As years go by I become more and more certain that I have a radar for the bizarre and the surreal. If something strange can be said or done, there is a good chance that it will happen near me or that it will involve me. Of this I can assure you! The majority of the scenarios tend to involve something related to my disability as it is a quality which seems to bring out both the best and the worst in people.
These experiences can fall into two categories – those which show humanity at its best, and those which show humanity on more of an “off day”. After a recent “off day” for humanity, a friend suggested I write a blog on ten of the most ridiculous things people have ever said to me. After 28 years on this earth it was hard to rank my experiences (as I have plenty), so I have simply selected ten of the most comical and/or unbelievable.
In no particular order…
1. “You’re in a wheelchair, I didn’t think you would understand me”
These words were uttered by a lady in Tesco one afternoon. We were both standing (in my case sitting) in front of the sandwich meat display (as one does) when she decided to reach over me and use the back of my wheelchair to steady herself. Now this wouldn’t have been such an issue if my wheelchair weren’t so finely balanced and had the lady in question not put the majority of her body weight through one of the push handles on my lightweight wheelchair.
I tipped right back…cue a smacked head and (as I would discover a week later) a chipped elbow which subsequently led to ulnar nerve entrapment and surgery.
Now most people would’ve been mortified if they had caused harm to another person. This particular individual tried to skulk off unnoticed and had I not been there with another person, was likely to have escaped without comment. Unfortunately for her, she was not so lucky! When I asked her why she didn’t just ask me to move forward if she was unable to reach an item, she simply said “well you’re in a wheelchair, I didn’t think you would understand me”.
2. “Have you considered eating more spinach? It would cure your condition”
As said by the lady in Costa to my Mum and I.
That’s where I’ve been going wrong!
3. “I can’t believe someone in your condition would be so selfish as to have a child”
This nugget of wisdom was proffered whilst my five year old nephew was sitting on my lap as I wheeled us around on a museum adventure. Whilst he didn’t understand the nuances of the interaction, he hit the nail on the head when he said “Auntie Em, that person is a really silly sausage”.
4. “Rub butter on your back, it’ll fix it”
Hmmm salted or unsalted? Flora or Utterly Butterly? So many questions!
5. ”I can’t introduce you to my parents until you are fixed. Here, I’ve made you a list of doctors you can see to get yourself cured”
As said by an ill-chosen Tinder match who proceeded to hand me a list of medical professionals – all very eminent in their chosen fields, but all totally unable to “cure” Spina Bifida. This poor, ignorant fellow didn’t quite see the pint of water coming his way in true American movie style. It was very satisfying!
6. “I thought you were a seat”
I could write an entire blog post on my public transport experiences, but this one is particularly notable for me. I was minding my own business sitting in my wheelchair in the priority area in a busy commuter London Underground tube when a man in a very fancy suit squeezed himself in front of me. He was facing away from me and was clearly not paying close attention as he proceeded to grasp the grab rail…and promptly sat himself down on my lap.
A swift knee to the crotch and the surprised gentleman leapt to his feet looking decidedly embarrassed as he exclaimed, “Gosh, I’m sorry. I thought you were a seat”.
He swiftly exited at the next stop.
7. “You’re too pretty to be disabled”
Although I am certain this chap meant his comment as a compliment, I find these six words very telling of society’s notion of beauty. The idea that “being pretty” and “being disabled” are two mutually exclusive states is one which continually amazes me. If this is true, some of the most beautiful people I know (both aesthetically beautiful and with beautiful personalities) would not make the cut. Such a shame.
Outward beauty and your physical state do not define your value.
8. “That’s your husband? I thought he was your carer – good on him for marrying you in your condition!”
Fact of the day – not all marriages are the same. There will be times when the wife carries the brunt of the load and equally there will be times when the husband has to do more than his equal share. This is life. This is what being a team is about. Admittedly my husband has to do the lion’s share of the physical tasks around the house (lifting, carrying, moving heavy items etc) but this does no way mean that I am a burden. Were it not for me, not a single bill would be paid on time and I’m certain he would live off Dominos forever!
Unfortunately there are still those that do not see people with disabilities as equal partners. Speak to my husband and I’m sure he would say that he did not marry me because he felt sorry for me!
9. “You must’ve done something really bad in a past life to deserve your situation”
People are entitled to believe whatever they so wish – be it politically, socially or religiously. What they are not entitled to do is to share their opinion in a manner which can be construed as offensive or rude. For the record – I wouldn’t change my situation for anything. I’m very happy with who I am!
10. “But I thought you were lame!”
After almost twenty years of using a wheelchair, people are still surprised when I stand up! Walking is not a binary concept where you either “do” or you “don’t”. I am able to walk short distances around familiar areas (but not without pain) but I rely on my wheelchair for longer distances and when in unfamiliar scenarios (or when my pain is too much). Using a wheelchair does not preclude an individual from being able to walk (and vice versa).
So there you go! Ten gems from the general public on an “off day”.
As I am in favour of balance, my next blog will feature ten of the kindest and most uplifting experiences I have had via encounters with our fellow humans.
Thanks for reading!