How ADHD and Using a Cane Saved My First Worldcon

At the beginning of the month, I attended Chicon 8 in downtown Chicago, my very first* World Science Fiction Convention, aka Worldcon. I participated in some great workshops, reconnected with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in several years, and met and hung out with a lot of awesome new people as well. But rather than trying to capture that illusive lightning in a blog-shaped bottle, I’m going to delve into a different element of to my Worldcon experience.

(* Fun fact: When I was in high school I won a free membership to Chicon 2000 (actually the 6th Chicon), as a finalist in the Chicon 2000 Student Science Fiction & Fantasy Contest, but I lived in California at the time so I didn’t end up going.)

First, a little backstory, which may help explain why this is my first blog post here in nearly 2 ½ years. In March of 2019, not long after I (somehow) walked away from a horrifying car accident (which you can read about here), I started experiencing deep fatigue and widespread body pain. A year later, the stress of the pandemic kicked the symptoms into high gear, and shortly after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. So that’s what I’ve been doing instead of writing blog posts. (Instead of a lot of things.)

Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve been disabled my whole life, but the addition of this new, exciting disability really awakened me to that fact. As evidenced by the abundance of parentheticals in the previous paragraphs, I have ADHD. I try to be honest with myself about how much ADHD has impacted my life, keeping me from completing (or even pursing) projects, paths, and goals I might otherwise have. But I didn’t frame it in my mind as a disability until I was coming to terms with fibromyalgia. A lot of things that are more difficult for me now were already difficult for me because of ADHD. Now the two have a tendency to compound each other.

But back to Worldcon. On the first day of the convention, in a classic case of my ADHD and fibromyalgia colliding, I initially forgot my rail pass and had to go back for it. (Then I called my wife and begged her to come home and drive me to the station, which she did, because she’s wonderful.) I was footsore enough from the back and forth that I pulled out my collapsible cane, an aid I rarely use because (thankfully) my fibro pain doesn’t often hit my legs hard enough to affect my mobility.

The lobby and convention spaces at the Hyatt Regency Chicago are a sprawling labyrinth of weirdly-placed elevators and escalators ferrying you between different conglomerations of confusingly-named (and sometimes multiply-named) floors, areas, and event rooms. To avoid more footsoreness as I was hoofing it around hoping to find Ariadne’s red thread, I continued using the cane. Gradually, this brought me to a revelation that seems absurdly obvious in hindsight: if you have a chronic pain condition, using a cane at a convention is a Good Idea.

I sometimes joke that my cane is, “A device for transferring pain from my lower body to my upper body” — which is another reason I don’t use it that often. With all the walking I did at Worldcon, I managed to find the right balance of weight to distribute to the cane such that my arm didn’t feel like it was going to fall off. And, lucky me, since both my legs hurt more or less equally, I could switch the cane to my other hand as needed.

“A device for transferring pain from my lower body to my upper body" (with bonus cat)
“A device for transferring pain from my lower body to my upper body” (with bonus cat)

But I think the real benefit of the cane was one I hadn’t anticipated: it forced me to slow down. My habitual walking pace is pretty fast, and, in another instance of the ADHD plus fibromyalgia double-whammy, I have a tendency to just… forget I’m disabled and keep doing things the way I always have. (Sometimes I’m halfway through a task before I realize, “This was a terrible idea.” Like the time I decided not to wait for roadside assist and just change the tire myself. In the rain.) This can very easily lead to a fibro flare. Having a cane in my hand gave me a physical reminder that I need to slow my roll and not overdo it. “Hey, maybe you don’t need to rush to that next panel. Maybe don’t take the stairs. Maybe go lie down for a bit in the hotel room you specifically booked for that purpose.”

So I made a point to keep using the cane for the rest of the weekend. And while correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, I think it worked. I was able to attend every day of the convention, even staying up obscenely late one night (I typically need a lot of sleep), with no catastrophic collapse at any point along the way or in the aftermath. Not bad, considering I fully expected to dissolve into a puddle of goo at any moment. I do worry that longtime familiarity will eventually render the cane’s “reminder” benefit null, so I haven’t been using it every day. But I have been using it more often than I would have prior to Worldcon, and I intend to use it whenever I attend conventions in the future. It’s great to discover that using an assistive device can help me a lot more than I would have thought. And I owe it all to forgetting my rail pass on that first day. Thanks, ADHD.

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