Falling In Love With My Walking Stick

My Walking Stick

By Karen Mizrach

On July 4, 2018 I was scrolling through Amazon’s options for walking sticks. Finally, I settled on one that was part of the “Survivor Series”. I know that because I recently went back to my purchasing history to check when and what I had ordered. It was a hand-carved, 40” natural looking stick, with a flower etched in the wood and a leather strap at the top; a relatively cool looking choice. When I think about that day now I’m struck by the significance that it was Independence Day, and I was trying for my own independence.

Six months earlier I had suddenly become ill with vertigo. It happened in the middle of the night and it was terrifying. After some weeks, the vertigo stopped, but my symptoms settled into a constant sense of imbalance. I couldn’t walk correctly or easily. I had to quit my job teaching. There were days I could barely navigate my house, never mind get to a doctor. For many months I was lost in a world of solitude, disability and fear. It’s been quite the journey; with many doctors, physical therapists, and medications. But I believe things started looking up when I took matters into my own hands. Ordering that walking stick was a defining moment.

I had missed walking, hiking and just being outdoors. Even going to get my mail down at the end of my street was a challenge. On that Independence Day when I ordered my walking stick I began to feel some hope. Hope, and also fear. Would I be able to go out in the world and take a chance on being able to stay upright? I worried about being seen differently, about falling, about the whole transition from housebound to independent. But, I was determined to try. And with a flower engraved, Survivor Series wooden stick I had no excuses.

It wasn’t a simple task. I had trouble just wrapping my mind around the fact that I, a not very old, formally healthy, strong woman, had to learn to walk with a stick. It is a mental challenge that I didn’t ever consider before I undertook it for myself. Of course I know people who use canes, walkers, wheelchairs, etc., but I never thought about the psychological leap it takes to begin using assistance to move.

The first time I took my stick out in the world was a nerve-wracking experience. Never mind that I didn’t know if I could physically even move using it, but I felt like I had a neon sign on my forehead that said “There is something wrong with me.” There was something wrong with me, so I’m not sure why I struggled with this concept. Pride, embarrassment, fear, change in identity – it’s all part of it.

Someone suggested beginning to walk on a track, so I could see my car and feel safe if I began to panic. Off I went with my very hip walking stick to a nearby middle school track. I found one that was gravel, without lines. The lines on tracks caused me balance problems – you know what I mean – so I avoided them. The first time I made it around the track once, taking 20 minutes to do what used to take me a few minutes. And it was terrifying. When I was on the far side of the track I felt like I was miles from safety. I talked to myself, saying “Come on Karen. You’ve got this. One step at a time. Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.” Constant babble like that eventually got me around. And I did fall – in love with that stick.

For 6 months I went to the track almost everyday. That stick was always with me as I pushed myself toward moving again. It was a comfort and a grounding tool as I moved like a turtle on a surface that usually felt like it was shifting from under my feet. Now I can walk the track without the stick, only using it for more unlevel walks through the park or on trails.

Karen's Walking StickI love my wooden stick with the little carved flower. It stays in my car, along with a growing assortment of hiking poles and canes. Now I can use that stick without embarrassment or fear or hesitation. I still go to that track a couple times a week. It holds a special place in my heart. It is the place on this earth where I taught myself to move again and reclaim some independence. So here’s to my Survivor Series Stick and my middle school gravel track! Thank you!