“Lots of space in this mall…” – Elwood Blues
I’m sure you’ve been there – at least on the giving end.
You’re having a normal conversation but then they act all sympathetic and put on those puppy-dog eyes.
I can’t be the only one – I’m talking to someone that I totally respect and they suddenly decide to put on the pity face.
Nice. At least I know you aren’t judging me!
“Poor Jim, he’s been burdened with a problem that I’m not familiar with. It’s weird, too, because he looks so normal.”
I don’t fit their definition of normal? Well, I did at first glance, but now that they have more information. “Can I have a do-over?”
Maybe I wouldn’t fit mine, either, prior to my diagnosis. Discrimination is a learned behavior, right?
It’s not limited to race, either (except for the part about getting shot at – that seems to be).
It’s just frustrating. Not having to beg for help would be nice but I don’t need you to make me feel bad about it.
You Selfish Bastard
Oh, I get it. If you’re narcissistic, you get to skip the awkwardness. Take the path of least resistance – he has a disease so he’s a second-class citizen.
Save yourself – treat him like his dog just died.
We’ve learned to avoid the uncomfortable. Sympathy is a good, catch-all reaction that enables us to hurdle the pregnant pause.
The problem… It’s not cool.
If I was missing a leg, would you apologize? “I’m sorry you’re not like me and have to live with that deformity for the rest of your life.”
Of course you wouldn’t – that would be insensitive and stupid.
The problem with a disease is that it’s unfamiliar and taboo. It makes me different. It makes me “special.”
Plus – you have to take my word for it.
Damsel in Distress
Even when they leave me alone, I know what they’re thinking. I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories.
There was even a meme going around on Facebook depicting a woman, standing on her wheelchair, reaching for a liquor bottle. She must be faking if she can booze it up, right?
I can remember my dad joking that he was going to park in a disabled spot and I’d have to limp when I got out of the car. I’d bet that I’m not the only one.
We’re not hard-wired to think that way, but we’re raised to make judgments (click here).
Watch Your Back
It starts with awareness. Knowing that you’re acting that way is a good start.
Have you ever heard that the first step in dieting is to write everything down that you’re consuming? Suddenly, you’re aware of how much crap is going in your body and you change your behavior – before you even start the diet!
Knowing that you’re judging someone works in the same way. Just think about the assumptions that you make.
We’re the Same.
I remember a time when I was a young student. I was talking to a Ph.D. candidate in the lab and made a joke about him being smarter than me.
“We’re the same,” he said. “You and me, we’re the same.”
That was 20 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday.
Who am I to say that we’re different? Just because we don’t have a secret hand-shake doesn’t mean we can’t be friends… equals.
Don’t try so hard.
I’m tired of being the elephant in the room. Don’t pretend that I’m not there. Ask a question if you’ve got one. You’ll probably find that I prefer to talk about it.
The problem is that you think there’s a problem. There’s no problem.
You don’t have to watch what you say. You don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing.
I’m not going to undo the issue, even if I make the symptoms go away. It will always be a part of me.
It doesn’t have to be a burden. This is my life, not yours, and I don’t need or want your sympathy in order to move forward.
Just acknowledge it and move on. I’m not “brave” or “heroic” for dealing with it. You’d deal with it, too, if you had to.
So drop the pity and treat me like I’m your friend. Your brother. I’m just like you.
We’re the same.