When you feel like the world is not geared up for you, like your existence has not been acknowledged or planned for, it can make you feel a bit like you’re not really there. When people avert their eyes or talk over you, sometimes you feel like shouting, HELLO! I’M HERE. Sometimes you shuffle around with your head down, hoping not be noticed. Sometimes you get angry, sometimes you get frustrated. Mostly you’re just dealing with your own stuff and trying not to to dwell on what anyone else may or may not thinking. On occasions, I am so caught up with what I’m doing (shepherding children around the shops, snack management, being bullied in to buying plastic tat etc.) that I forget. It is often at this moment that someone sees fit to point it out to me. A well timed “Oooooh, are you in pain?” or, “What happened to your legs?” is certainly enough to bring you crashing back down to your disabled reality.
At the time I generally smile, nod and drag my kids away from the person. Later my inner monologue is full of all the self-assured, badass put downs I wish I had said. “Please don’t other me. I have MS but as you can see I’m awesome and would very much like to be treated as such,” or on my less patient days, “ What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with your personality?”
Whilst I am forever astounded by the need some adults have to acknowledge the physical attributes of other adults; (anyone who has ever been pregnant will recall the, “You’re HUGE comments... cheers,) there is another side to this. Disabled women frequently experience feelings of being invisible, severely under represented and ignored.
This reality is symptomatic of a wider societal attitude towards disability that relegates disabled people to second class citizens and makes all manner of assumptions about us.
I have felt this way. I have also, on the flip side, felt like I stick out like a sore thumb, like I am ultra, intensely visible. I feel eyes turn to look, I feel every gaze be it one criticism, pity, empathy or a coincidental glance in my direction, perhaps admiring my kids’ shoes or wondering where I get my hair cut. I feel them all with accuse sensitivity.
I am undoubtedly projecting my insecurities on to others. What arrogance and self importance I have to believe that everyone is so preoccupied with me and my physical appearance that they can hardly look where they are going!?
The truth is, some people will ignore us, some people cannot face the uncomfortable truth that disability could happen to them at any time. Some people will stare, some will notice. Some will criticise, mock, pity, empathise. There are, however, many more people who just see a human, doing human things. I know i need to start giving others the credit that I would like to receive; the credit for being one of the good guys who yes may notice, but will not judge.