The Mildest Of Constraints

As you read this, I am many many weeks out from the event described. As I write it, it happened yesterday. There’s no need to be concerned about my foot, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, I hurt my foot yesterday, just before a family gathering. Small biff, I think I knocked it against the bed or something or slept on it funny. A modest little bit of discomfort. Sure, I couldn’t walk on it for a long time, but also, it wasn’t swollen or discolored or bruised. A minor, unimportant, ache or pain that I could accommodate. It’s happened before, after all – and that’s why I have a cane in the house to walk with.

What I haven’t done before is bring this cane to a family gathering.

I’m not a super sociable guy at these gatherings at the best of times, of course. I don’t tend to start a lot of conversations – I think part of why is because I know I’m prone to talking too long, at length about whatever topic has been brought up. I feel like I’m boring and tedious to deal with, but I don’t know how to engage the other people I deal with about things that they care about. This is made worse if it’s a family member I don’t know very well – sure, I know my sister well, but what about my partner’s uncle’s niece’s partner?

This isn’t a complaint about them, it’s just a different kind of experience to what I’m used to.

With the cane though, I encountered something I really wasn’t expecting: Almost everyone was incredulous that I had it, and when I offered an explanation: “I hurt my foot,” the followup was not “Oh,” and letting it go, but rather, something like “Are you sure?”

I mean

It’s my foot, right?

There were other offerings – some people would suggest I had gout, which was weird, since they hadn’t even seen my foot. I got asked if I really needed the cane, too, after I explained ‘I hurt my foot,’ too, which was also weird. I was asked why I had such a fancy cane, which – it’s a $12 metal cane from the chemist’s covered in pictures of dogs, I don’t get the ‘fancy.’

I don’t think any of this was done in mean spirits, and I don’t think any individual person was Being An Asshole about it. It was a tiring experience for me just because I was using my shoulder and arm as much as my legs to move around, which meant I took a lot of opportunities to sit down, but also to keep areas from getting too dense, I was always at the peripheries of things. That meant sometimes, I was moving around a lot.

What it made me think about though was how much time, for people who do have to have these things regularly in their lives, is being wasted. Sure, I was mildly bothered for one gathering for one day. There are people, however, who have disabilities with irregular expressions, where some days it’s a cane day and some days it’s a wheelchair day and they don’t get to select those days. And then, when your capacity is being infringed, there’s an added meaningless bit of labour you have to do all the time where people will try and start up a conversation about something where you don’t have a good or meaningful answer.

It’s weird to imagine.

I know that it took me half a day to start anticipating these conversations and routing around them. Ways to avoid dealing with people because I didn’t want to talk at length about something I had no good explanation for. And once that happened, I was spending time, in my head anticipating conversations; I wasn’t thinking about other things, I was focusing not just on a minor, temporary problem I was dealing with, but on how to explain it to people, even though it was a minor, temporary problem.

None of this is a revolutionary problem to experience, I’m not like ‘oh my eyes were opened because I had a cane for a day and now I’m going to bring you insights from the lands of the disableds.’ It’s more that the pressures presented by even a modestly visible problem were really distinct, and that I got that focus for almost nothing. I didn’t do anything, I didn’t change my life, I just used a cane for a few hours and that’s all it took to start making me reroute my thinking and become mentally exhausted over it.

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