Coming to terms with the fact that I needed to use a walking cane was initially very difficult for me. After all, I wasn’t old, and the stigma around walking canes is that they are only for the use of the elderly. I was 16 years old and barely able to walk half the time. The pain of Fibromyalgia consumed every minute of my life (it still does), and I was barely getting out of the house besides going to school.
The Reasons For My Cane
I didn’t even have the energy to grocery shop, which is something I had always enjoyed helping my mother with. At that stage, I had been coping with widespread chronic pain for about 9 years. I was struggling my way through high school, and I didn’t know if there was any hope for my future, since the pain has done nothing but get worse. My quality of life and self-esteem was almost nil.
Getting a walking cane changed that completely. I was able to gain back some of the independence that I had when my pain was less severe. I’m now 19 and attending University part-time. I know for sure that without using a walking cane, I wouldn’t be able to cope with the commute to and from campus (believe me, I’ve tried).
My main fear when it came to using a walking cane was that people would judge me, and I’m not going to lie; they did. They still do. Despite what has been said to me, I continued to use my walking cane whenever I decided that I needed it, which was at least half of the time. As I continued to use it, I become more and more confident about it.
Now when I use my walking cane as a 19-year-old, I barely think about it unless someone mentions it to me. It’s a part of me, and I need it in order to be able to function in a semi-normal way. Medical professionals I have seen have approved of me using it, and nothing anyone says will change that.
In this article, I’m going to outline some of the instances where people have voiced their judgements about me using a walking cane, and why I think these judgements are flawed.
Being Accused Of Mocking The Elderly
My mother went to an appointment one morning recently, and in the waiting room a conversation started up between my mother and an elderly lady. My mother is a friendly person, so she enjoys talking to people whether she knows them or not.
At some stage during the conversation, the lady started talking about how there’s a young lady using a walking cane around our town, and how this elderly lady and her friends agree that this young woman is making a mockery of old people.
My town is not very big, and everyone knows someone who knows someone. I can confidently say that I’m the only young adult, let alone young lady, in my town who uses a walking cane (that I have seen). My mother had obviously come to the same conclusion because she told this lady that she knew the young woman who used a walking cane.
She told the lady that this young woman was using it for her diagnosed medical condition that she had since childhood, and that she wasn’t mocking anyone. The next day, my mother told me about what this lady had said about me. I was shocked.
This is the event that inspired me to write this article. I was always planning to write about my experiences using a walking cane as a teenager, however, this gave me both the push and the context I needed.
I didn’t realise that me using a cane as a teenager would bother anyone. I unknowingly, and by no fault of my own, had become a subject of town gossip. And despite me not wanting it to, it hurt me. It hurt me that someone would think such a terrible thing of me when I would never mock anyone for anything that is out of their control.
I would understand if it were children, or even very young adults were the ones being cruel. Having a lack of life experience can result in ignorance. What I don’t understand, however, is grown adults of thirty years or older being so incredibly petty and judgemental.
I can’t wrap my head around it. Having people say these types of things about you can be so incredibly damaging to the self-esteem of someone who is already struggling with chronic illness.
Saying things like this could push someone over the edge, it’s that serious. This isn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last, time that my use of a walking cane has been criticised.
“Is That [Cane] Really Necessary?”
The first time I walked into my high school’s nurse’s office with my walking cane, I was nervous about the reaction I would get. Looking back, I was right to be nervous. When the nurse on duty that day saw me using the cane, she looked me up and down, scoffed, and said in an amused tone “is that really necessary?”
My friend was with me and heard this too, and I was mortified. I then informed her that my Chronic Pain Team physiotherapist had approved me using a cane instead of crutches and then asked for my medication, holding back tears. Once my mother heard about what had been said, she called the nurse and explained my situation.
While the nurse never made another comment about my cane again, I didn’t feel comfortable around her from then on and I avoided her as much as possible for my final years before my graduation.
“You Aren’t [Old]”
A month or so ago, I was riding in an elevator at the local train station with an elderly man who also had a walking cane. He was looking me up and down, which is normal for me around older people.
He asked me “why are you using a walking cane? You aren’t my age.” I smiled at him, a bit taken aback, and politely replied “I have a chronic pain condition. It can make it difficult to walk.” I kept it simple, I didn’t want to go into details. He then replied “well I’m old. I’m allowed to use one.” The doors opened just as he finished his sentence, and I exited the elevator thinking about what he had said.
Was he trying to say that only old people were allowed to use walking canes? I didn’t let what he said upset me, I just carried on with my day as usual and kind of pushed it out of my mind. The memory then resurfaced when I was thinking about what was said about me to my mother.
I Won’t Apologise For Using A Walking Cane.
I don’t understand what people have to gain from being so judgemental. It baffles me that someone can have such disdain towards someone they haven’t met or barely know.
Having an invisible disability or illness means that besides any tools or walking aids that are used (such as a wheelchair, a walking frame, or a walking cane), there is no way to tell what I, or any other person with chronic illness, goes through.
I don’t use a walking cane for fun or because I think it’s cool. I use it because I genuinely need it for support when I’m in a lot of pain. I don’t enjoy being a teenager who uses a enjoy walking cane. I don’t the looks of curiosity or disdain I often get from other adults.
However, I will continue to use it because I wouldn’t get through the day without it. I won’t apologise for using a walking aid, no matter what anyone thinks of it.
Having had a chronic illness since childhood has made my skin extremely thick. It has made me far less mindful of what those who aren’t my close friends, immediate family, or doctors have to say about my health.
Of course, what people say about me does still bother me, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this article. However, it doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. I don’t break down and cry when I hear what people say about me, as I would have a few years ago.
My aim with writing my experiences in this article is to spread awareness about young people worldwide who use walking canes due to their health. They do exist, and they certainly aren’t trying to mock anyone. They’re just trying to live their lives, like everyone else.
Please, if you ever feel tempted to negatively comment on a young person’s use of a walking aid, please don’t. And if you are a young person who uses a walking aid who faces judgement, know that you are not alone.
About The Author
Amy Clements is a 20-year-old who has lived with chronic pain, the result of Fibromyalgia, since childhood. In her teens she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in her wrist, which was the result of a netball injury. Amy lives in New Zealand and studies Business part-time at University. She enjoys reading novels and writing. She especially enjoys writing about her experience with chronic illness.