This evening I was shopping in Tesco in their kindly provided motorised trolley, when one of the kinder members of staff offered his help in retrieving some sausages of all things, from a shelf that was too high for me to reach.
‘What’ve you been doing to yourself then love?’, jovially offered the shop assistant as he stretched for the ‘two for one’ offer on the Taste the Difference pork and apples.
Now, the two paths that I could’ve gone down here are both pretty well travelled I assure you. The first, was to tell the truth to ‘Tesco Man’, that I am now disabled & will get worse over time, & the second was to play down the whole affair and state simply that I’ve had a little car accident, ‘I’ll be ok’, (crucially avoiding the details of exactly how complicated, painful and heartbreaking the ordeal of becoming disabled has been)- hopefully this would consequently then avoid the awkwardness felt by the well meaning and unassuming shop assistant, that he had opened a huge emotional can of worms, when all I’m sure he had wanted to do was show a little kindness and pass the time of day to make his shift go a little quicker!
Although I started with the avoidance tact- as happens all too often, the well meaning questions spiralled to the point that the shop assistant now knows every detail of my life- that I have spent years in and out of hospital, live on masses of morphine and that my Aunt’s pet poodle’s name is Rocky!
My point in the above scenario is to show that however you want to portray yourself; you always stand out in a crowd when you have a physical disability such as the need for a wheelchair. In an ‘able bodied body’, you may be able to nip around Tesco with no interruptions whatsoever; but when you are trying to keep yourself to yourself and mind your own business in a wheelchair or on sticks, or with a neurological disorder that may make you limp and twitch- you naturally seem to draw attention to yourself to the point that it feels as if you are wearing a neon pink t-shirt with Mr Blobby yellow spots all over it!
When it comes to reacting to this attention, I believe that people fall into two distinct categories;
- the first being the eager to help, (the sub category of such being the ‘all-to-eager-to help’, because it fills them with a sense of purpose and pride in caring for the community- but that is a WHOLE other story!)
- the second is those who shuffle along staring at the floor as soon as they notice that there is ‘one of you’, in the store, consequently forgetting everything that they came into the shop for as they are so worried that you may ask them for some help and they may not know what to say or do.
Unfortunately if you were completely honest with yourself, those of you reading this who like me were born able bodied, will have been guilty to some degree of the later as well as the aforementioned subcategory of helping for your own purpose I’m sure- I can uncomfortably admit to you that I was guilty at times on both counts!
My whole long winded and tenuous point is that unless we are bed bound, we all have to go to the shops to get the bread and milk, or get on that train to get to work. We all have to go out into the gig wide world where the ‘over helpful’, and the’ shuffling avoiders’, live alongside us and interact with us, (or not, being the point!), everyday!
Well intended or not, however far along the path of ‘dealing with things’, yourself you may be, you may find that the triggers from everyone else’s reactions to your disability may prove to you that you could do with a wee bit more help than you anticipated at times; as having to face people talking about your disability every time that you nip out for some milk can get somewhat tedious I can assure you!
There is no doubt that my Tesco Man this evening was clearly well meaning, (always the kind I prefer, even if they do swing a little more towards the ‘helpful for their own sense of purpose’ category).
Tesco man went on to tell me about his motorbike crashes that he had had recently, proceeding to pull up his trouser leg in the cold meat aisle to show me the pins that were put in his leg during his six week hospital stay. Mr Tesco highlighted the point that there by the grace of God go many of us, as he had had six hospital admissions and five surgeries pursuing his dangerous hobby of motor biking; whereas I had simply been stationary in my car when I was hit from behind.
My husband as a pilot in the RAF has spent countless months in war zones, as well as many a weekend enjoying the dangerous hobbies that he loves such as dirt bike racing and coasteering, yet again it is I who is the one in our marriage who has to be cared for and is facing a life of disability- (the way I would always prefer it to be I assure you).
The same goes for the illness vein, (excuse the pun), of why you may become disabled- there is no telling who it is going to happen to. We all know of an eccentric old man/woman still residing in their own home at the grand old age of 91 with all of their marbles still intact, with a remarkable clean bill of health despite having smoked an astonishing 60 a day for 50 years- yet to use myself as an example again, it was only thanks to spinal surgery designed to save me from paralysis that I am sat in my sparkling new power chair today.
However athletic, health conscious & even optimistic may be- life happens, & it can happen to you at any moment. Life & more specifically disability is indiscriminate, a message that I am keen to reiterate, not to provoke fear but to ensure that we all appreciate the physicality that we may be blessed with, however strong or detonated.
Despite everything, my Christian convictions lead me personally to believe that things happen for a reason in many cases. Life would all be far too simple if we could know what that reason was at the time, as then there would be no need for faith, (of whichever variety you may wish- Agnostic, orthodox or atheist we all need a little faith in our lives; those of us living through disability more than others I assure you!
On reflection of reading this back, I feel it important to stress that I am very grateful and even like ‘Tesco men’ offering their assistance to me and although I don’t always want to go through the whole tale for the umpteenth time of why I am sat in this chair, (particularly to ‘Mr Tesco’ who I barely know) - on the whole, ‘Tesco Men’ of Britain I welcome your help and appreciate it greatly!
Due to the amount of time that I’ve had to spend at home alone in bed, (too dosed up on morphine to appreciate or cope with any company of any kind), whilst Garry’s been at work; I probably like and appreciate chatting to people of any kind all the more- even if it is about motorbike crashes and sausages!
Although not always what we want, (as we are only human, with all too human emotions at the end of the day!), I welcome the help and chatter that come with many such an offer as opposed to the ‘embarrassed shuffling shoe starters’, who are too uncomfortable with communicating with somebody who looks different to ‘the norm’!
We are an odd breed in the respect that we find people who look even a little different to ourselves so difficult and uncomfortable to communicate with.
I am currently pursuing an idea as part of the charity/foundation that I am setting up, to show children at primary school age that just because we may have varying physical forms, we are all the same inside- vulnerable, intimidated, and embarrassed and scared that somebody should highlight our differences.
We need to catch children before they pick up the uncomfortable, ‘Britishness’ of their parents and tell them that talking to and offering help to somebody in a wheelchair, or on sticks, or with any other form of disability is OK and a good thing to do.
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