When people stare

When I was in college I had a job delivering singing balloon-o-grams. I would dress up as a clown or a gorilla, drive to someone’s house with a bunch of balloons filling my car (yes, I was a driving gorilla), walk to the person’s front door and deliver not just the balloons but a song as well.

I would get some rather interesting responses from people. I’m tall, so if you can imagine a 6’1” gorilla standing inside the elevator when the doors open on your floor. I received screams as well as laughs. Most of the time I rode the elevator alone. People just didn’t seem to want to ride with me. I have no idea why (grin). I had fun being stared at and having people stop and point. I mean, it’s not every day that you see a gorilla walking down main street.

No matter how much I enjoyed that job, it didn’t prepare me for the stares I get today from people when I wheel myself out of my van in a wheelchair. I’m not sure exactly why people stare. I don’t know if they’re trying to rationalize my life story in their head once they realize I’m in a wheelchair, or if they have never seen someone with a disability before (which I highly doubt), or if they just can’t believe someone looking so good can really be disabled in the first place. Regardless, their stares are noticed.

I do my best to not let people’s responses get to me. Almost every time, I look them in the eye, no matter their reaction, and smile. It gives me the opportunity to ease the tensions and show them how strong I really am. I figure, if they’re going to stare I might as well give them something to stare at. One day I should fake a complete body spasm to really mess with them. (Shake, twitch, shake, grunt, moan…grin.)

I think people assume you should be hanging your head and having a pity party every day when you are disabled. But I can’t live that way, and neither should you. Multiple Sclerosis is a part of our lives. It’s chronic. It’s real. It’s a daily reminder that life can be unfair and really, really difficult, but it’s also something to be treasured, lived, and not taken for granted…so make the best of it.

You can do this. Hold your head up and smile today regardless of people’s reactions to seeing you walking a little funny or slurring your words. Don’t let other people’s insensitivities determine your mood. A welcoming smile from you can change their snap judgments and help open their eyes to seeing the real you rather than the disability. It doesn’t always work, but 9 times out of 10 it does, so why not give it a try.

My dream is to one day walk down the street and be greeted as me rather than my disability. To be approached with a hello and a handshake rather than head turns and stares. For those with questions about my disability to actually ask them rather than assuming and then whispering to their friends. For people to realize that I’m really not the one with the disability….people with a lack of empathy, understanding and love, those are the real disabled in the world.

5 replies
  1. Rodger Ashton-Smith
    Rodger Ashton-Smith says:

    Thanks Penelope we do get some funny looks from those that don’t know us.I had a good time at our mainly music las Tuesday. A 3 year old who has known only me in my wheelchair, came up to me and wanted a hug and a ride. I gave him both and got some interesting stares from the other kids, and their caregivers. It made me feel great and this is the essenes of what it’s all about.

  2. Bonnie Burkley
    Bonnie Burkley says:

    I have a 17yr. grandson that was born with Spineabifida. He is paralyzed from waist down. He is fed 24/7 from a feeding tube to his stomach. He has over 30 surgeries to correct different problems. He is our Angel Baby….he knows nothing else…his smile can make the whole world brighter. His mind is perfect…cannot speak, but gives IPad a thorough work out expressing himself. I say all that dear one, he is stared at and whispered about…makes this ole Nana with MS fighting urges. He is my hero and I thank God for blessing us with him every day and night. Your words brought him to me quickly this morning.

  3. Leah
    Leah says:

    I usually get a lot of stares when entering a restaurant as my husband rolls me in on my manual wheelchair. When asked, I used to tell restaurant staff that I had MS, and found that I had looks of pity. Now when asked, depending on the season, I say that I had a nasty ski or a water skiing accident that injured my back. This seems to be more acceptable to them than the truth, plus I don’t get that pathetic stare. Works all the time.:)

  4. Carla Canetto
    Carla Canetto says:

    I always love reeding your stories. They so explain well what we experience,what are our difficulties, our symptoms, our emotions. But also our strength,our determination,our courage and our positivity. Thank you so much for sharing this,we don’t feel alone,together we can win.


    This is a fantastic article and one that people with MS and other disabilities will be able to relate to. Seeing someone in a wheelchair or using sticks to Walk .should not mean that they are stared at or pointing out to other people.
    They are human with the same feelings and emotions as everyone else.


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