Wandering through King’s Cross, a man pointed at me and used my crutch and I as a punch line. At the time I couldn’t find the words to respond, but now find myself with something to say.
I returned to work on Monday, having reduced my crutch count from two to one. I had an early meeting, so had no choice but to travel in rush hour. Typically, there was no Hammersmith and City and I ended up having to get the Northern Line and walk between a couple of stations, so despite leaving early, was running late. The irritating thing about crutches is that they only have one speed, and short of using it as a pole vault in the general direction of the office, I was low on options. None of that will be important to you, or anyone for that matter, but for me it meant that by 9.45 I was shattered, stressed and in significant pain.
You and your friend were a couple of feet behind me in King’s Cross Station. You were chatting about your rave, a little too loudly if I’m honest; it wasn’t in-keeping with the grumbling apathy that is the Monday commute. But, again, that’s beside the point. You were revelling in your night, ‘Oh man I danced until my leg was mashed, absolutely mashed, like THAT’. I turned around and you were pointing and laughing directly at me.
All in a second I didn’t know what to do. My turning round had, if anything, increased the intensity of your laughter. I could feel blood rushing to my cheeks, and became very aware of my crutch, which until this point I had barely considered; people use crutches all the time. How can someone in 2018 honestly think that it’s okay to loudly comment on a stranger’s physical condition? Maybe you thought it was ‘just an injury’, maybe you didn’t care, likely you didn’t think.
I spend most of the time dealing with the invisibility of my condition; hobbling as little as I possibly can, sneaking into quiet corners of the office to rest when fatigued, dancing in bars trying not to be too concerned about how it will feel tomorrow. Trying to convince people that, despite looking healthy enough, sometimes I do need that seat on the tube, that I can’t join in with the sponsored walk / your birthday / that protest because it’s too active and I’m too tired, that there is not necessarily a ‘reason’ I’m in pain.
It was odd, therefore, for my condition to be visible, and to be called out on it was a particularly surreal experience. Did you not see me behind that stick? I’ve been trying to eat healthier, but I’m really not sure I’m that thin. Did you not see my eyes, or that slightly strained expression on my face? It came, not from dancing all night, but from moving from one platform to another, from merely trying to get to work. If you had taken a second and looked, you might have come to the conclusion that I really didn’t need anything else to add to my mental and physical stress that morning, and you may have kept quiet.
I would love nothing more than to spend all night dancing at a rave. Currently my body goes from good to ‘mashed’ after mere minutes of movement. I’m lucky enough to be able to dance all night sometimes, and I’m confident I’ll get back there, but it’s a slow road and at times the mental setbacks are worse than the physical ones.
I’m almost certain it was just very convenient that my semi-functioning hip and I were there at that moment, together we were a handy visual representation of ‘mashed’. It was just a throwaway remark, but it was a throwaway remark showing that my stick defined your experience of me. You told me that my stick, that my mobility conditions were a joke to you. And yes, I have been wanting desperately to wrap fairy lights around them all week, and I’ve been catapulting myself around East London at a speed that has impressed my more able-bodied friends, but me, my condition and my crutch are not a joke, and they certainly aren’t your punch line. Next time, I’d just ask that you look beyond the stick at the person behind it, and think before you speak.