During the week, when Selma Blair spoke out about the long-term results of her recent MS diagnosis, Jennifer McShane stumbled upon her words praising the use of mobility aids. This needs to be spoken about more, she says.
I always get flustered when I go to mention the fact that, very occasionally, to get around safely and comfortably, I require the use of a walking frame. I go out of my way to insist that I don't have to bring it with me if people are bothered by it (even though I really do) and that it's really fine. I am fine without it.
Only the thing is, I'm not really.
I'm okay without it, but I'd be better with it.
But I hate to use it. It's clucky and long and awkward to set up and fold; it looks medicinal.
It was only when I returned from travelling with it for a short trip earlier this year that I realised I hated using it, not because I must, but because of the way I'm regarded when I do. I seemed to spend my entire four-day trip apologising for having it with me. For the fact that it wasn't exactly subtle. I was exhausted and felt awful when I returned home.
Humiliation? Shame? I couldn't put into words what I felt. Those with me meant well, but I knew they didn't feel totally at ease around me while I used it. It wasn't their fault, they didn't know me well and they hadn't been around me day-to-day enough for the differing practicalities of my life to sink in.
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Yes, I walk slower. And yes, some people will stare when I am in it.
However, the use of this one aid gives me total independence; a chance to go hell for leather and anywhere I choose.
Yet, I apologise for it before almost anything else.
Less compact than a wheelchair, I do feel more visible in it which should be something good. After all, I could care less about blending in. So, why do I feel, at times, so self-conscious?
The use of mobility aids isn't normalised in society. We primarily associate them for use when we have an injury or perhaps as we reach the later stages of our lives but I've found that if you aren't in either of those brackets, you're looked at differently. Sometimes it's empathy, others it's with weariness or, the worst one: pity.
And it's because we don't speak openly about how the use of them can have a life-changing effect on a person's life.
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Until Selma Bair, that is.
In a series of social media posts, the actress and activist has been highlighting her health journey over the last number of months, and also publically saying how mobility aids have changed her life.
She revealed that, along with best friend, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, the pair journeyed to Disneyland to celebrate Gellar’s birthday and to mark the twenty-year release of their movie Cruel Intentions. It had been 20 years since they were last at the theme park on a trip to fete Gellar turning 21. This time, they were accompanied by their children and, in Blair’s case, her wheelchair.
Blair uses the mobility aid - along with a stylish custom cane - when she needs it since her diagnosis with MS back in October 2018.
"I am in a wheelchair. Still me though."
"I am not giving up on having some recovery. Or at least getting stabilised. I am oddly grateful for the new insight I have into a chronically unpredictable body. And I found my friends to be more generous and kinder than I could have imagined.”
Blair emphasising the life-altering use of these aids is helping to rid them of the stigma they have become associated with. She is always herself - even with the use of these new accessories - and her attitude to life - despite its obvious challenges is utterly refreshing - something which many others could do with taking on board.
“I am so grateful to mobility aids to make it possible,” Blair said. “And the best friends to push. And to teach a kid, there is a person in the chair.”
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She added that she is too weak to use her cane “all around with a kid and bad tailbone… and none of this needed an explanation.”
“I am in a wheelchair,” she added. “Still me though.”
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Blair was equally praised earlier this year as she confidently graced the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscars party; multi-coloured Ralph & Russo gown and cape elegantly billowing behind, custom cane in tow. It was difficult. There were tears. But she did it thanks to her perseverance, strength of will and the friends and loved ones around her, who are helping her fight on the toughest of days.
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Often, the aids help us fight the daily talks of life when we no longer have the physical strength left to do so.
They should be associated with pride, rather than embarrassment or shame.
Main photograph: @SelmaBlair