Welcome to Part 2 of the The Cane and I mini-series. We have already looked at how I came to decide I need a cane in Part 1, Blind People ‘Faking It’: The Truth. Next, let’s talk about how I prepared for cane training. This wasn’t a conscious process, but looking back there were two main events in the last few months which have prepared me for cane training, befriending my symbol cane, and a chat with my brother.
My first symbol cane experience
A symbol cane is a slim, lightweight, white cane which indicates that the person holding it is visually impaired. It doesn’t help the user navigate their surroundings but lets other people know that the user is visually impaired. It certainly isn’t stabilisers to the long cane’s bicycle as you might think from reading this, that’s just how it worked out for me.
The first time I used a symbol cane was a big deal. It might not be the same for all visually impaired people, but for me, the symbol wasn’t just for the people around me. It was also symbolic of my own acceptance, or the start of it anyway. It said to the world that “Yes, I’m losing my sight, but I’m ready to prepare myself for the challenges that brings. And I’m just letting you know.” If you read my previous post, you will understand the magnitude of this in my little head.
My first experience of using a symbol cane was after meeting the most wonderful support worker who came to my home for an assessment. She was from local sight loss charity, Wakefield District Sight Aid. This is a truly amazing charity that is close to my heart, but more on that another time. Perhaps I’ll write a post on the fantastic services of local charities like this one, but for now, just know that the visit from this support worker had a positive impact on my life. Amongst other things, she gave me a symbol cane. She showed me how to use it, and acknowledged that I may not feel ready to use it now, but I could keep it for when I am.
About a week after her visit I found myself on a rare solo trip into the city. Having no kids with me meant I was hands free, so I took my cane out for a spin. I wondered if I would feel self conscious, but I didn’t. I felt confident. Liberated, even. I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t worry what people thought when I walked face first into the enormous floral display at the entrance of M&S (yes, really!). Some people stopped to ask if I was OK. Having my cane meant I didn’t need to explain why it had happened and I could appreciate their kindness. Pre-cane, less people stopped to help and if they did I would probably have mumbled thank you before scuttling off in embarrassment.
On the many occasions I have used the cane since, I have noted two major differences in myself and the world around me. In myself, I am more confident and comfortable in my own skin. In others, it seems to bring out a kindness which stayed under wraps when I don’t use a symbol cane. People stop and offer assistance and are more patient when things take me a little longer than is ideal. I’ve always believed that people are good, and the general reaction I have seen to my symbol cane has reinforced my belief. The missing part of the jigsaw for me, is a lack of education. Like a lot of things to do with sight loss, people just don’t have the information they need. Many people don’t know what a symbol cane is. It’s like putting up road signs with symbols that nobody understands. The intent is good, but if people don’t know what the sign is for, its effectiveness is limited. Educating people about the world of visually impaired people is another thing I feel strongly about and this is a simple example of where it needs to be improved.
The symbol cane has been easing me into the idea of needing a cane. It was a big step in the beginning, but now I am comfortable with it and as my vision further deteriorates, it has prepared me for the next step, using a long cane. There would be much further inner turmoil to get through before I actually went anywhere near a long cane, but I’ll walk you through that next.
A Chat with my Brother
I knew I was ready, that it was the right thing for me, but the night before I met my Rehabilitation Officer, my mind went into overdrive. My head was whirling, though I couldn’t tell you the exact thoughts that were keeping me up. So, I rang my brother. My brother is two years older than me and we both have the same eye condition. He has recently completed his cane training and at that moment, I felt he was an obvious sounding board/ counsellor for my jumble of thoughts. We talked through my uneasiness and slowly began to unravel the knots I’d been tying up in my head. You’ll have noticed that I’ve been saying all the way through this mini series how huge it was for me to make the decision to learn to use a cane, how it meant many things for me emotionally. Whether it was his intention or not (probably not, if you know my brother), he forced me to take a step back and see it from a different perspective. Maybe it didn’t need to be this massive thing. It made facing the events of the following morning much more manageable. It’s obvious stuff really, but at times of catastrophising (admit it, we all do it), we need someone who understands, to tell us things we probably already know. I’ve tried to summarise those things here:
1. It’s happening. The decision has been made – in fact, I made it myself. I need to do this and however I approach it, it’s going to happen. Tomorrow. So why not try to do it with poise and grace, rather than with reluctance and resentment? It’s easier said than done, but consciously reminding ourselves that how we feel is our decision, and no one else’s, can be useful.
2. It’s future-proofing. Having cane training doesn’t mean you’re committing to using a cane all day, every day from the moment you start your training. It is simply learning a skill you know you will need one day. For some people that might mean today, but for many visually impaired people who have some vision, like me, it means I will have a weapon on my armoury that I can pull out and use as and when I need it.
3. Do it for the kids, but do it for me. I kept saying “I need to do this for the kids”. My visual field is closing in, but I don’t want that to mean their world is narrowing too. I want them to see how big and exciting this world is and how there are possibilities beyond our imaginations. I was reminded that first and foremost I should be doing it for me. By securing my future independence and ability to live life to the fullest, I am not only setting an example for the girls and ensuring I can support them fully in their hopes and dreams, but I can also continue my own adventures. My husband and I have always lived life together as a series of adventures and I never want that to end. And it won’t, because I will have the right tools and skills in place when I do lose the last of my vision.
4. It’s not just a skill, it’s a gift. Talking of skills and tools, It’s always great to learn something new and improve ourselves, and as far as skills go, the one’s pretty special. It’s also a skill that’s going to give me independence, hope, confidence and endless adventures. Now that sounds more like a gift to me.
So I went to sleep (briefly, before the baby woke up trying to convince me it was morning – it was 11.45pm). My worries had not magically been banished from my mind and they hadn’t floated out of the window, but I felt peaceful and curious about what the next day would look like. I felt ready.
Enter Lucy, my Rehabilitation Officer and Cane Training Extraordinaire. In the next part of The Cane and I, I begin my formal training programme and discover how Lucy is going to help me find my way as I take the next step of my Cane Adventures! To make sure you don’t miss it, press the follow button at the bottom of the screen and you’ll be notified when a new post is published.
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear how you found the psychological side of preparing for cane training, or if you are working through that now, let me know how it’s going. Please do get in touch, it would be great to hear from you!