Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Making the Invisible Visible

I am still working on my Nano story, though I am woefully far behind on my word count. On the other hand, I've managed to write at least a little bit every single day, and I do feel like I'm getting somewhere, and that helps. But that's not what I want to write about today.

For the last couple of months, I've been dealing with chronic pain in my hip, and in the last month, I've been walking with a cane. I've had some form of chronic illness for years, but they generally fall into the realm of "invisible" ailments. Walking with the cane has made the invisible visible for the first time, and that has been an eye-opening experience.

I'm in my thirties, and tend to look a bit younger, so I get a fair number of double-takes when people see a "young" woman walking with a cane. I have noticed that people are more likely to get out of my way, or apologize if they move in front of me. I need more room and more time to move around, and that means that I'm taking up more space and time than I normally do. In general, I do my best not to take up too much room, so it's been very hard for me to get accustomed to not being able to just slide through without drawing attention to myself.

Beyond just being noticed more often myself, I've become more aware of the things that I hadn't noticed before. Stairs, for example - I've always had an issue with stairs (my earliest memory is of falling down two flights of stairs when I was about 4, so stairs have always been the enemy in my mind), but I never realized just how many of them there are. In particular, last night there was a social event for work at the EMP, and the elevators were down. There was next to no location in the building I could go to without having to go up or down stairs, and it was incredibly stressful on my hip. It doesn't help that I kept having people who I know reasonably well staring at me as I stump my way around the place.

My department has been having a summit all week, which basically means everyone comes to Seattle so we can all sit in a meeting room all day, and then have some kind of social event in the evening. Having everyone from the department in one place has shown me something I wasn't expecting - as far as I could tell, I was the only person who had some sort of visible mobility issue.

I'm fortunate, in a lot of ways - everyone has been wonderful, and I've been able to get around most obstacles without much trouble. I also get the impression that when the people that organized the summit saw me, they suddenly realized that not everything was as accessible as they had thought. It's been an eye-opening experience, and one I will want to remember when my hip is finally better. At the same time, it's not something I want to keep experiencing for very long, if I can help it.