By Julien-Pierre Campbell
Months back, I wrote an article talking about dysphoria and my experience as a feminine trans man. I began the piece describing a scene looking in the mirror. On the first day of the new fall term, I found myself echoing that experience. I stood in front of my mirror — still dusty — and inspected what I saw. I’d chosen my outfit carefully, put thought into the denim jacket and leather collar, the ankle-high boots and skinny jeans. There was something new, however, an element I was unused to.
Gripped tightly in my right hand was a cane.
I’ve struggled with chronic pain since I was thirteen years old. There is a constant, invisible war being waged in my body every day. I wake up in pain and I go to sleep in pain. I’ve been to countless doctors, tried everything from CBD to acupuncture to pain medication. They all work in their own small ways, but the pain does not go away. It only ebbs.
Most days, I put on a smile and go about my business. I’m a very happy person by nature; compartmentalizing pain is a necessity to keep sane. When at work, I slip between tables with ease, bringing food to customers and checking on my regulars. I pour beers and sling them down the bar. I’m on my feet all day. At school, I’m an engaged student. I sit up straight and make it to all of my classes early. On weekends, when I take to the stage to perform in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I do push-ups, I run from a lovesick pursuer, I carry people. I literally play a muscleman created to look pretty and strong.
All of this is done through the pain.
What isn’t seen is the fact that after work, I’m generally so pained I limp. After school, my sciatic nerve is on fire, sending urgent signals up and down my legs. After the cabaret, I’m nearly bed-bound for a day.
After a flare-up that forced me to take time off work and limited my mobility, I finally snapped. Being in pain 24/7 is abnormal. My teenage years have been heavily impacted by my constant pain, and I feel like I’ve missed a normal youth. I want to be more proactive about my health. I want to take steps to help myself.
I’m now seeing a physical therapist once a week and an acupuncturist semi-frequently. I’ve taken the leap and use my cane at school.
So now when I look in the mirror, I admire the cane in my right hand. It helps me. It allows me a little extra support, which I sorely need. I won’t be ashamed of it. In fact, I’ll celebrate it.
My pain is a part of me, but it’s a part I’m challenging. This invisible illness does not define me. Using a mobility aid is nothing to be ashamed of, and I so I refuse to be shamed by it. Look out world, here I come — with my cane.