My Walking Stick // The Stigma of Mobility Aids


After a few weeks of pushing myself a bit too hard, my body decided to tell me enough was enough.

I suffered from a major flare up which was painful and left me really weak. Nerve pain and muscle twitches meant my legs gave way unexpectedly. I was collapsing and feeling dizzy a lot as a result of POTS, which made standing for any period of time difficult. My left knee actually partially dislocated after collapsing in the bathroom one evening! (It still doesn't feel right!)

My doctor strongly suggested to start using a walking stick to help my balance, co-odination and take some of the pressure off my leg muscles and joints.

Choosing my first walking stick at the age of 21 was an amusing thought! I was pretty worried that I wouldn't be able to find something that suited me.  I had decided to go for a foldable stick so that I could keep it in my backpack and quickly pull it out whenever I needed it. Luckily, I was able to find some patterned and more colourful style sticks. I eventually settled on a rose style pattern that looked quite fantasy/fairy tale-esque.

The first day I used my stick was at work (for those of you who don't know, I work two days a week at a health retailer store). After working for less than an hour, I immediately noticed that how differently people treated me compared to normal.

I realised that my illnesses were now visible to everyone. All the pain, fatigue, brain fog and dizziness that I experience on a daily basis were now validated, all because I had physical mobility aid. I do feel that people actually take my illnesses much more seriously when I have my stick with me. But at the same time, it draws a lot of unintentional attention, which made me quite uncomfortable at first.

Most customers were way more understanding and patient with me than normal if I had made a mistake, or took a little longer to get to the till. They were quick to tell me to "Take your time" or "Don't worry about it!". Some customers gave me strange looks, some glanced down at my legs when they thought I couldn't see them and some questioned me. I had to try and explain my illnesses to complete strangers, out of fear of appearing 'rude' whilst at work. Countless times, I've had to listen to a customer tell me 'I'm too young for a walking stick' or chuckle about the fact that I had a walking stick before them. Their questions and remarks really did make me think about the stigma around mobility aids.

A lot of people associate 'walking stick' with 'elderly' and some people still associate 'disability' with 'wheelchair'. So when you don't fit into these categories, it can really confuse them, especially if you are a part time mobility aid user...

I use my stick part time, which means, as the name suggests, I only use it part of the time as I don't always need it. It's saved for when I'm having a really bad pain/fatigue/weakness/balance day, or when I've been out for a little while and I feel my legs getting wobbly. I've also used it when I know I will be on my feet most of the time and won't have an opportunity to sit down and rest, for example standing at a gig for an hour or so.

So when I went into work without a stick one day, regular customers noticed. It's because I don't use my stick all the time, that people have questioned my need for a stick and some actually questioned my illness altogether. My illness is still there, even without a stick. It just happens to be a more tolerable day as chronic illnesses tend to fluctuate.

Mobility aids; mobility scooters, wheelchairs, walking sticks, crutches, walking frames and everything in between, are there to help the user feel safe and supported. If helps keep independence and allows the user to enjoy more aspects of their life. Regardless of whether they are young or old, or use their aid for 100% of the time, or only 20% of the time, no ones need for a mobility aid should be questioned, and neither should their disability.

Obviously this is a huge topic and I haven't covered every aspect of mobility aids, but I hope to address these issues in a future video! I'm interested to hear the views of other mobility aid users and their experiences of overcoming the stigma. Please comment or get in touch!

Please think twice about making assumptions based only on what you see.

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