When I first realised I needed a walking stick, I cried. I was 19, a gifted pianist and working in a Dublin Internet cafe to help fund a degree in Fine Art and a hectic social life. A year previously, I had hitch-hiked to Ireland with £20 and a rucksack, knowing nobody. Bold, irreverant and fiercely independent, I'd always moved with a purposeful stride. It was a shock to now find myself shuffling and limping and I've never been very good with pain. (Who is?)
My arthritis quickly worsened and some days I arrived very late into work, barely able to walk.
On one such occasion my co-workers looked helpless and concerned as I edged my way behind the till and switched on the coffee-machine. There was an awkward silence full of difficult feelings. In that moment I decided to make an important change in my approach to life.
'Hi boys,' I grinned broadly. 'Sorry I'm late. I was taking an important call from Milan.'
'Yes,' I continued, feeling a great surge of amusement as I warmed to a theme. 'The designers are all wanting to teach their supermodels how to walk like me. All that elegant striding in high heels? ...SO last year. I mean, who wants to strut around when you can move like me?!'
My co-workers began to laugh.
'Right now they are jetting over here to learn the amazing Felix limp. Apparently I am SO perfect for this season! And guess what? When the money rolls in I'm going to blow it all on a new walking-stick with a huge emerald on the top of it. I'll go round town swinging my stick and whistling and everyone will wish they were as cool as me.'
My co-workers laughed more and I got a coffee, took additional painkillers and got on with my job for the next eight hours.
Soon my fingers flared up so much I couldn't use them for anything, let alone playing the piano. So I made a point of buying the most 'ridiculous, big shiny bling' I could find for them, to remind myself to love my fingers all the more and to draw attention to my wonderfully unique hand shape.
I maintain that my fingers are a feature, not a deformity, and I won't be splinting them to straighten them anytime soon.
When I first realised I needed a walking stick, I was devastated. Six years later when I finally went to buy one, I made an occasion of it and wore a good dress to the Mobility Aid store.
Having eventually come to terms with having a disability, at the age of 27 I finally got an effective medical treatment and am now playing the piano again and running around Oxford. I am using my regained energy to try and understand more about the social construct of 'disability.' I want this investigation to be a public dialogue which other people can contribute to; hence, The Missability Radio Show. Missability is my own, creative approach to circumstance.
Milan is still watching...