Think outside this small square of lift space that you are just about to push your walker into.
I breathe in, attempting to make myself thinner as the people shuffle back. My mind is still outside the square and I’m in a motivational film. I’m facing the people, the people are facing the lift door. Now is the time to smile and engage in conversation. Instead the lift lurches, the walker moves forward and I’m closing in on a woman’s torso.
The director has yelled “cut” some time ago and I’m back in reality. I’m not used to the outside world. Four years of illness secluded me. My equipment makes me feel weak and a failure. My balance and body have communication competitions. I fumble, my head wobbles and I’m a tangled ball of string.
I stop and breathe. The woman nearby looks so cool and calm. She has come out of the writing workshop that I’ve just attended. She’s got some equipment of her own that she appears to be handling with ease. I say to her, trying to be equally cool, “We’re a pair.” I’m awkward. She looks at me and I look back and see something lovely but wonder if there are times when she is without her ease.
We talk. And talk some more. We meet for coffee and lunch. And we become great friends.
The conditions that impact our lives differ greatly but we both share functional difficulties with co-ordination and mobility. We strive for independence and battle with the word disability. We have a determination to achieve what we set out for but when illness holds us back we know we need to draw on our patience and our ‘not give up’ spirit.
We’re not old. We’re outgoing. Sometimes we walk together. Our equipment is in motion. Hers is a fancy, shiny, state of the art, cool looking, three wheeled walker. Mine on the other hand is the basic, seen everywhere four wheeled walker. Again, not cool.
When we push off along the footpath in single file I immediately feel a strange inner and outer strength. I tell my beautiful friend how different I feel when I walk with her. I tell her that I feel powerful.
I’ve thought about this a lot. Initially I thought it had something to do with my confidence. However I have come to realise it’s something else entirely.
It’s about awareness.
I have become aware of another’s disability and the impact it has on her life. I have felt her strength and understood her attitude. This knowledge has been infused through friendship.
Being aware of her situation together with mine makes me feel powerful. It has even helped me to see my walker as a strengthening tool not a weakness.
I now believe that collaboration and understanding are the strengths behind disability awareness.
Also now, if I fumble and wobble I don’t berate myself. Instead I remember the power of two and coolly untangle.