So, I’ve walked on a cane for a little while now.

I injured my knee last April – we even did a comic about it, which (when we wrote it) happened to coincide with the first Hobbit movie coming out. Now the second is out, and my knee is even worse! I blame you personally for this, Peter Jackson.

(I didn’t injure my knee from Tough Mudder, although it has stopped me competing in it again as I had planned to do.)

Hopefully once they have a better idea of what the injury actually is (they thought it was the bursa; now they’re thinking it’s also cartilage) it’ll be able to be treated a bit better, and I’ll be able to come off the cane someday. But it’s an interesting experience walking with it. In the first month or so, this is what stood out:

  • You’d think people walking would be a little more considerate of someone leaning heavily on a cane as they walked, but nope. For most people in shopping centres you’re just easier to shove past apparently!
  • People always used to make eye contact as they passed me, if they looked in my direction. I’m also used to eyes flicking from my face to my shirt and back if I’m wearing a t-shirt with a picture on it. But now, eyes go straight to the cane and then flick to my face. Then the person pulls an inadvertent apologetic expression for doing so.
  • Store clerks are either dismissive or condescending, without question. One or the other. I can actually kind of understand this; knowing whether to acknowledge the disability or whatever is difficult if you’ve never been told or taught. People aren’t born with the innate knowledge, and (having worked retail when I was a teenager) it makes you feel awkward if you don’t know how to interact with someone, and you get self conscious and come off as either of those two things. It’s about how the clerk feels, not about you.
  • Tangential story time: I walked into one store and the clerk saw me and clearly looked suddenly uncomfortable. Then by pure coincidence a person in an electric wheelchair entered behind me and the clerk’s eyes practically wigged out of their head.
  • Interestingly, I no longer feel the awkwardness about where to look at someone who’s disabled. Like when you spot someone wearing the same t-shirt art as you, nowadays we exchange a look like “Ey, how ya doin’, we get each other,” most of the time. Once a person with a cane pointed at mine and we clacked them together like a strange high-five of sorts.
  • Children are generally better than adults at the streetpass thing because they have no preconceptions. Their eyes lock firmly onto the cane, and then they look at me with an expression (or, sometimes, words) that say “That’s an old man thing, you’re not an old man, so why?” I just give a friendly grin in response and they beam back like, “Okay, some younger people them too!” and it’s all good.
  • Then you have some little shits who decide I’m an easy target to bully, either pointing and laughing or trying to knock the cane out from under me. This is much more rare, though. One time a group of kids aged around seven or eight threw stones at me as I was walking outside. I figure a lot of us are jerks at that age and we just grow out of it like I did. Hopefully those kids will remember throwing those stones when they’re older and treat people with disabilities better than they otherwise would have as a result.
  • Simple things like answering a mobile phone or carrying more than one bag at a time is suddenly really problematic. You have to stop and start to get things out of backpack pockets as well. Going anywhere takes much longer, even though my walking pace isn’t lowered much on flat ground compared to before.
  • The feeling of defeat when it comes to exercise is exacerbated tenfold. I was getting out of shape from not being able to go running any more even before. Now I’m walking with the cane, there’s an overwhelming feeling of “Why even bother?” In a way, I take this as a positive. When it’s clear and present it’s no longer insidious, and I make a conscious effort to fight that feeling, whereas before it would just creep in.
  • My friends all make jokes about it and other than that it’s no different than before. Which is great for me, but I don’t know about other people. Humour is different for everyone, especially when it comes to things like this. Your mileage may vary, but for me, it takes the stigma out of it.
  • I went to use a public restroom, only to find the disabled toilet was the only one on the ground floor. “Other toilets can be found down stairwell opposite,” a sign declared. “Ugh,” I thought, “I don’t wanna go down two flights of stairs, that is difficult and painful for me.” Then I realised I walk with a cane now and this toilet is for people like me who aren’t supposed to (or, for many, can’t) use stairs. It was occupied, so I waited for it to be vacant. The door opened and a perfectly able-bodied person came out, turned bright red, said “Whoopsumsorry” as fast as possible and ran off. It was funny to me; but again, it was also kind of hurtful. I’ve been imagining what it would have felt like if I was someone who didn’t also see the funny side, and it’s been making me feel sad.
  • This episode of The IT Crowd is suddenly even more hilarious.

I thought I knew before what it felt like to be ostracised, having been discriminated against in the past both for being queer and for suffering a mental illness (major depressive disorder). But those things only come out when you get to know me; a physical disability is front and present for all the world to see.

It’s just as hurtful and just as tiring as either of those other things, but omnipresent. In a weird way, I feel like I have a slightly better understanding of what my trans* friends have to put up with on a day-to-day basis. You can’t hide your correct pronouns any better than a walking stick, really. At least before I had the option of just not correcting someone who assumed I was straight, or of keeping quiet when someone made a joke about depression-not-being-a-legitimate-thing, and to just feel bad on the inside instead. I don’t even have that option here. (I guess some trans* people technically do, but I can’t even begin to imagine how much more painful that would be.)

I don’t really have a point with any of this, other than the Don’t Be A Jerk Principle I suppose. It’s a complex set of issues that I feel I’ve either under- or mis- represented here. This is just a list of what I’ve noticed so far, since I figure that having this particular discursive platform and this particular scenario is an unusual enough combination that it may just be of use to somebody.