The author, Jess, standing in front of a vintage closet with a pair of grey, elbow crutches. She is wearing a mask, but it is clear she is smiling.

I sit, staring across the desk at my doctor.

We’ve already finished discussing all my other concerns for the day and I can’t delay any longer.

I take a deep breath.

“I’ve been talking to my physio about using elbow crutches…” I start nervously. “I’ve been using a cane on and off for some time now… because I used one for a while when I was younger and it really helped!” I quickly add, eager to provide justification as to why I would take it upon myself to do something to improve my own life.

“The thing is, well, the cane hurts my wrists a lot and my physio agreed an elbow crutch would be better for me. I wouldn’t use it all the time, just when the loss of power in my legs or vertigo is at its worst.”

My doctor smiles at me.

“I think that’s a good idea,” she says brightly. “An elbow crutch will certainly take the pressure off your wrist and I think it will be better for your balance too. Do you want a prescription for one or two?”

“I’ve just been using a cane on one side, but… I was thinking two might be better so I can power along like one of those Nordic walkers.” I respond, laughing nervously. I’ve been with this doctor for a while now and she’s always been good to me, but 25 years of prior mistreatment by the medical system has left me with profound anxiety about asking for anything. (Heaven forbid I think I deserve anything more than sitting at home all day while chronically ill and unable to work.)

Three days later, I gather the energy to head to the orthopedic technician. The two times I fall on the way to the store reinforce the need for going and allay some of my lingering doubts about how maybe I really am just a good-for-nothing faker after all. Once we arrive, things go smoothly and I’m relieved to not feel a sense of judgment from the staff, though the cashier does laugh at me when I ask if the crutches come in any colors other than “hospital grey” (they did not). I’m lucky to have been accompanied by a friend, so I have a sense of security as I awkwardly shuffle home. Fortunate, as I’m still getting used to walking with four legs rather than two!

The next day, I decide to keep the momentum going by using the new elbow crutches to get to an appointment, which is just a short trip from home. Having read many horror stories online about the interrogation and verbal abuse people with mobility aids face, I steel myself for the worst.

After positively stumbling along the day prior, I’m pleased to find my rhythm quickly this time. It’s a lovely day, the sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze and I’m… happy? Not out of breath? Not in constant fear of falling over? Not engaging every muscle in my legs to its maximum capacity with every step?

I suddenly remember how much I used to enjoy walking, how easy it was before my condition deteriorated three years ago. I remember that for most people getting from point A to point B is rarely an extreme sport. I can’t believe how much mental energy I’ve been expending on staying upright!

I hold my head up high when I get on the bus. I smile confidently at the kind people who get out of my way and encourage me to sit down. I don’t feel embarrassed or like a faker; this is how I should be treated. I’m out here doing my best like everyone else, I just have a few simple needs to help me get the job done without it resulting in unnecessary pain or risk. Why have I previously felt embarrassed about limping, stumbling, sitting on the floor in a queue? I just needed crutches!

I’m hit with an overwhelming sense of pride in how far I’ve come and how much I’ve accomplished whilst being so ill. I’ve studied, worked, moved countries, advocated for myself in several areas of life, maintained healthy friendships across distance and time, and worked through some confronting issues in therapy. At times, I did these things with barely any energy, or frankly, any awareness of just how bad some things had become…

…and I did it all without my crutches. Imagine what I can accomplish now.

This post originally appeared on The Mighty and was edited in-house.

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