Thursday, 21 December 2017
The guide cane - Amy
The days turned to weeks, the weeks turned to months and the months turned to years and I was still clinging on to my Mum or Dad for dear life every time we went out. I felt silly but it was the only way I felt safe.
In the Christmas of 2015 I was out Christmas shopping with my Mum and Dad. I was completely drained and we were all stood in a card shop, trying to look at cards, wrapping paper and all the usual things. I could not move for all of the people. We'd had a long day of shopping and I had just had enough. I kept trying to move out of somebody's way and I would end up in somebody else's way. I just stood still in a complete strop because everybody was getting in my way as well. I thought to myself, if only I had a white stick on me now, maybe everybody would give me a bit more space. It wouldn't stop the chaos of Christmas, but it might help.
It was the first time I had actually wanted one, before then I used to cringe at the thought of it. In the following weeks I realised that now was my time, I needed to make that call to Carolyn, my Community Advice Officer at SRSB, for her to refer me for cane training. It was my goal for the new year. Some time in that year I had to make a start.
In June my training started and I met Karen, my Rehabilitation Officer, for the first time. Karen is lovely, friendly, chatty and made me feel completely relaxed. Until I met "the stick". I despised the stick, it was the symbol of how my life had got worse. It made me look different and it would attract attention. Attention that I didn't want, I just wanted to be left alone to blend into the crowd. There was no blending in with that thing. Every time I looked at it I gave it daggers.
I had heard stories of how the cane becomes your new best friend. There was no way that thing was going to do me any good, it would just make me look and feel ridiculous! I call it a stick instead of a cane because that's all it is, A STICK!!! The word cane gives it more respect in a way, it makes it sound like it has a purpose, like it can actually do something.
I knew this thing had to be done, so I just went along with it. My first time out with it was up to the local shops. It is only a two minute walk away, just at the top of my road. There weren't many people around that day, but it felt like everybody on my road was stood by their windows, watching me. I walked really slowly because for the first time in year I wasn't being pulled along by anybody. It was just Karen walking at the side of me, me and the stick.
When we got to the shops Karen helped me to find some potatoes as my Mum wanted them for tea. When we got back home, I was proud of myself, but still not happy, and I was glad to be home. The stick was stood up in the corner, looking at me. I needed to do something about this, I needed to do something to get myself used to having it around. Which also meant other people getting used to having it around.
So I put a photo of it on Facebook and I decided to give it a name. If it was going to be an unwanted member of the family it needed a name. I asked my friends and they had plenty of good ideas. I narrowed it down to three of their suggestions and I got them to vote for their favourite. This went on for about a week and friends were commenting telling me to hurry up with the results because they had been waiting all day. Everybody seemed hooked and glued to their screens, all to find out the name of A STICK! I have some strange friends. Love them for it though.
So after the votes had been counted and verified, the name of the stick was... SETH!
On my next session with Karen I introduced her to Seth and told her the story. I still couldn't stand him but at least everybody had been introduced to him. They could have voted for the names I actually liked though, Stella or Sylvie. But the people chose, and the people chose Seth. I had to find a way of making fun of the situation and as strange is it is, this was my way. And it did help, in a way.
My aim was to be able to get to my friend's house on my own. She lives two buses away and it was costing me around eight pounds each way in a taxi. The first step was to go into town on the bus with Karen and back again. The next week I went into town on the bus with Karen and then came home on my own. There was no rush or pressure, she just knew I could do it. It was a confidence thing rather than the fact that I couldn't do it.
The next week I went into town on my own, met Karen and then came back on my own. I was nervous but it was fairly easy. I knew where I was and where I was going. I had done that same journey the majority of my life. I just needed to get used to being around strangers and asking for and accepting help when I needed it.
The next step was OK to start with. I went into town on my own and got the bus to my friend's with Karen. We were busy talking and I wasn't really concentrating on where I was going, but it gave me a feel of the journey and the length of time I would be on the bus. It wasn't a complete waste.
Every time Karen encouraged me to ask the driver which bus number it was and ask them to tell me when I get to my stop. Even if I already knew, she encouraged me to ask to get me used to asking for help and to make sure I definitely was getting on the right bus.
The next few times we did the same thing again. I was finding the last step really hard, getting off at the right stop on South Road. For anybody who doesn't know, South Road is a very long, busy, scary main road. There are lots of little shops that all look the same. Buses sometimes go quite fast on there so it is very easy to miss something that you are looking out for.
One day I got a very helpful bus driver. He saw that I was trying to learn the route and he took the time to explain to me what the road was like and a few things to look out for just before my stop. He was so helpful and gave me the final push to do it alone.
The next week Karen was waiting for me at Walkley. I had to get there all by myself. I was a nervous wreck but over the weeks Karen had helped me learn to ignore that and just concentrate on what is happening now. I was so busy worrying about what might happen later on in the journey, which usually didn't happen. She helped me to concentrate on the moment and what I was doing at that time. Taking the journey one step at a time. I learnt to not even think about the next stage of the journey until it was happening. When I got the hang of it, it did make things a lot easier. Didn't stop me being nervous, I just learnt to control it.
Eventually I got to my friend's bus stop all by myself! I was so happy because I knew the journey back wouldn't be a problem. I was going to familiar places, the bus station and then home. I didn't even need to look for a bus into town because Karen did that and my friends always see me on the bus anyway. So at last the hardest bit was done!
Karen always told me to believe in myself more because she wasn't really doing anything, she was just with me. She was right really, it is just so scary making that first step and going out alone for the first time.
For a few weeks after that my friend invited me over to give me more practice of the route. She met me at the bus stop just as Karen did. Eventually I felt confident enough for her to not meet me at the bus stop.
Karen told me to get in touch when I wanted to learn another new route, but for now, my training was done.
Over a year has passed now since I finished my training and I am more confident. Still not confident enough to go to new places on my own, and some days I don't feel very confident at all, but in general I am a lot more confident and feel able to get around without clinging on to somebody all of the time. I often still like to link arms with somebody for guidance if I am in a new or busy place though.
One thing I have learnt is that you shouldn't feel pressured into mobility training. If you are not ready, I honestly don't think it will be as effective. Your time will come and when it feels right, you should go for it. Do it for yourself, not for other people.
I have heard stories of people who consider their cane as their best friend. Even now, I wouldn't go that far. Mine is more of a helpful acquaintance. I don't give it daggers any more, and it is kind of good having it around. But don't tell anyone, then they will know they were right.