Monday, April 20, 2009

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

I can't tell you how much I hate that saying. It's so cloyingly sweet and trite. It goes along with:
  • Well it could be worse
  • Well at least you have your ....
  • You're not handicapped, you're handicapable
  • You're not disabled, you're differently-abled
I really hate all of those sayings because they're just so silly and meaningless. Worse, it makes me feel like that's what able-bodied folks say to disabled folks to make themselves feel better. Like you're saying something to me that, first-of-all I've never heard, and second-of-all is going to make me feel so much better. It doesn't. I think politically correct speech has brought dialogues to a stand-still. Everybody is so careful not to offend me that they just look over me like I don't exist. Like I'm deaf; like I didn't hear your child just say "mommy, that lady's in a wheelchair." I would rather hear the mother open a dialogue about it with her child than hear the inevitable "shhhh, don't look at her." There's nothing here that I'm ashamed of, so why is the topic of my disability so off limits? Of course, while I'm eating dinner, I don't need to tell the whole story to the server (not that I mind), but certainly little kids are curious, and I don't mind that. It's so very honest when a child comes over and says "why are you in a wheelchair?" So let's lose politically correct speech, let's ask the questions that we both know you want to ask (frankly, I'm curious when I see someone in a wheelchair too), then we get the 800 pound gorilla out of the room and we can move on to other conversation topics.

I've also learned another thing about silly sayings like "God never gives you more than you can handle." I've always thought they were really rather insulting. But it's actually the reverse. I really think that people so want to help, and with something like this, they can't. So they at least want to say something that will make me feel better. That's a nice thing. It may be one of the only good things about being disabled, but I get to see people at their very best. I see people trying to say something that, although I may have heard it a million times and it doesn't really make me feel better, was intended to lift my spirits. I have people hold doors for me. When I am using my crutches, I am very slow. I will tell someone holding the door "it's okay, I'm very slow, it will take me a while to get there," and inevitably they say "oh, that's okay, no rush, take your time." People go out of their way to open doors for me, help me with things in stores, reach things that I can't, and even help me get my wheelchair in and out of the car. That's not meant to patronize or to assume I can't do it myself, that's an act of kindness.

A gal was talking to me today and said that someone told her that she should go to the gym because the chemicals released when we exercise are some of the same chemicals found in anti-depressants. She was fuming! She was really angry, assuming this man had just called her fat and lazy, and that if she wasn't fat and lazy, she wouldn't need her anti-depressants. First of all, she wasted a lot of her day being really angry, and the guy who said it didn't even know about it - so she certainly wasn't punishing him. But mainly, "you should never attribute to malice what should be attributed to stupidity." That doesn't mean that man is stupid, but perhaps he said something insensitive. Maybe he was honestly trying to help. I am hoping that this blog will open a dialogue with other folks who hurt (and those who don't) to try to offer ideas on how to get over the rough spots. Maybe that's what he was trying to do: offer an idea that had worked to make him feel better. And this gal was a bit over-sensitive and got angry instead of thinking, "well, thanks for the advice." Not all advice is useful to me, but I certainly appreciate someone giving me advice on how to feel better. Perhaps, instead of being so angry, her answer could have been "thank you." Then, if he really was being mean, he would have been the one with the ruined day, not her.

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