Accepting I needed a walking stick at age thirty one was huge for me and it took some time before I had suffered enough to surrender to this new reality. My hips were getting worse and I was having greater difficulties walking and standing. But I stubbornly kept going; my inner fighter was in full flight here.
There was something in the acknowledgment of getting a walking stick, showing the world I was so disabled that I needed a walking stick’s assistance, which was a stumbling block for me. It was like I was crossing a line towards disability from which I would never return, which turned out to be true, but I stubbornly refused to cross that line for as long as I could. Besides I was too young to use a walking stick. Of course I created a whole lot of physical suffering for myself from this resistance, and it took taking that suffering to an extreme for me to finally acknowledge it was time for me to have a walking stick.
The turning point came during my time with the Department of Conservation and Land Management. It became a physically challenging job for me as my hips began to show more wear and tear. My last two years with CALM I worked as the coordinator for developing a management plan for a wild national park, Walpole Nornalup National Park, about four and half hours drive, on the Western Australian south coast, from where I lived and worked in Perth. The job involved many trips down to Walpole to stay for the working week, being out and about around the park, getting to know it and working with a team of other CALM officers and Park rangers.
We held a morning tea to gather all the stakeholders in a beautiful, sheltered area at the entrance to the Nuyts Wilderness Area, in a glade of small peppermint trees about 30 metres along the beginning of the wilderness trail from the carpark in the giant Tingle trees. There were no chairs, everyone stood. I hadn’t thought to bring any chairs, such was my denial about my body’s state.
I don’t remember how many hours I had to stand that morning, but it was probably four hours, and it became increasingly painful for me. There was I having to make small talk, discuss issues in the park, help facilitate the event, keep on a smiling face and I was in agony in my hips, back and legs. I couldn’t concentrate on anything being said, I just had to pretend. Then we had to clear up, and leave it as we found it.
I didn’t show what I was going through to my colleagues, I kept up my appearance of all was well because it was important to me to be a capable professional, no different from anyone else. I could barely walk back to my car, those 30 metres felt like 300 metres. By the time I got back to my motel room, I could only stagger into the bed. I could hardly move I was so exhausted, my feet, legs and hips were throbbing and my whole body was aching.
In the midst of all this pain I thought “This is crazy, I have just inflicted all this suffering on myself.” I stayed in bed all afternoon as the throbbing pain slowly subsided, although I was stiff and sore all over. Finally I realised I couldn’t live like this anymore, I couldn’t be in such denial about my body’s needs and limitations. This was a turning point but it took a sledgehammer to get me to see it. I had to acknowledge my changing needs and take better care of myself. It was time to think more seriously about a walking stick, and to make sure I had somewhere to sit when I needed it.
Soon after this realization I was driving on my way home from Walpole and I stopped for lunch at a craft gallery in Balingup (about two hours south of Perth). They had these wonderful, full of character walking sticks made out of mallee roots, which are small tough eucaplytus trees that grow in dry areas, with a ball for the hand from part of the trunk of the tree. They were slightly crooked yet strong, hard roots of the earth and they were perfect for me. The one I chose felt solid and utterly reliable. It felt so good to have it with me by my side always and I felt it as my true friend, my reliable best friend. My friend Pralaya sawed off a bit at the end to suit my height, and with a strap for the wrist at the top so I could use two hands, I had my new best friend who has been with me ever since.
I was to come to see that same stubbornness in acknowledging increasing disability in my father about ten years later. At eighty one he was having great trouble with his knees, and he was having increasing difficulty walking. But all our suggestions that a walking stick would be of help fell on deaf ears, he stubbornly refused to consider using a stick. It got to the point of me having had enough of a ridiculous situation, tired of seeing his unnecessary suffering, which I knew so well, and I realized I needed to be the one to get it for him. So I handed the new stick to him saying “If I can get used to having one of these at thirty one you can get used to it at eighty one.” He used it ever after.
As soon as I adjusted to having my walking stick with me all the time, and enjoyed the benefits of walking becoming a little easier, all resistance disappeared. Particularly as I headed off around South East Asia a year later, it really helped having my trusty stick by my side. I could look back and shake my head at what that long drawn out resistance cost me, but this didn’t stop me going through the same process of acceptance of other things in ensuing years.
Later that year when I was staying in Bali, my friends Nyoman and Wayan were admiring the stick and I said to them ‘It is my best friend’. Nyoman said “Taman, Taman Bai are the Bahasa Indonesian words for ‘best friend’”, and it has been called Taman ever since.