Because "cane training" will make my dirty-minded friends think of something else and giggle?
The "rehabilitation officer" from the council rang me yesterday morning. "I'm worried about you, darlin'!" she said. I had a couple of voicemails from her the previous week that I hadn't even bothered listening to once I knew they were from her, which I know is naughty, but once I was in the pub and once I was helping move house, and I'm still in a state where doing even one thing at a time takes concerted effort.
I went for my first training session before I went to Minnesota. I'd been looking forward to this because I was sure I was missing stuff in the fake-it-til-you-make-it tactic I've been taking since I got the thing in April. But when I turned up, I felt like a bait-and-switch had been pulled on me because I was again heavily pressured into trying the "long cane" and not the "guide cane" I have been using. My general agreeableness and some curiosity about the difference between the two kinds led me to have a session with the long cane.
I found it interesting and perfectly okay at the time, but the more I thought about it once I left, the more I found myself unsettled and dismayed by it.
The long cane is intended to give a much richer "view" of the world. Its user taps or rolls it from side to side along the ground as they walk (under normal circumstances; wheelchair users can use them too and there are weight-bearing walking-stick canes for people who need to use a walking stick as well). The pendulum-like movement of the cane therefore has to co-ordinate with the person's steps: it should reach its furthest point right when you take a step with your left foot, and vice versa. This can be surprisingly difficult and tiring at first, especially as the cane is meant to be "centered" at the middle of your body, held near your belly button, and it's too easy for whatever hand you're holding it with to get tired and drop down to your side. This is bad because it means your movement of the cane no longer sweeps all of the area it needs to -- which is the width of your body plus a little more each side so you know if you're right near curbs, walls, people, cars, or other obstacles.
When she'd first assessed me and talked about the canes, the lady was pushing "long cane" at me pretty heavily. If it was a real business, she'd have been upselling. So I wasn't too surprised when I got there and she's like, "Well, you don't need any guide cane training because -- you got here, didn't you?" I boggled at that: I've gotten all kinds of places, even from one continent to another, without any cane at all for my whole life until the past three months, but that doesn't mean I'm doing so in the best possible way! This "logic" was one of the few things I was annoyed about at the time, instead of just in retrospect.
Another thing, which will become relevant in a minute: the canes have different tips, too. Cane users (and this goes for guide as well as long cane) can tap or roll their canes side to side along in front of them. My guide cane happens to have a "pencil" tip, the kind for tapping (I don't know why it's called that; it's not pointy -- indeed I was instructed not to drag it on the ground because that would make the tip pointy and thus both ineffective and potentially dangerous), it's just a smooth plastic cylinder the same width as the rest of the cane, with a rounded end. The other kind of tip is called a "roller" tip, which is also white plastic but bigger and rounder -- maybe roughly the size of a tennis ball, though not quite that spherical -- and as the name implies is for rolling across the ground instead of just tapping to the extreme right and left points of the pendulum swing, lifted slightly off the ground all the rest of the time.
So I went slowly up and down a corridor until I could do this in practice as well as understand it in theory; for maybe twenty minutes or so. Then we went outside. Outside was more tricky immediately because the terrain was more uneven so --
So because I'm used to a pencil-tipped cane, and because I use my guide cane differently from a long cane -- I generally hold it still in front of me, tip near but not on the ground near the middle of where I'm walking -- this meant the roller tip took at least as much getting used to as the techniques for the long cane itself. I tried the pencil tip first in my long cane training session but preferred the roller tip, for the more complex information it gave me about what I was encountering and because it seemed more work than paying attention to how my wrist had to move to get a useful but not too violent tap or to pick it up off the ground in between sufficiently that it doesn't roll across the floor but also not too high that it's awkward or unnecessarily difficult for me to lift. Because your steps match the movements of the cane, how fast you can walk is dependent on how fast you can whip the thing back and forth in front of you without getting it tangled up in your feet and kicking it or tripping yourself or doing something else alarming; walking at what felt like a normal pace (though nothing feels normal when you're overthinking it like this) gave me enough to think about, so I was happier with the roller tip that could just rest on the ground.
The downsides of the roller tip became more evident as soon as we got outside. Sometimes the tip would get hung up on some bit of the unevenness, and then either it'd stay stuck and I'd impale my belly on it which would usually eventually cause the tip to spring up out of whatever crack or divot it'd gotten stuck in, or else the tip would jump up with the effort I was putting into shoving it across the ground in front of me. Both of these would immediately get me told off "Don't lift it!" by my ever so helpful instructor. Who was walking behind me, so I couldn't flag up how these problems seemed to me, or ask questions, or anything, without stopping and turning around, which usually got me told off for stopping when I should just keep going, or something.
I don't take criticism fantastically well at the best of times, but I thought that continuing to chastise me every time she thought the tip of the cane left contact with the ground was a bit much after a while. It's hard learning a new thing, being bad at it (especially out in public). There is a point in learning a new skill where you're intellectually aware of what you should be doing but you haven't yet had enough practice to do it reliably all the time, and at that point it stops becoming useful to point out the mistake every time it happens. I found it unspeakably frustrating, especially because I was struggling with the nuance of "using enough force to keep the cane moving at the rate you're supposed to be walking" and "not using so much force that the tip flies up in the air."
Especially because she didn't seem to like me walking slowly. "You walk fast, you're naturally a fast walker," she kept saying, which I don't even think I believe and I was irritated that she was basing this on having seen me once walk toward her office when I was worried about getting there before it closed so of course
I was walking fast then! But during this lesson it was just something else to be irritated about, because it surely made sense to practice all this new stuff at a slower speed (though, obviously, moving the cane too slowly would also leave it prone to sticking in all the dips and holes in the pavement...).
I don't know how much this not-getting-a-say-in-the-narratives-abou
t-me was echoing that pattern from my childhood, and how much was me thinking
it was like that and falling back into my childhood habits of not arguing when people tell me wrong or just odd stuff about myself because arguing never worked then. I don't want to return to that kind of fatalism but also I think these kind of jobs foster habits of not always listening to their clients, particularly if what we're saying can be parsed as "I can't do that" or "I want to do an easier version of that," and that once what I say has been put into a category like that I'm pretty much doomed for evermore.
What I was supposed to do seemed kind of inconsistent, too. Praised for "avoiding the obstacle" of other people standing in the corridor, I was then accused of "veering" and staying too close to buildings when we were outside. My arm did brush up against a fence that was cordoning off some construction work at one point (all of Manchester seems to be under construction at the moment!), but that was because the space left for pedestrians to walk was really only wide enough for people to go comfortably in one direction at a time but since it's a busy area there were always people fighting past each other in both directions. Asked if I usually stick close to buildings, I honestly didn't think so, but in busy areas like this (on and near Oxford Road by the precinct centre and the aquatics centre and that), most pedestrians tend toward one side of the pavement or another as people walk the opposite way past them. It wasn't as if I was crashing into buildings or anything, just vaguely tending to that side of the pavement, which I guess is a habit I've probably developed so that I'm not going to step off a curb if I encounter someone walking the other way past me? I don't know; I've never examined my reasons for doing this. I'm not even sure how much of a pattern it is. Some of it comes from the fact that magister
prefers to walk on the traffic side of any pavement so he can hear conversation better; I've noticed my habit of arranging myself accordingly does tend to bleed over to other people I'm walking next to these days and I really don't think that is a big deal.
But in the eyes of my "mobility instructor," this ticks a box called Veering. So I was told to walk right down the middle of the pavement, to expect other people to get out of my way. My experience had already taught me that while most people do indeed leap out of the way, yank their less-observant companions out of my way (to the point where I sometimes find myself missing the odd exchange of hellos or smiles I used to get with strangers in the street!), some people are so very not going to get out of my way. I get the theory that I'm as deserving of my space in the world as anyone else is (and that walking right down the middle is probably best-practice for people less sighted than me), but I'm really uncomfortable with feeling that I'm making an unnecessary nuisance of myself above and beyond that.
I was also told not to apologize, which again I can see the theoretical point of in being assertive and confident that I am worth the space I take up...but in practice I both come from and live in cultures where people apologize for everything
, including other people bumping into them
...it'd be a very hard habit for me to break, even trying to break it would skyrocket my anxiety, and
my apologies don't mean that I feel I'm any less entitled to my bit of space. So yeah: not apologizing just ain't gonna happen. And that doesn't bother me.
Of course the most annoying thing about all of this is that I've seen a lot of people use these "long" canes, since childhood. Yes never for very long and yes only in certain types of situations, but. I've almost always seen them being used pretty similarly to how I use mine: drifting along in front of the feet in spaces we expect to be relatively free of obstacles (like walking down the aisle of a bus, or along a train platform). I am not saying the synchronized tapping and whatnot doesn't have its uses, but my impression is that it's like driving lessons/tests, versus how you drive after that. You have to do everything ultra-correctly for a while, with just the right
amount of rolling and to just the right distance either side of your body with the cane at just the right length from your belly...and then once you pass the "test" and get to keep the cane (unlike the guide cane, I couldn't take that one away with me; this is a matter of policy to keep people from learning "bad habits" apparently), you can do what actually works for you.
It is the nature of my anxiety to second-guess pretty much every decision I make, especially for myself, so I could devil's-advocate myself into the whole "you shouldn't give up on things just because they're not fun or you're not good at them or they're not being taught in the way you'd find most perfect..." line of thinking, but I really don't think I am giving up too easily on this. I really think that the benefits of the long cane for me are nebulous and not worth the stress.
She told me at the end of the session, which was just before I was about to be away for the next two Tuesdays, that I should think about whether I wanted to continue the long cane training and let her know when I got back if I did, and not to worry about getting in touch right now if I didn't. So I had my horrible holiday and by the time I came back I was sure I didn't want to bother with this, not right now at least. And life got busy and I didn't worry about not being in touch since that's what she'd told me would indicate to her that I wasn't interested. But then I had a couple of voicemails from her last week, which I basically ignored -- one was when I was helping friends move house and was tired and covered in sweat, the other was when I was in a pub and actually having a nice time -- but then she me yesterday. This time I actually answered the phone (not having maliciously avoided it before, just not having noticed it when she called) and she told me she was worried about me because I hadn't gotten back to her. Then she asked me if I still wanted the long cane training and I was all ready to say no when she added "...or do you want the guide cane training?" I was so surprised at that I said the guide cane would be good. I hadn't expected this to be an option; I guess she's forgotten about telling me I didn't need any.
But then today I woke up late and didn't want to rush to turn up late (she'd probably think I was an Olympic sprinter if I turned up in a hurry agaiun...) and the weather was awful and I know I should have called her but I am in fact a rubbish human being so just couldn't. And now I have another voicemail from her that I'm ignoring. Nnrgh.