Showing Courage With an Unseen Physical Limitation: My Story
I Have To Walk With This Cane How Long??
I'm guilty of it. You know, trying to avoid eye contact with the youngish person using the motorized cart in Walmart. I would even avoid that aisle and just come back when they were gone. I didn't think I was better than they were—no way! I just didn't know what to say, how to act, or what to do. Other than ask the sweet old lady if she needs help reaching the cereal, I had no idea what to do.
That sure changed for me when I became a cane-walker at 37 years old!
I have a heart condition that caused me to have an emergency heart catheterization. The surgery went well, and I was discharged from the hospital a couple days later. So I was super surprised when a very large bruise-like area formed on my upper thigh a few days after I got home. And it hurt!
A good friend at work insisted I see my family doctor, and I was diagnosed with a hematoma. I quickly made an appointment with my cardiologist, who informed me that the surgeon had bruised a nerve and I had bled around it, all of which causes pain. "How long will I have this much trouble just walking?" I asked the cardiologist. "Anywhere from six months to a year," he said, with no apparent sympathy at all. It was obvious to me he had never gotten news like this. What was I supposed to do?
Long story short, I had to walk with a cane for three months. It was one thing to walk from my car into my workplace, being surrounded by coworkers (who were also good friends), and trying to learn to walk with the cane. Sure, they called me Dr. House, without the Vicadin, but hey! I was at work, right? Who cares about the rest? At least I had an understanding manager and a desk job—sitting for the majority of the day.
Turns out, that wasn't the hard part.
Being Seen in Public
You read that right. Being seen in public when you are obviously different from others was really hard for me. I've always been a shy sort of person, never wanting to stand out from the crowd. So, my first trip to Walmart was tough!
A cane. I had to walk with a cane. It wasn't just the cane I had to deal with. It was also the pain that compounded itself every few steps. Overnight, a simple trip to get a few groceries turned into an hour and a half of embarrassed agony. I was embarrassed. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.
Walking with a cane, you get quite a few stares from people of all ages, old and young. Once I got to the buggy, I could put the cane in the basket, but I still had to limp through the store. I once thought I would have been a good actress, but pain isn't one of the things I can hide. Judging by the way people were looking at me by the time I made it to the check-out line, it was obvious to everyone I was struggling to take every step.
No one who saw me could see anything that would cause pain, so they didn't understand, and I didn't want to share with them my terrifying cardiac experience I had just had in the hospital. It was my pain, and I didn't want strangers to know about it.
Boy, I thought walking with a cane was bad. I only had to use it for three months, thank God! My best girlfriend convinced me to see a chiropractor, and I walked out of his office, carrying my cane. I haven't had to use it since that day!
There are many people out there who are suffering with pain from things we can't see. Or they may be dealing with things besides pain that causes them to suffer, to be physically limited. It hurts, both physically and mentally! Just because others can't see why someone is hurting, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It isn't all in their head. Pain is real. Physical limitations like my dizziness and balance problems (I've been diagnosed with POTS) are real; they aren't made up.
The Motorized Shopping Cart
A couple years after using the cane, I found myself living with a new medical complication(s), one that causes me to be forced to use the motorized shopping cart if I want to go to a large store. I can manage in a small store for a few minutes, but in a large store, I can forget it. I have been experiencing overwhelming dizziness and am having acute balance issues that so far no one has been able to explain or help me with (a story for another day).
Back to the cart. I have to use it. I've tried to avoid it, but I'm physically not able to do without it right now. You should see the looks I've gotten. Oh, my! You know the ones I talking about. The ones people give a young-ish (I'm 39 years old!) person riding on the cart who doesn't appear to have any disability, either physically or mentally. It is unseen, so many people assume the rider must be lazy, good-for-nothing, and is abusing the use of the cart.
Those carts are for older people who are unable to get around anymore, right? Or they are for those who have an obvious physical impairment/disability that would be a really good reason to ride in the motorized cart, right? Of course they are! For all of the above folks, the carts are a godsend; they help them accomplish daily tasks just like everyone else. The carts are an aide, one that I'm grateful for.
It takes courage to be different. For someone with a Type A personality, outgoing, a born leader, maybe it is easier for them. I wouldn't know for sure since I'm very much a Type B person. I'm a born wall-flower, and I don't mind that!
It takes a lot of courage for the quiet people, for the shy ones, for everyone who is doing their best to be "normal" while coming to grips with this sudden change in their health that has turned their whole lives upside down.
It's really hard for me to see strangers or friends look at me with pity in their eyes. For people at a large store to look at me with disdain or scorn. I'm pretty sure some of the looks I've gotten wouldn't be translated into language I'd want a child to hear, for sure. But you know what? It is what it is. I can't change everyone's opinion just because they can't see my dizziness, my nausea, my lack of balance. It is unseen. I'm just trying to be brave when I'd really rather be invisible.
A few years ago, a local community college was hosting a yoga class, which I've always wanted to try, so a friend of mine, me, and my mom signed up together so we could encourage each other. Courage in numbers! The class was only an hour long, once a week for six weeks. Easy peasy, right?
My mom has fibromyalgia and is in constant pain—all day, every day. Mom is a shy woman, but she has a heart of gold. She is braver than she thinks she is. And because she wanted to spend time bonding with her daughter, and wanted to try something new, she came, too. Every week Mom showed up. It was obvious to me (who watched her protectively) that every new position the class tried was harder for her to accomplish because it hurt so badly. She did it anyway.
Each week, Mom would come to yoga class, talking about how much she enjoyed it, as did the rest of us. What I learned later was that Mom was be in excruciating pain for a complete day or two after every class period. All that pain for an hour of yoga class with her daughter? Yep. Mom did it.
Mom knew the others in the class noticed her because she was unable to move her body the same way others could. They noticed, without judgement, when the instructor would walk by Mom and give her a tip for an alternative way to do it that would allow her to do the same move or one that had the same benefit. Everyone in class seemed very nice. Even though they were kind to her, Mom knew she was noticed, and she didn't like it. Not one bit. Who wants to be thought of as being different no matter where they go or what they are trying to do? No one!
Mom was so brave, and showed such courage during the duration of that class. I started off the class feeling a little sorry for her, knowing she was hurting the whole class period. By the end of the 6-week class, I had formed a whole new respect for her. She set the example for everyone in that class, if only they would allow their hearts to be touched. I'm so thankful for the example she set for others.
Being different isn't all bad. I had people treat me sweetly, helpfully, because they saw a cane in the buggy I was pushing around with a look of clear agony on my face. I have experienced kindness by strangers because I'm in the motorized cart. The kind people outweigh the unkind ones. If you are the kind person who helps someone with a cane, walker, or who is riding the motorized shopping cart, I thank you. Your kind acts carry so much weight. Thank you!
If you are an "avoider," like I was, realize this is another way for you to have courage, too. It takes bravery sometimes to get outside your comfort zone and speak to the person who is different from you. But remember, they are just a person. Just like you. It may be someone just like your mom, grandpa, or favorite great-uncle. Those folks are also someone's family. Remember that, too.
If, however, you are like me and have to ride in the cart, or walk with a cane or a walker, keep on keeping on. Be courageous! Your example can be an inspiration to those who see your determination! Be proud! You are doing the best you can with what you have been given, and that's all we have been asked to do by our Maker.
So the next time I get on that beautiful motorized cart at Walmart, I will hold my head high, and I won't be bothered by those who show open negativity toward me. I think I'll decide to smile even bigger at anyone who frowns at me. Won't that be fun!
I challenge you to allow your impairment or disability or what-have-you to work for good. We can change the world, one shopping trip at a time. Or yoga class. Let's get out there and be brave!!
© 2017 Diana Majors