Towards the end of last year I came to the realisation that my daily commute would be easier, and less physically (and mentally) taxing, if I used my stick. Travelling on a mixture of buses, trains and the Tube is hard work with joints that are wobbly and painful like mine. Even if my joints aren’t particularly painful on a given day they’re still hypermobile, meaning they move about too much and are at risk of dislocation (partial or full). Standing on busy, moving public transport, having to stretch to reach a handhold means every trip brings so much risk.
Using my stick helps in two ways. The first is that it makes my disability obvious. Unless someone is particularly observant or clued in, it’s unlikely they’d realise I had any difficulties at all. I have a badge that highlights the fact my disability is invisible but wearing on it relies both on someone looking at it and then choosing to offer me a seat (so many times I watched people read the text on it, look me up and down and then do everything in their power to look anywhere but at me – I know that there’s every chance they needed the seat just as much as I do, or more, but I can’t help wondering). My stick makes it far more obvious that I’m disabled, and still people can see it and choose to ignore it (yes, it happens on a semi regular basis) but people are generally good and it certainly demonstrates my need for a seat much more clearly.
The second way it helps is that if I do have to stand it gives me extra support when doing so. I can be holding onto the back of a seat or an upright pole (I can’t hold onto the overhead handholds or poles – the risk of dislocating my shoulder is far too great) and can be spreading some of my weight onto my stick too so I’m making contact on four points not three which increases my stability.
This has been the way I’ve commuted now since, I think, November. I’m still a bit awkward about it, my colleagues discovering I’m now relying on my stick for my commute has been challenging and still has the potential to make me feel uncomfortable, but the benefits it has brought have been great. In the last couple of weeks though I’ve started to spot something new. I’m calling it the shepherd.
Time and again I’m noticing that whether I’m waiting to get onto a bus or an escalator, or waiting to climb the stairs from the platform at Waterloo, or even just get off a vehicle, there’s someone there, ensuring I have space to move and stopping others from shoving past me – acting like my personal shepherd. They move at my pace, and then when I’ve navigated whatever the tricky bit of my journey is they disappear amongst the crowd, often before I’ve had chance to turn and say thanks.
It’s a bit odd, but at the same time very lovely. I don’t remember this happening before Christmas but since being back in London it’s happened most days. These shepherds are always blokes, always tall, and tend to be my sort of age or a little older. I don’t know what’s prompted this change, but in a city that can often seem uncaring and overly hard it’s a pretty welcome change.