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.