“Weren’t you just in a wheelchair? Why are you using a walker now? Are you getting better? If you can walk, why do you even have a wheelchair?”
I love when genuinely curious people ask me questions. With multiple assistive devices and an invisible illness, I have learned to differentiate between semantics and intention. That means I don’t get angry or take things personally anymore when people use the wrong words to ask about me, such as, “What’s wrong with you?”
I also have a pretty good idea when someone is condescending or nosy. That’s when I stop talking or change the subject.
Mostly, people are curious and want to have an actual conversation. However, I have had numerous encounters with folks who don’t really care what I have to say. No matter what I describe, some just scan my explanation for a few keywords and attempt to draw their own conclusions about it. The phone-staring and lack of eye contact when I answer a question I was asked is a dead giveaway of their interest level.
When my energy is good and my legs are functional, I use my walker. Two years ago, I fell and tore the ACL, MCL, and meniscus in my knee. I have become more reliant on my walker for safety and fear of doing it again. However, when attending a public event that either requires a lot of walking or when I’m socializing more than usual, it’s easier to be in my chair.
I am shaky and awkward while using my walker. Attempting to hug, crouch to greet kids, or remain stable and standing while conversing with others exhausts me. It can be mortifying to have a walker blocking me from the person I’m trying to hug.
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I am already entirely focused on gripping the walker and placing one foot in front of the other while trying my hardest not to tip over and fall. By the time I reach the person I want to speak with, I am completely wiped. This has happened often enough that it motivates my decision to use a chair in the first place. Being in a wheelchair is easier for me both mentally and physically. Knowing how hard I have to struggle when I don’t use one in these settings only solidifies the chair decision.
Now, I know how absurd that may sound to others who are completely wheelchair-dependent. And the fact that I can use assistive devices as somewhat of an accessory based on what I am doing “must be nice.” But the truth is I need both. Sometimes my legs work and sometimes they don’t. I despise feeling awkward and uncomfortable. If I can alleviate that by using a chair, so be it.
I am aware of how fortunate I am to have the option of switching between a walker and a chair, and I’m reminded quite often by others. That feeling of guilt is also a huge motivation for me. I have been able to see the positives of using both a walker and wheelchair and I feel more confident when deciding between those two now. I used to psych myself out and force myself to go with my walker even though I was exhausted and had to walk around a lot. My decision-making process has become a lot easier and confident. Now, the stigma of “people in chairs are all incapable of walking at all” no longer controls my decision when choosing aids before leaving the house.
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