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To the Man Who Questioned My Use of a Crutch

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We don’t know each other. We haven’t seen each other before and you don’t know anything about me.

We made eye contact in the checkout line at Walmart. I noticed that you kept staring at me, so I sent over the smile that I usually save for strangers I don’t know. Then a few seconds later you spoke up:

“I see you with that cane, but it doesn’t look like you’re really using it.”

In that moment my heart rate quickened and my face warmed. I forced out a laugh and replied with my usual response:

“Well, I have a lot of practice.”

But sir, your words stuck with me. You’re not the first person to stare at me when I’m out in public. You’re not even the first person to comment that it doesn’t look like I should need a crutch. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember every single person who has said something along those lines to me in the last four years. I do remember those people and my usual response doesn’t get any easier as time goes on.

To be honest, I don’t entirely blame you for saying something. I get it. I’m young. I otherwise look healthy besides the crutch I keep tucked under my right arm. And I do hide it well. I have a lot of practice with the crutch and I’ve adapted my everyday activities to minimize the amount of attention I draw to myself.

But here’s what I wish I could say to you, and to every other person who has questioned my use of a crutch:

No. It doesn’t look like I need to use a crutch. It may not look like I’m really even using it. But you don’t see me when I try to walk without my crutch. You don’t see me adapting my gait so I’m sliding around my house without having to actually take weight through my left leg. You don’t see me when I do try to practice walking normally without the crutch, and my gait pattern is shaky and unbalanced. You don’t see me when I try to straighten my leg and it shakes uncontrollably. You don’t know how hard it is for me to accept that not that long ago I could run, dance and walk using my own two legs, and how hard I am working to make it seem like I’m not relying on my crutch that much. So please excuse me if I feel like your questioning my use of a crutch makes me feel like you don’t really see me at all.

Please understand that your questioning my need of a crutch chips away at everything I’ve worked for to prove to others, and to myself, that this disorder is something real. Understand that for every person that has said, “I believe you”, there are five others who have said, “You’re faking this.” Please know that words sting and they will constantly be in the back of my mind when all I hear is people saying this disorder is all in my head.

Please just see me, and know that not everyone’s story is as simple as it may appear.

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Getty image by Zinkevych.

Originally published: February 12, 2018
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