Using Mobility Aids with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Do you feel weird when you think about using a cane, or eye the motorized carts they have at stores and other places? You shouldn't, and I'm going to tell you why that is.

An older woman looking at an apple
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First, though, I totally understand why it feels strange. When you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, you generally can still use your legs. They're stiff, but they move just fine, right? It might hurt, and it might wear you out, but you're able to walk. Society has us all conditioned to think that mobility aids are for people who are "really" disabled, such as those with paralysis or severe injuries like a broken leg, or perhaps someone recovering from hip-replacement surgery. You know, people who can't walk.

Same goes for handicapped parking spaces—if you're not in a wheelchair or on oxygen, most people think you shouldn't be parking there.

Our Image of "Disabled"

The thing is, society's image of what "disabled" means is really messed up. Those of us living with chronic, disabling illnesses need to recognize that and move beyond it.

Why? Because things are specifically available to help you live your life a little better, and you shouldn't deny them to yourself based on other people's ignorance.

Yes, someone might look at you funny when you walk up and climb in a motorized cart at the grocery store. But is that person going to push your cart and unload the bags for you when you get home? No. Does that person have the right to judge you? No. Should you tailor your actions to that person's taste, when it means increased symptoms and misery for you? No!

Once again, the answer to all of those questions is a resounding "NO!" Those carts are there for people like us who need a little help to get through the task. Think about it: Do people who arrive at the store in a wheelchair use those? No, they brought their own! The very purpose of those is to help people who aren't in wheelchairs but can't easily walk through the store.

If someone questions you, tell them that. Or tell them your health problems are none of their business and go about your day. Or tell them off. Or tell them you hope they're fortunate enough to never need that kind of thing. Tell them whatever you want, but don't let them stop you from using it. They're jerks.

Getting Over It & Getting Stuff Done

The first couple of times I used a cart, I felt like a fraud. I felt like I was taking something away from people who were worse off than me. I remember being in a busy big-box store two weeks before Christmas, feeling rushed because I hadn't been able to handle a shopping trip for the previous month. People would glance down at me skeptically, or avoid looking at me completely. I felt simultaneously conspicuous and invisible.

But do you know what happened? I got my Christmas shopping done. It was a huge relief. Without the cart, I wouldn't have been able to do it—and not because anything was wrong with my legs. At that point, exertion was causing horrible abdominal pains and severe brain fog that would put me on the couch for days. The cart spared me that, so my children got Christmas presents.

On top of fibromyalgia, I have sclerosis (hardening and fusing) in the sacroiliac joints, which are near the base of the spine and help transfer your weight when you walk. At times, it's intensely painful and it can make walking a real problem. To my dismay, I realized that I needed a cane at those times.

The feeling of using a cane, when I was in my 30s, was entirely different from using the cart at the store. My severe limp made it obvious that I had a problem, and it's not like I was taking something away from someone else who might need it. In that case, it was pure vanity. I simply didn't want to use a cane like an old woman! Again, it was something I just had to get over. It took time, but I got to where I was okay with it.

I haven't had anyone made rude comments over my use of a mobility aid. The one I keep expecting is something about how I'd be able to walk better if I lost weight. My planned response to that is: Did you ever stop to think that my weight could be the result of the pain and not the cause?

Also See:

A Word From Verywell

No one wants to stand out because of disability. It's hard to get over the impulse to pretend nothing is wrong, try to blend in, and worry about what people think. In the end, though, we need to take care of ourselves and manage our illness(es) in the best way possible. You shouldn't have to suffer because some people don't get that.

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4 Sources
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  3. Slobodin G, Hussein H, Rosner I, Eshed I. Sacroiliitis - early diagnosis is key. J Inflamm Res. 2018;11:339-344. doi:10.2147/JIR.S149494

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