You Don’t Look Disabled

“My advice to other disabled people would be, to concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you from doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with.  Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” – Stephen Hawking

Usually, people are gracious and helpful.  However, the odd time we encounter people who are not.  Such was the case for me last weekend when I went out to a concert.  I thought I would share my story with you so that you can see that when something like this happens to you, it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the other person that you have encountered.

We all who live with illness and or a disability, do everything we can to not stand out. Some people allow it to limit how much they participate in life.  I have heard from people that they will not go to certain events anymore because it is just to hard and they get in the way.  Although I get that, I am not that person at this stage in my life.  I love to participate in activities.  I often have to work harder on prep work to figure out a way to make it work, but I will do it.  I went to New Orleans for my 40th birthday and brought a scooter to get around.  I bring my scooter to music festivals to I can better get around.  I use my walker if I want to go to the beach.  I do all of these things to help make it easier and less stressful for me.  But I also do them so that people don’t have to wait for me or move slower with their own natural pace.  I try to be considerate of others around me.   The majority of time, strangers and people I know are more than willing to wait an extra second or two so that I can move by them.  Most people will offer to help if it appears I am struggling with something.  Rarely, I encounter people who are missing that empathetic and kind gene that I believe is necessary in the diverse world we live in.

Two such souls crossed my path last weekend.  My mother had bought tickets to the Cher concert for myself and my sister for our birthdays that are both in February.  They both live in another city so it is always wonderful when we can all get together.  It was in Edmonton’s new massive arena that I had never been in before.  My mom had bought the tickets so I didn’t get to ask questions of the agent before booking them about accessibility.  I brought my walker with me because it is hard for me to walk long distances and I didn’t want to slow anyone down.  A lot of walking to get to our seats, but once we got there, I had somewhere to leave my walker close, and we only had to go down one stair to get to our row.  That was awesome news as stairs are tough for me.  However, we had to walk by about 4 people to get to our seats.  There were only two people seated, an older couple right on the end.  I said excuse me and told them I was a bit wobbly so they offered me their hands and said no problem.  I got to my seat and we began to enjoy the show.  It was a great concert.  Lots of music and we all got up a few times to dance to some songs by our seats.  There was only one row behind us, so we asked the girls if we were bothering them standing and they said we weren’t.  Several of them were up dancing as well.  It was a concert.  That’s what people do.  Part of my MS means that I have to go to the bathroom maybe a bit more frequently than someone else.  Between the opening act and Cher, I got up with my sister and we went to the washroom.  We were back before Cher came on.  I had to get up 2 more times during the concert.  We always left during one of Cher’s costume changes to not be disruptive.  The last time we went to go back to our seats, the couple lashed out at us and said they would not let us back into our seats because we had got up too many times and were being “wild.”  I have not been called wild since I was in my 20s so kind of took it as a compliment.  I told the woman that I had MS which required me to go to the bathroom often.  She told me I should have sat in the disabled section and I certainly didn’t “look disabled”, using air quotes, while I was up dancing.  My sister and mother became so upset at how she was talking to me and I was worried there was going to be some sort of fight.  I told them to just let it go.  A man came up to us and said that they were just a miserable couple.  When we all got up to leave, I saw that the man had a walker as well!  Apparently he has Parkinson’s.  Why were they not sitting in the handicap section as they had advised me?

I was really bothered by this for a bit.  At first I thought “Maybe I shouldn’t go out to these things anymore.”  That thought lasted about 5 seconds and then I thought, “That is ridiculous.”  I have disability.  I am not dead.  I deserve to take up as much space as I need.  It reminded me of one other time when I went to New Orleans and met another miserable woman who was put out by the fact that I needed some extra space for my cane.  Her own husband apologized to me and said she was just miserable.  His words, not even mine.  Sometimes there are people in the world who are unhappy.  The man with Parkinson’s was may be triggered by the fact that I could dance and maybe he couldn’t.  The woman in New Orleans was may be triggered by the fact that I had my loving husband and friends with me and maybe she doesn’t have that.  The long and short of it is that none of those people’s behaviour had anything to do with me.  I often tell myself when stuff like that happens “Not my monkeys, not my circus.”  It really has nothing to do with me.

There are people in this world who are just unhappy.  Nothing I do or how hard I try to be accomodating will change that.  There are so many more people in the world who are loving, compassionate and accommodating.  I choose to focus on those people everyday.  Don’t let people’s judgemental and cynical attitude stop you from doing things you love.  Go out and live you life in any kind way you want to.

The picture I included is my mom, sister and I before the concert.  A kind woman came up and offered to take our picture.  I choose to focus on her kindness.

Much love,

Christine

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