Can I ask everyone to do me (and other people with chronic illnesses or disabilities) a favor? Please don’t ask “what happened?” if you see someone with a mobility device. And before you think I’m just being overly sensitive, know that I am NOT the only person who feels this way. There is a huge number of people in the spoonie community and the disabled community who feel exactly the same.
I know you’re just curious, but your curiosity doesn’t matter more than other people’s right to privacy or comfort. I don’t want to have to divulge my medical history to people I hardly know. I do not want regular reminders that people see my cane/walker and not me. I do not want to get pulled into a conversation about what somebody who is NOT my doctor (or a doctor at all for that matter) thinks is wrong or what they think I should to do “fix” it.
And even if all that weren’t the case, I simply do not always want to talk about my health. I’m stuck dealing with my health and the limitations it causes on a daily basis. Sometimes I just need a freaking break. If you want to talk to me or anybody else with a cane or walker or wheelchair or whatnot it is on you to see past the device to the person using it. Don’t use mobility devices as conversation starters. If we wanna talk about it, we will. There’s a whole slew of things you can talk about instead: the beautiful fall weather, a book you recently read, my awesome bumper stickers, literally a million different topics you would use with anybody else.
I already feel a little awkward transitioning into the habit of using a mobility device. I am struggling to get the hang of walking with it properly, and maneuvering it in and out of my car without banging into stuff, figuring out how to set it down when I sit, and trying not to cry in public when my youngest wants to be picked up and I have to tell him no. I am already anxious from fearing everybody is staring at me because “why is this young woman using a cane?!” So when the first words out of your mouth to me are “what happened?!” it just justifies and strengthens that anxiety.
I have a few personal exceptions to the above which are purely MY opinion. Your mileage may vary with others using mobility devices (when in doubt, just steer clear of the topic). Those exceptions are:
- Young kids (I’m not talking about 16-year-olds here) are supposed to ask questions. It’s how they learn about their world. And we all know they are lightyears away from mastering social etiquette. If your kid asks about someone’s cane in front of you, please stay calm so they can learn by your example that illness and disability aren’t shameful. They are just different but normal possibilities in the human experience. If kids get that message when they’re young, they won’t feel compelled to keep asking everybody with a mobility device “what happened to you?” as adults.
- You can ask me about my device if you also use a mobility aid and want to know where I got my awesome, blingy cane (FYI the bling was DIY but I know where you can find even prettier/badass/stylish canes if you’re not as broke as I am).