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Accepting My Pain and My Cane as a Young Woman With Fibromyalgia

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I’ve had fibromyalgia for four, almost five years now. After a couple of months, or the first year, I started having debilitating symptoms. I was very stressed out, and it was a very cold, rainy season where I live. One day, when I got out of bed I felt like I couldn’t move my legs. They were as stiff as if I was made of tin, but weak as jiggly as JELL-O. I couldn’t get out into the world like that. I couldn’t go up stairs; I even tripped when trying to walk a regular distance.

And then the idea of a cane came up. Me? Using a cane? I was 19! I wasn’t old. I wasn’t dying. I didn’t want people to see me as someone who had a disability, because I couldn’t come to the idea that I could have a disabling condition. At 19. I wasn’t even in my twenties!

I finally resigned myself to go cane hunting. All the canes I found were dark and thick and heavy, like the ones my grandfather used in the 1960’s. So I bought one, and repainted it with colorful lines and a purple stone on top. It looked like something Willy Wonka would use, and when people looked at me, they saw the cane for its beauty instead of viewing it with pity.

Fast forward to 2016, and arthritis came into my life. Now the cane wasn’t even an option — it was a demand my body was making in order to keep up with the activities I wanted to do. The pain that comes with fibromyalgia and arthritis together… oh boy! And you have to accept it; this is the body you’ve got, and you have some tools that can make your life a little easier. I’ve found that not only my own acceptance is hard, but society makes it harder. People often don’t get why you need extra help, why you “choose to look like an old lady” or claim you “try to make yourself sicker just to show it off.” I’ve heard comments like that many times from people who supposedly loved and understood me.

It seems no one, until they go through it, gets it. No one understands how hard it can be to use a cane, take meds, and smell like menthol from the massage creams, while being a 22-year-old student whose knee and ankle swell up to the size of an orange. I have to try to keep up with life. And try to be young. And try to be active. And try to get out of bed. And try, and try, and try…

My old cane, my very first cane, my piece of art, the one that got me to accept the help finally gave up. It stopped being non-slip after years of use. So I had to find another one, the one in the photo. It’s blue and purple, has flowers and makes me feel beautiful even when I have to use it and know people are staring. It makes me feel young even when people say (like a broken record) “but you are so young to have all of those things!” It folds, so I carry it with me 24/7, and I’m not afraid to use it anymore. Because thanks to canes, I’ve been able to keep up with my life, get out of bed, and live my life as a 20-something is supposed to — in some ways at least. They have saved me from a few falls and helped me go through spaces which aren’t made for those of us with reduced mobility.

So people, let’s embrace our canes, our bandages, our meds, our “pain-free” creams, our overuse of blankets, gloves and clothing to be warm, our sleepless nights and those glorious and magical ones in which we sleep for 10 hours and for a moment feel rested. And let’s learn to love our chronic illness. I’m trying to, I really am. All I ask is to have my pain only in one leg, or not in the leg and in the same hand I hold the cane with, or for fibromyalgia and arthritis to take turns. A girl can dream, right?

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Originally published: April 17, 2017
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