This will be a long post, so get yourself a cup of tea, snuggle under a blanket, make sure there is some chocolate… You should know the drill. Are we sitting comfortably? Then I will begin.
I became ill quite suddenly at sixteen. I was bed bound for a while, then housebound, then slowly worked my way to being outside. But outside wasn’t as I remembered it; mainly because walking wasn’t as I remembered it. I’d had to relearn the very basics, and suddenly being outside was scary and wobbly and uneven. I got the once an hour bus down to the local charity shops because I knew that at least one of them would have a walking stick. It wasn’t really a hard decision to make. It was more a natural train of thought. I wanted to go outside > I couldn’t walk without falling > a stick would stabilize me > I needed a stick. So off I went to get a stick. I walked somewhat like a zombie, having my arms out to try and keep balance, dragging my legs because I couldn’t lift them, stumbling frequently, and certainly groaning with the paaaaaaaains. (Look, if you can’t deal with cheesy jokes, you are on the wrong blog.)
I found a wooden stick in the second charity shop. I paid a whole 50p for it, nearly collapsed from the effort of the whole expedition, and was rescued by a neighbour who drove me home. I still own said 50p stick, who later became known affectionately as Pete after a family friend got his hands on it, and engraved his name in biro in the middle. Pete the Stick is also still painted in rainbow colours from where I decided that I couldn’t, at sixteen, deal with a plain cane. (Again, the jokes. You were warned.)
So now I had a stick. It gave my something to physically lean on, and gave me some psychological encouragement, knowing that even if I couldn’t get out every day or for a long time, I could at least do it.
All of these thoughts, you must remember, were in a mass of brain fog. I’ve had people tell me I was brave to keep going in that time, but really there was no consciousness behind it; more a step by step thought process of what came next.
I remember very clearly the first time I became brave enough to go out properly. I sat down in one of the disabled seats with my stick, breathless and shaking, relieved to have made it to a seat at all. The bus wasn’t busy, it was a quiet route, and I didn’t think twice about using the disabled seats because a) I was disabled, and b) if I’d have tried to walk any further even my dear reliable Pete wouldn’t have been able to keep me up. Naturally you can see where this is going. I got shouted at for using a seat for the elderly by a very angry woman who obviously hadn’t had a cup of tea that morning. Maybe she had run out of tea bags and needed them urgently, and that was why she was all full of rage? Strong possibility. Whatever her reasons it upset me enough that it knocked my confidence and I didn’t try going back out for a while.
When I did next venture out, I hesitated but sat down again in the disabled seat. I spent the first part of the journey jumpy and waiting for more tea deprived elderly women to shout at me. But none appeared. Instead there was an elderly couple who got on the bus. And one said to the other as they sat down a few rows behind me, “did you see that poor cripple girl? So young. Such a shame.”
Poor cripple girl? Such a shame?
Well fuck you very much, quite frankly.
And although I didn’t say anything to them, it was then my ownership of the word cripple began. There is nothing shameful about being disabled. There is nothing to ‘such a shame’ about in regards to being young and disabled. Don’t pity me. Give me empathy by all means, because all people should be given empathy, and be patient with me because of the limitations my conditions cause. But don’t pity me.
It wasn’t the last time I heard the word cripple thrown in my direction. I was obviously absolutely stunning at this period in time as so many people would turn to stare at me, normally teenagers with many words to say, ‘cripple’ being just one of them. And so I started to use it myself. Because the thing is, if you take a negative word, and use it towards yourself, you take away it’s negative power. You stop it being an attack. So when a teenage lad trying to look big and brave to his mates yells, “oi cripple”, and you respond with a smiling “yes?”, you can see the confusion on their face.
I am a cripple. And I’m okay with that.
Especially when it confuses people trying to upset others.