Last week, I was visible because I’m bisexual. This week, I’m invisible because I’m ill! Yay! It’s like a cloak… except… not. At all. Anyway.
Invisible illness definitely isn’t a new topic for me, and if I’m honest I’m not sure I have a huge amount to add to what I’ve already said (see the About Illness tag).
But as today marks the start of Invisible Illness Awareness Week, I thought I’d write a quick thing about one of my favourite possessions: my walking stick.
My current walking stick is from the dollar store in Kilbirnie. I have had several of the exact same stick, because, let’s face it, they’re not great quality. But I once paid $35 for a stick that broke in about the same amount of time. And I’m not spending $100 on a stick, because, again complete honesty, I hope soon enough I’ll go into remission and I won’t need one.
Anyway, yes. My stick makes a kind of embarrassing but also very useful metallic noise as I lope along. Not embarrassing because I’m using a walking stick, but because I’m easily embarrassed by anyone looking at me for any reason. And yup. People look at you when you have a stick.
But it’s useful – aurally, and visually. It gives everyone around me a cue. It says; ‘Hey, I’m probably gonna move a bit slow. I might need a hand because once I’ve got my stick I only have one left over and doors and shit can be an issue.’ It says; ‘Please give me space. I need room around me to move.’ It says ‘There is something different about me.’
I don’t need my stick every day. I have good days and bad days. On my bad days, I feel extra vulnerable. I need people to be kind to me. And guess what? When I have my stick… they (99% of the time) are.
I’m not really drawing any big conclusions here. I’ll let you figure out what you feel it means. But basically, visually cued disability and invisible illness can often be two very different kettles of fish, even though they can require the same responses.
When you’re already fighting just to be out of bed and at university or at work or out shopping, sometimes it can be just a little bit too much added struggle to also have to vocalise your needs. I, personally, hate doing it. I hate asking for help. I hate showing my vulnerability.
But my stick, as well as holding me up, does that for me.
Other invisible illnesses don’t require any aids. People with those illnesses may not have this option. So, I guess in that instance – and on days I don’t have my stick… I just hope for proactive kindness. To and for anyone.
It’s really great when that happens.