So I’m starting to get used to life in my wheelchair – and I’m starting to realize some things about the people I encounter. Every one is a human being , but now I’m digressing…
I agree with the common notion that most people have self esteem and image problems, I think mine tend to come from a large vocabulary and being a “smart guy”.
As a youngling you might have called me a brain, a teacher’s pet, a hardcore geek – but whatever word you used it surely was not synonymous with popular and likable.
An important part of the chess team? Sure.
Prom King? Not so much.
I’m arrogant and emotionally distant – and as a result I sometimes piss people off.
In my life BC – that’s Before Chair for those of you keeping score at home – I often was concerned about being liked and not making people angry. I wouldn’t say I was particularly successful or skilled in this endeavor, but it seemed a good and compassionate activity to be aware of when I might be making people unhappy while trying to not do things that piss off humans.
Flash forward to a life on wheels – and I’ve found that one of my worst old fears has come true.
I always secretly feared that people didn’t like me – and nobody ‘likes’ a guy in a wheelchair.
I mostly get one of two responses: contempt or consideration. Both tend to be inappropriate.
The contemptuous folks are being reminded of their own fragility – I also think some of them are just pissed off New Yorkers who are angry at everything. This is a city where the words fuck you can be considered a greeting. The contemptuous people sigh, they make noises when they have to wait behind you, they make a big show out of being in a hurry. Sometimes the young men say stuff that is actually rude, I hear “get our of my way” about once a day. When that happens I giggle.
With the contemptuous folks I am able to understand the horrific experience the aged and infirm have in America – people fear they might “catch” whatever I have. They want me to be hidden away and kept out of the public view. Their actions are in their mind simple self preservation, eminently reasonable. They see the world through a popular plastic lens where any less than perfect people should be separated from society – and preferably ethically forgotten.
Then you have the shockingly considerate people. Most of those folks talk to me like I’m about 5 years old, they are so proud of me for actually continuing to live and function. They open doors, move things out of my way, and they look at me like a dog they found that got hit by a car. It is insanely ironic that I have pissed people off with my high IQ and now many people talk to me like I’m mentally deficient.
The contemptuous folks just say stupid rude things – ever wonder what the considerate people do?
They say the’d rather be dead than be disabled, and they actually intend to communicate to me that they are proud of my courage and fortitude. In case you don’t know it (I think you should) if your body needed a wheelchair you’d figure it out, I promise.
I recently came across this excellent article on 10 Things To Never Say To A Person In A Wheelchair – and I made a loud guffaw noise when I got to number 6.
So these are the facts of my worst fear come true – and now I need to embrace life on wheels and figure out what to do about it.
WWBD. (What Would Buddha Do?)
Contemptuous people need soft education and exposure. Humor helps a lot here.
I try to let my mind focus on the reality these folks are like people that say they “hate Jews”, but in fact don’t personally know any Jewish people. If you can make these people laugh it is wonderful. Teach softly.
When I see a young man who reeks of desperation for the fairer sex and cologne – quite common among the contemptuous – I try to get my joke about the fairer sex in. Here it is:
“Once You Go Wheels, Nothing Else Appeals”
If the young man laughs, I’ve got him. I can tell him to have a nice day and to keep smiling. To be grateful for what he has. His mad will dissolve when lovingly massaged by humor.
I am grateful to the contemptuous as they help me see the happy humor in life.
Thank you for helping me see the ludicrousness of reality and thank you for helping me laugh happily at the absurdity of my own situation. Laughter feels good. So good.
Shockingly considerate folks need to see I am a real person. Real emotional connection helps a lot.
Considerate folks take my feelings in another direction entirely. What they say and do feels good – at first. They open the door, they fall over themselves to help me get things in a store. They immediately engage me and glare at those who don’t.
But then they take it one step further – and they reveal a fear just as profound as the contemptuous folks have but one of an entirely different flavor. They imagine themselves trying to live in my chair and they believe they couldn’t do it. So they say stuff about being proud of me or admiring my courage or some other thing that is just wildly weird – many of them tell me about things their mother’s taught them.
This is the spot where they emotionally tell me they couldn’t do what I do, that they’d rather be dead. I still am not sure what to say when folks confess that to me. Your life could be harder, I get that.
For some strange reason considerate folks also have a great tendency to grab my wheelchair when they see me struggling with a curb or a door.
Brace yourself as I’m going to get real for just a second here.
Please do not ever touch my chair. Fucking never touch my chair.
My chair is basically part of my body, it’s how I get around and grabbing it is no different than grabbing a person’s arm.
The fact is I might indeed ask you for help or a push – please please wait for me to do so.
Ok – that’s enough of that rant. Giggle.
So the key with the considerate is to connect with them as a real person, to remind them of how beautiful and strong they are. If they feel their own incredible power, I’ve got them. I can tell them to have a nice day and keep smiling. Their weirdness will be dissolved by real human connection.
I am grateful to the considerate as they help me see how all human people need love and hugs and support.
That’s why we all love messages like this one.
And finally – after the human populace that is the contemptuous and considerate come the people who are my friends.
Those people are so beautiful.
They show me that my reality matters not, they simply love me for who I am. Some of these folks have other physically disabled friends but most have simply made a wonderful choice. They trust in what they know of me, they like me and they don’t care what else might be going on in my life.
I am grateful to my friends for helping me feel and be so loved.
And so the adventure continues – I’m excited to see what comes next in my life on wheels.