An Invisible Disability is not an Invisible Person

I don’t think I’ve been discriminated against for my “invisible” disability because I hide it. But surely my hiding is based on a fear that others won’t accept me. Essentially I can cross the border between invisible and visible just by use of a prop—one of many canes. Even that remark should alert you—or me perhaps—to the fact that I haven’t been able to walk unaided on certain days and on certain terrain for over twenty years. But I pretend this isn’t the case. And that is how I’ve collected the canes—many of them have been bought in an emergency when I couldn’t navigate snow or keep standing. Now at least that level of denial is past. I have a cane in my office, one in my car, one in the bedroom, one in the living room, and one ready for any suitcase or purse.
In the past six months, as I’ve been using the cane more at work and around town, I’ve had to deal with peoples’ reactions. Some are simple, and useful. For example, if I enter a big box store with the cane the world becomes more accommodating, i.e. I can ask for a chair if I have to wait. But recently I made the mistake of taking my cane into a party, because the house was on a rough dirt road. Instantly I had attention I didn’t want. Was I ok? What had happened? This was of course from friendly acquaintances, but it paralyzed me socially. I couldn’t communicate.
What should I have said?
I have a weird paranoid fantasy that someone will yell at me for using the disabled stall in a public bathroom. The presence of the cane helps with this, but of course I don’t always have the cane. I had a therapist once ask me: has this ever happened? Implying how unlikely that was. True, but it is my fear. A fear that no one will accept that there is something “wrong” with me because I’m hiding it? Sounds absurd. But I’m afraid of both being hidden and being visible.
Recently at a family party I put my cane down for a bit and my nieces and nephews—a theatrical group—started tap dancing with it. On my way out, I had to nag for it back—give me my cane! My cane was having fun without me. It was getting a bit of Broadway. I was jealous of the cane, and sad I wasn’t tap dancing, and irritated that no one cared I needed it.
And then quite suddenly I was happy about the whole thing.