By Mac Pomeroy
I was born with a rare mutation of my RYR1 gene. This mutation causes extreme muscular weakness and pain, along with other things. With this, I have learned to advocate for myself and other disabled people over the years.
Yet, that didn’t stop me from developing internalized ableism. For as much struggle as I have in my daily life, there was one thing I took pride in: while I had the support of those around me, I didn’t use mobility aids.
I settled for struggling every day. That felt all right. I accepted the way it was, it made me feel normal. At least if someone didn’t know that something wasn’t typical, they wouldn’t be able to look at me and tell.
Even if I was struggling, I felt like less of a “freak.”
But then the pandemic hit. From March 2020 to August 2021, I didn’t walk much on a daily basis. Upon returning to campus, I found myself even weaker than before. Just getting through the day was painful and exhausting. I was at my lowest physical point.
Worst of all was my balance. I have always had trouble, but when I returned to campus, I could barely stand still without stumbling. It got to the point where I could no longer walk alone down the hallway. My professors were wonderful and agreed to walk me to my car, but I no longer had any independence on campus. It wasn’t worth appearing “normal.”
Pride and the fear of being seen as a burden to others can act as great barriers in our daily lives. There often seems to be a set path for how we need to act and behave, even if we hurt ourselves in the process.
On Oct. 3, I went into my family’s storage room and grabbed the cane that used to belong to my grandmother. Some practice that evening quickly showed an improvement in my stability. I already knew that this was the right next step.
Mentally preparing to take it to campus was another challenge. I felt as though the cane was some huge flashing sign screaming, “LOOK AT ME.” I texted my friends to warn them about my new companion and prepared a much more subtle outfit than I normally wear to avoid drawing any extra attention.
Heading to class the next day, I found myself wishing I had left the cane in the car. People kept glancing at me. My heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest and I was going to faint. Still, it was too late to ditch the stick, so I kept pushing forward.
That day, I was able to handle myself. I did not feel unsafe nor the need to walk with anyone else. I wasn’t afraid.
Every day, things got easier. By relying on the walking stick, I was less pained and exhausted everyday. I felt better than I had in a very long time.
Every day, I cared less about what people might think.
The fear of being seen as less than by others for doing what is best for yourself is not limited to disabled people — it’s rather common.
Maybe it’s that you don’t speak up when you need help, or you struggle to admit something is wrong out of fear of being a burden. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a life-damaging problem on your own because it seems better than having people know something is wrong.
Stop that. If keeping up with society’s perceived expectations is causing you harm and suffering, then stop worrying about it. Struggling is never worth that extra bit of pride. Being frustrated and keeping your difficulties to yourself does not make you more likable, nor does it alleviate anyone else’s problems.
Stop worrying about going outside of the norm if it helps you live a more fulfilling life.
The day I started using my cane, I was worried about people staring and judging me. And they did look. I know now they weren’t looking at me. They heard the click as the tip hit the tile, and looked to see what the sound was.
Once they realized what the noise was, no one cared. They went back to their own thoughts and their own problems.
Now, I am living a more secure life. I even learned to embrace the cane, taking the whole flashing sign thing a bit literal by getting a light up acrylic cane. And I love it. I love how the bolder cane matches me, and I love the ease it brings.
No amount of social stress or anxiety is worth giving up the freedom it brings to my life, nor is it worth any resistance you have in yours.