing through a paper towel roll. Walking into a stop sign was certainly one of those dramatic times that brought to my attention the disparity between what I saw and reality.  If I’d been waiting for a sign that I needed a cane, well, I’d just walked into one.

It was time to stop, literally, and face the truth: I wasn’t safe without some kind of additional support. I knew it was time… perhaps past time. My world and therefore my children’s world would get smaller if I didn’t seek additional training. I wanted my children to know the world was full of possibilities and what a meaningful life could look like. I couldn’t do that if I was afraid of getting hurt when I left the house.

My desire to be out in the world nudged me to make that call to the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The next day a friendly Orientation and Mobility Instructor greeted us and quickly showed me some simple techniques to help around our home and office. He then took me to an open room, unfolded a
cane and handed it to me. I’d been afraid of this moment. But as I grasped the black plastic handle and felt the weight of the long white pole in my hand, I decided it was time to embrace this opportunity.

The people I met that day at the Center were positive, motivated and capable.  They
have given me a glimpse of my future that now didn’t scare me. The O and M Instructor covered a few basics that day and we scheduled our first official training for later in the week. Using the cane was like sending a messenger ahead to report back on obstacles, he said. It wasn’t long before the rhythm felt routine. As I made wide arcs down the street, I held my head high and began to feel confident in enjoying walking again.

“You know, he said, just having the cane out will help others be more aware of you.” I knew he was right. Yet, many times as I left training, I tucked my cane safely back into my purse and carefully walked back to the bus stop. If I was feeling brave, I would carry it folded in my hand, ready to unfold it as needed. Of course, I couldn’t know I needed it until it was too late. I knew Bob had a point. I reflected on occasions when having a cane would have helped people understand my behavior.
Perhaps flirting with the wrong man at the video store would have been less embarrassing. Maybe there would be some benefits to having people know I was visually impaired.

I continued to master my skills in a beautiful historic neighborhood in Salt Lake City with uneven sidewalks. We met near the University of Utah, where I had
to locate a specific pizza place several streets away. We went to the Crossroads Plaza Mall downtown, where I’d been shopping with the kids for years. The crown jewel of our training was to train in my own neighborhood, and walk the places where I would regularly visit. My nerves about running into someone I knew were a good indicator that I hadn’t quite adjusted to my identity as a visually impaired person.

Something about joining these two identities – Becky: neighbor, mother of two and Becky: visually impaired woman – was still unnerving. Doing cane training at my local grocery store brought these two worlds together quickly. As Bob and I worked our way through the grocery store, we approached my neighbor Sue. It was bound to happen.

“Uh… hi,” I began awkwardly, pointing at Bob. “This is my teacher… teaching me to use this cane.”  I pointed unnecessarily at the cane.

“Oh, that’s nice,”  she said. “Good to see you.”  And she went on her way, seemingly unfazed by the same encounter that was causing me to blush.

A few weeks later I requested some additional training at the Crossroads Mall. I’d been back to the mall since my initial training, and still had a few questions about navigating its unique layout. This time the scheduling put me with a different O and M instructor, Susan. After our session, I gathered the courage to confess that I sometimes felt uncomfortable using the cane. I didn’t like drawing attention to
myself. I didn’t like people looking at me. I still wasn’t sure where I fit into
this spectrum, with some vision left and people looking at me.

Susan simply asked some straightforward questions. “Is the cane helping keep you
safe?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Yes. Without a doubt,” I said.

“Do you feel more confident about going out? Do you feel more independent
with the cane?” She continued.

“Yes, absolutely,” was my response.

“You just told me you walked into a woman sitting alone in the middle of a soccer field. Would that have happened if you’d had a cane?”

I felt my face flush remember that experience. “No.”

Susan looked at me with her hands on her hips. “Well, I think  you need to be true to yourself. Use this tool that will help you live an independent life.”

I knew she was right. That day I let go of that worry. It’s a heavy weight, wondering what people are thinking about you, but I hadn’t realized how heavy until I let it go.

I’d been so concerned about how I felt using the cane that I hadn’t acknowledged how much it served me, how much I needed it. This wonderful tool allowed me to be safe and independent – what a gift! Being honest that I needed the cane and letting go of this worry was accompanied by a beautiful feeling of self-acceptance. I am visually impaired.

As I felt this acceptance and was true to myself, I could embrace the cane fully. I was ready to answer someone’s questions with confidence and feel at peace with myself.

Almost 25 years later, my cane is still a reminder to be true to myself.

“The greatest act of courage is to be and own all that you are – without apology, without excuses and without masks to cover the truth of who you really are.” –Debbie Ford

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