“Don’t Stare”

People see the walking stick and look away. I can see the questions flash over their faces. “What’s wrong with her?” “She’s so young?.” I can practically see them holding their tongues. There’s concentration in their eyes trying not to look at the stick. They force eye contact and awkward conversation. Even people I’ve known for years that may not have seen me with a stick have difficulty with it. They look away. They barely acknowledge me, a quick nod in recognition then hurriedly walking away. Or they avoid simple pleasantries such as “how are you?” In years gone by I would have confided my deepest darkest secrets to them. Now they feel uncomfortable around me.
My personality hasn’t changed since I acquired a stick and a bit of limp/waddle. But people don’t see that. It’s like I have access to Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak whenever I use it. People do their best not to look. They see me and they may smile but the moment they see the stick they blank me.
It’s not done out of rudeness, we were all told when we were young not to stare at people that look ‘different’. They are trying to be kind. It’s a sort of considerate ignorance. If you ask anyone who is ‘different’ in anyway they don’t want to be stared at but equally don’t want to be ignored. We are people. We are not our disability. We don’t want pity, or for you to feel sorry for us. We just want understanding.
I’m no longer embarrassed about my condition. I’ll admit I was to begin with, but now I’ve come to terms with it I’m happy to talk about it for hours. Sometimes people will ask “I hope you don’t mind me asking but why do you need a walking stick?” I’m fine with the question, I’ll give you answer, to educate you on chronic pain conditions. In fact I’m happy to. The more people that know and understand it, the more likely it is that it will be accepted. The people that ask often suffer with some condition or need a mobility aid. They understand what it is like to be invisible because of illness.
Don’t be afraid of us. It’s just a walking stick. The worst I could do is hit you. It’s just a wheelchair, the worst thing I could do is re-enact wheelchair rugby and ram my chair into your legs. But I wouldn’t do that, and neither would most other people. We don’t bite, we’re not scared of you, we just want compassion and to be treated like a human being.

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