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How My Cane Helps Me Love Myself, Disability and All

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“When you bought the second cane, it hit my mind that I don’t want you to use it like a daily accessory, because that would make you feel, look and act as someone with a disability. And I believe you don’t have it, you have to do the complete opposite. To try to be healthier every day, to defeat this.”

Those were the words of one of the people I care about most when I bought a beautiful cane that looks like a mermaid tail. It is actually my fourth cane. The first one was a wooden stick I peeled off with sandpaper and later painted in a striped pattern with a mixture between nail polishes and real paint. The second one was really a cane made for hikers and outdoor activity people. It has a flashlight on top and an ice chopper at the bottom. The third one is a purple flower pattern, bendable cane I bought in Spain. That’s when I realized canes could be attractive.

The first one broke, the second one’s anti-slip bottom became slippery, and the third and fourth are still in use. When I heard the quote I start this article with, I was shocked. I couldn’t tell it was wrong in a way, because I understand where the concern comes from. I get it. People associate canes with deterioration and diminishing of health. People assume they’re just for aged folks, all worn out. People feel it’s illogical for someone in her “golden years,” “peak of her life” or whatever corny expression you prefer to symbolize youth, to use a cane. And to dare to  consider it as a daily accessory, to move past denial to acceptance.

As all of this revolved through my head, tears came down my cheeks. I was begging myself not to break down but I had a feeling that started in my chest and slowly expanded through, of not being good enough. Of not being capable. Of feeling like I’ve failed in the health department. Suddenly I broke down, and I spoke up after feeling a ramble accumulating on my vocal cords:

I get it. I wish there was a cure, or I could wake up and feel no symptoms at all. I already feel like I’m not average and I have to make a conscious, tremendous effort to keep up. I can’t get the same medical treatments as most people with my condition, as I have major depressive disorder and the last time I had cortisone I went into the hardest, toughest crisis of my life. And in the balance of mental vs. physical treatment, I prioritize my mental health. I’d rather be in a wheelchair than feel again that I can’t stay awake, that I don’t recognize myself in the mirror, that I can’t contain the tears.

It’s not like without the cortisone I’m a ray of freaking sunshine; I live with depression symptoms almost every day. But with the cortisone, I’m not myself. And I need to feel like at least I am me. I can be a broken, swollen version of me. I don’t care, as long as I feel I make some sense. For that reason, I’m always symptomatic when it comes to arthritis. I don’t have an active treatment other than natural ones. And in order to keep up and have the most “normal,” average life possible, to have boyfriends and friends, nights out and brunches, cinema afternoons and shopping sprees, to be able to walk my dogs and chase my grandson, I need a cane some days.

I’ve seen how the canes I use make me feel younger and distract people from why I’m using a cane. Instead, I can talk about where I got the cane and its extravagant features. The first one seemed like it should have belonged in a Dr. Seuss tale. The second one brought a lot of ice breaker jokes and “interrogations” of friends by pointing the flashlight towards their faces. The third one is purple and folds, so it fits almost everywhere. This new one is shiny and it makes me feel like the freaking arthritic little mermaid. So excuse me if it disturbs or upsets you.

I’m trying to do the best I can with the genes and sensibilities I’ve been given. I didn’t choose to get the bacteria or virus or whatever mean microorganism left me with arthritis. I didn’t chose to have a genetic predisposition to major depression and a character and life challenges that made it bloom. But I believe God knows every day when I lay my head on my pillow that I’ve tried my best.

I dried my tears and kept walking. I’d stood up for myself for the first time. And it felt good that 23 years later, I’m learning this whole self-love thing.

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: September 20, 2017
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