A very common theme on my journey through the underbelly of losing mobility to a combination of a degenerative spine, lipedema and lymphedema has been allowing myself to start using any kind of assistive device or mobility aid. This includes using a cane, a store scooter, physical therapy, and a handicap placard from the DMV. It also includes asking for help from store employees, specialized doctors, and others.
I’ve felt that beginning to use a device is giving up my independence and my hope. But time and again, I’ve also proven that going without them actually limits my independence as I would end up staying home, not going to certain stores, hobbling along, etc.
My Physical Therapist was right when she told me that using an assistive device helps the public see past their judgments just a bit and begin to allow me to fit in more. It mentally tells them there’s more to this woman in front of them than their judgments would normally allow and tells them to give me room or maybe help me out or even just smile.
See, because of my body’s dysfunctions, I’m now severely overweight and only 42 years old. This tells people I must just be an out of control eater and I should be judged. However, what they do not know is that my obesity was caused by my diseases, not the diseases caused by obesity. Using mobility aids has indeed helped just a bit to increase the compassion of strangers in social and public situations.
As of this writing, I am now using a cane when I go to appointments or walk into stores. I need it to stand upright in line because my back begins to spasm after just a minute or two if standing still. Without the cane to lean on, I have to find a seat fast, and one is almost never available without me losing my place in line (or at all). Through Physical Therapy work and a cane, I can now walk slightly longer distances than before and don’t have to stop or sit as long as I am in forward motion.
The new shape of my body from lipedema and lymphedema and the weight gain from being sedentary due to my spine does not allow walking the way I used to. The pain it produces is mixed with an inconsistent gait and I never know when I will need to walk with the use of the cane from the moment I get out of my car or just carry the cane for a couple of minutes until everything gives out.
Either way though, my life has better quality and my body has slightly more stamina by giving in on my pride and getting a cane.
Likewise, I finally stopped being able to shop in 99.9% of stores because I can no longer walk or stand that long. I can’t use a store that doesn’t have electric scooters unless it’s a very quick in-and-out where I know I won’t need to stand or walk long. Once I let myself accept the help of the scooter and got over the looks I receive from the public, my quality of life and independence is greater. I can go get my own groceries again.
As a bonus, my youngest is 10-years-old and actually loves to help me shop. He gets to pick things out and sometimes gets a toy. We have fun with the scooter and he rides on the back of the seat which sometimes gets us into trouble! But he’s not horrified by my disabilities and loves me no matter what. Essentially what I’m saying is, my pride and the nasty looks from strangers means nothing compared to what my son thinks of me. And what he sees is a mom who is fighting to keep her independence and be as active as she can with what she’s dealing with instead of giving up and cowering at home.
Soon I will be filing for a handicap placard from the DMV as well. I just need to take the papers to my doctor. This has been one of my biggest hold-outs. I felt that I shouldn’t be taking a handicap space. But time and again I’m skipping certain stores and venues (and therefore am less independent) because I know the parking lot is so full I won’t be able to get close enough to the door.
The same is happening at the health club where I do water therapy classes. As it is, their handicap parking is quite a walk! Without the placard, I’m stuck in the back 40 and end up not going at all because the walk from the car to reception and then to the locker room and the pool is incredibly long for someone with my disabilities. The least I can do is get a handicap parking space because, after all, I AM DISABLED. To hell with my pride, I need to accept the fact that I AM DISABLED.
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