I leave strange footprints. Luckily, I usually walk on solid ground and don’t need to think about them.
Most days, I only encounter paved streets and driveways, carpeted floors, and grassy fields. And I like that. After all, anything that can assist with stability is appreciated when you have Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT).
But my adventures the past few weeks had me stepping on too much gravel. A courtyard of pea-sized gravel surrounds the West Building at the North Carolina Museum of Art that I visited two weeks ago. And last month, the N.C. State Fair came to town — 10 days of crowds, gluttony, neon lights, and makeshift parking lots covered with coarse gravel.
I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on my gait and the tracks I leave behind.
Because CMT is a nerve disease that results in muscle weakness due to certain muscles never getting stimulated, CMT-ers have different ways of walking than able-bodied people. I’m no different; I, too, have an odd gait.
But I don’t know what to call the way I walk. At the last CMT Patient/Family Conference hosted by the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association, I learned a few terms related to gait: marching, heel strike, equine, and steppage. But none of those seemed to apply to me.
Steppage is a style of walking that seems to be popular for CMT-ers. I feel like I adopted the style when I was much younger, but never called it “steppage.” I thought of it as a “Kaiju walk,” like I was Godzilla or some other giant monster trying to clear skyscrapers in order to best smash them.
But the way I walk has changed over the years. And I don’t think it’s a steppage gait that creates the footprints I leave.
I think my left footprint is fairly normal — at least the full length of my foot is visible. My awkward gait is most noticeable in my right footprint.
My right footprint looks like a webbed foot or a slice of pizza. Or like my foot wanted to make snow angels instead of helping to propel me forward.
It’s a twist of my ankle that makes this mark. And I seem to do it with every step. I can’t help but push off from the side of my right foot instead of the ball of my foot. It’s an inefficient and often uncomfortable way of walking that seems to strain the area along my peroneal tendons. And it is a gait that is tough on the skin, as evidenced by the calluses that line the lateral side of my right foot.
It’s not always pleasant to be reminded of your own weakness. For me, it was in the form of my footprints and calluses these past few weeks. And although I’m tempted to write platitudes about how footprints represent a journey and how far we can go despite adversity, the idea doesn’t feel that real to me right now.
Reminders of your limitations can be frustrating, especially when it feels like your body can’t keep up with where you want to take it. And it can be an everyday struggle to come to terms with that.
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