Why I Broke My Feet To Save My Pride

Photo: Studio Romantic / Shutterstock
woman with broken foot

I went to the foot doctor the other week. They took X-rays of my feet and showed me the scan results on a large monitor.

“See these lines?” The doctor pointed at the several dozen small, spider-web-looking lines covering my left foot.

“Those are stress fractures. They’re fully healed, but you can see where each one broke through the bone. Have you ever been treated for stress fractures?”

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I shook my head no. I never knew my left foot was riddled with stress fractures. I was aware of the (at least) seven different times I broke my right foot — but I always dismissed those incidents as moments of clumsiness.

I’ve been walking on these broken feet ever since I learned to walk again at age 11 — when I was paralyzed from the waist down after breaking my back during a soccer game.

I thought the constant pain was just a side effect of walking.

Apparently, it’s not.

It’s a side effect of my walking.

I can walk. Just not very well

This is how I explain my disability to people who meet me for the first time: I can walk, just not very well.

I have what’s called a ‘drop foot’ as a result of my paralysis. My right foot doesn’t lift up anymore, so when I walk, I lift my entire leg and hip to avoid tripping over my own feet. On top of that, the calf nerves and muscles in my right leg never grew back, so my right calf is about the size of my arm (and probably has the strength of my arm too — which is NOT a lot).

For several years after my injury, in middle school and high school, I had a distinct limp. The faster I walked, the more prevalent the limp became. And middle schoolers love to speed walk/run everywhere for some weird reason — excitable little creatures, aren’t they?

I don’t have a distinct limp anymore. I’ve learned to hide my limp and avoid situations that make my limp more prominent.

I don’t walk fast anymore. I walk slowly now, carefully maneuvering my body to hide my disability.

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Can someone give me a prize for not looking disabled?

I’ve worn this non-existent badge of pride for years now: the “My disability isn’t visible” badge.

It’s like I believed that, somehow, my disability not being visible was a testament to my hard work in physical therapy.

Like somehow, my disability being invisible made me less disabled.

Like somehow, concealing my disability made me more palatable to non-disabled folks.

It’s not like anyone prevented me from wearing leg braces to help me walk easier. It’s not like anyone was stopping me from buying a walker with a seat so I could actually maneuver public settings without pain.

My disability is only invisible because I’ve denied myself mobility aids for so many years.

Now that I’m getting older (she says at 23), I’m starting to reap the consequences of my fake badge of pride: the pride that has prevented me from getting any semblance of a mobility aid.

The pride that made me terrified of looking disabled.

The pride that broke my feet again, and again, and again.

Google “Person with a walker”. It’s not fun

Do me a favor. Go to Google and type in “Person with a walker”.

Notice anything?

That’s right: All of the pictures are of people who are 70+ years old.

Sifting through these pictures makes me sad.

It’s clear that no one is making these walkers for 23-year-old women who like to think of themselves as “cute” and “occasionally fashionable”.

It’s clear that no one is making these walkers for 23-year-old women who want to make a really good first impression on their Harvard Law classmates next fall.

It’s clear that no one expects a 23-year-old woman to need a walker.

But I do need a walker. And it’s taken me 11 years to come to terms with this fact.

I can’t keep sacrificing my health because I’m afraid of looking disabled. I can’t keep bringing myself physical pain because I’m scared of being treated differently.

I can’t keep breaking my feet to keep up an image that just isn’t real.

To save my pride, or to save my health?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself every single day since I was paralyzed. For 11 years, I chose to save my pride. I chose to navigate this world in pain, just so I could appear as able-bodied.

But now, I’m choosing to save my health.

It only took a few dozen breaks in my feet to get me here.

I finally buried my pride and bought a walker with a seat. I haven’t used it in public yet — but the fact that I have it now is progress to me.

From now on, I’m choosing to be healthy.

I just hope it’s not too late.

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Mackenzie Saunders is a disabled storyteller, writer, and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. Mackenzie has been featured in USA Today, The Moth, the Today Show, Bar Flies, and Arizona's Storyline Slam.

This article was originally published at An Injustice Magazine. Reprinted with permission from the author.