I have a feeling that this post is going to sound like a major bitch about the world and people in general, so I want to make it clear that the people I refer to are thankfully just a small proportion of those that I have come into contact with. And I also want to say that I’m not a complete bitch, I think I’m actually quite a nice person (most of the time!)
There are two groups of people that really really frustrate me… People who patronise me, and people who judge me…
The patronising ones
I do not appreciate pity, and I do not like people feeling sorry for me. Yes I had a really shit thing happen to me… And I expect people to acknowledge that when they first hear about my accident. But I don’t dwell on it, so you shouldn’t either. My usual response is ‘Yeah it was a case of wrong place, wrong time, but it could have been much worse’. And I know this sounds extremely blasé, but I’m pretty sure that any other response would make the other person feel quite uncomfortable.
There is a big difference between sympathy and pity. The people that look at me with a sad face, tilt their head to one side and say ‘awwwwww’ need to learn that this isn’t what someone in a wheelchair wants you to do everytime you see them. You can be sympathetic towards my injury and the difficulties I now face without making me feel like some lost, helpless loser!
The other thing that bothers me with patronising people is being applauded for the simplest of things. I’ve been injured for over two years now, so I’ve figured out how to do most daily tasks. So if I manage to go up a kerb or make a cup of tea, I don’t need to be treated like a dog.. ‘ohhh good girl, well done’. Please save the compliments for when I actually do something impressive. It will mean a lot more to me, and I will actually appreciate the compliment!
The ones that judge me
These people are MUCH worse than the patronising people… A lot of the pity comments and looks that are thrown my way come from a kind heart I’m sure; it is just unleashed in a misguided manner. But the people that judge me……. Either they think that it’s acceptable to do it, or they think I’m too dumb to notice that they are.
No one will ever understand what I go through on a daily basis, and exactly how my injury has affected my life. Everyone with a spinal cord injury is different and it affects their life in a different way. Yes I can empathise with other people I know in wheelchairs, but we have all got different problems that have arisen as a result of our injuries. Some people have issues with pain, bladder, bowels, spasms…. The list goes on. I will never presume I know what someone else is going through, so I don’t know how an able bodied person could even begin to comprehend.
For me personally, the worst way in which people judge me is when the question ‘do you work?’ arises. I’m sure even some of the people reading this might judge me for what I’m about to say. The short answer is no, I do not currently have a job. I receive benefits that help me pay my rent and bills, and the money raised from fundraising pays for my rehab sessions. I feel awkward every time I read or hear about people on benefits being a drain on the economy and all of the scandalous benefit fraud stories. It has often made me think hard about whether I should be working or not… But the reality is that I couldn’t hold down a full time office job.
I use office job as a general term for anything that isn’t a manual job, as I obviously wouldn’t be able to do a physical job. So a job at a desk… Well I can’t sit for more than a couple of hours without then having to stretch out, lie down, put my legs up or stand for a while. I get a great deal of back pain when I stay sitting for very long, and the muscles in my legs get very tight and prone to spasms. Humans weren’t designed to be in a seated position, so being in a wheelchair for long periods is not particularly comfortable. It also has very bad physiological consequences in the long run, but I wont go into those now.
As well as this, I also have some bladder issues, but I don’t feel the need to share the exact details of these. But I will mention that people with SCIs are extremely prone to UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) as well. These are a complete bitch; leave you feeling so run down and often require a hospital stay and some strong antibiotics to clear them up.
So in all honesty I don’t think I could hold down a full time job… And for those people that think I could manage it, please don’t judge me. If you spent a week in my shoes (which by the way are extremely clean and unworn because I cannot walk) I guarantee that you would rethink your opinion. I am in no way work shy… I work my ass off in rehab to stay fit and healthy. I drive two hours to the gym, workout for two hours and drive two hours home, and all at a great expense because petrol and one-on-one training sessions are not cheap. If I could afford to, I would do this five days a week, and that in itself would be a full time occupation.
I’m not even sure why I am feeling the need to keep justifying the reasons why I can’t work, but for some reason I am very very aware of peoples’ reactions when I tell them that I don’t have a job. I will say this though, I do not just sit around wasting the day and my life is definitely not one big holiday. I get up at 6am most days, and I don’t really stop until I go to bed.
I think my rant is over now… As I said at the start, this is not directed at anyone in particular, it is just a general observation from the last couple of years. Anyone that is close to me knows me well enough that they wouldn’t patronise or judge me, or if they have done then I have pointed it out to them (in a nice way).
And I would also like to point out that I know a lot of this behaviour towards people in wheelchairs probably comes from good intentions. I can understand that, but my response would be that I’m still the same person that I was before. My disability is purely physical, so please try your hardest to treat me like a ‘normal’ person.