Wheelchair Bingo…Part 2

And we’re back!! If you haven’t read Part 1 of this little epistle please do so now. We’ll just hang out here waiting for y’all to catch up.

Okay, good…everybody has returned. So how’s the how pandemic quarantine thing going for you?? Alright, alright…enough of that for now, but stay tuned. I’ll be addressing the elephant in the room soon. For now it’s time to get back to our list of things that “normal” people say to disabled people. Handicapped. Handicapable. Crippled. Differently abled. To be honest some of the terminology makes me laugh. Citizens of the Manoverse know that political correctness isn’t my thing, which is why I’m able to poke fun at this stuff and not take myself too seriously. So sit back (six feet apart!), don’t touch your face, & enjoy. And for God’s sake wash your hands when you’re finished reading.

It’s all in your head.

No, I’m pretty sure it’s not. And FYI…anyone who says this to a disabled individual with any level of seriousness is not a good person.

You’re an inspiration.

This is where I’m going to get myself in big trouble. Throughout my life I have randomly had people tell me this or something akin to it, and I’m torn. I understand that the polite thing to do is to smile & accept the compliment in the spirit in which it is given. I sincerely appreciate the sentiment, and if I have in fact inspired anyone in any way I’m humbled. I am touched when anyone is astute enough to understand obstacles I face and recognizes little things that I overcome on an almost daily basis. On the other hand, my life is my life, and I don’t consider relatively mundane tasks like getting in & out of my vehicle, going to work, or living independently all that inspirational. My biggest goal in life has never been to stand out from the crowd…it’s been to blend in and be just like everybody else as much as possible. Also, when people pat me on the back for normal & insignificant things it reinforces how average my life is and how I actually haven’t achieved anything worthy of true praise. Perhaps that is just my own special brand of neuroticism, but I’m just being honest.

You seem very happy!!

Looks can be deceiving. I’m not going to go down a dark road here…I want to keep it light & fun. However, the same people who are “inspired” by me don’t really seem all that invested in truly getting to know me. This whole quarantine situation has simply reinforced how lonely I already was, and it kind of ticks me off. At any rate, I’m sure that I’m not the only person in the world who puts on a happy face for social media and hides my melancholy while at work or when out on the town.

Can I have a go??

I have no idea what that means. It sounds British. If anyone can shed some light on the phraseology I’d appreciate it. Until then I probably shouldn’t comment.

I’m only parking here for five minutes.

Yeah, right. I’ve heard that one way too many times. There is a 15 minute loading zone in the parking lot of my apartment building, and the way it is laid out I have a very difficult time backing my truck out when someone is parked there. I’m willing to wait fifteen minutes, but the problem is that people often park in that loading zone for hours, which really gets me revved up. More specific to handicapped parking spots, I generally don’t have an issue, but it seems pretty simple…if you don’t have a permit to utilize one of those spaces just don’t do it. I don’t care what your reasoning may be. Everybody these days seems to be under the mistaken impression that their lives & their problems are more important than anyone else’s, which is just not true. Whatever drama is happening in your life in the moment does not provide a legitimate excuse to park in a handicapped spot even for just five minutes. Don’t do it.

You do realize that sitting is bad for you??

Nooo…really?? That is brand new information!! Okay, seriously…yes, I am aware. I have read the stories about how sitting around too much shortens one’s life span. Trust me…I get it. Exercise…or lack thereof…has been an issue for me my entire life. Believe me when I say that I’d love to be buff & sexy for the ladies, and I’d prefer to be skinnier & healthier for my own well-being. I’ll admit that part of the problem is my own laziness & procrastination, but it is also undeniable that most gyms & health clubs really don’t have much to offer for folks in my situation. As far as sitting goes, well…what other choice do I have?? I guess I’d just say that it’s something I’m aware of but don’t dwell on or else I’d drive myself nuts.

I bet you get great parking.

Yeah, I guess. And that great parking space is totally worth all the other things I have to endure on a daily basis throughout my entire life!!

You’re too young to be in a wheelchair.

Well, I got my first wheelchair when I was about four years old, so nope…not accurate at all. But thanks…I think.

Do you have a license to drive that thing??

There are people in the world who erroneously believe they are funny, and this is one of the things those kinds of people like to say to my wheelchair-bound comrades. It stops being funny after one hears it for about the thousandth time. I’m not offended as a disabled person, but as a guy who prides himself on a keen sense of humor I just think people can do better.

Wow, I’d hate to be you.

Okay, that’s cool. To be honest sometimes I hate being me too lol.

You poor thing.

Oftentimes said with an accompanying “bless your heart”. People mean well, and most of the time they’re completely oblivious to how condescending they can be.

I can’t believe he’s married.

I’m not married, but I’d like to be…atleast I think I would. Any reservations I have about marriage have very little to do with my disability. Folks in wheelchairs do get hitched. It’s not like there’s some sort of law against it. I would like to think that if I’m ever blessed enough to find a wife it won’t be that unbelievable to anyone.

You don’t need that if you can walk.

In my particular situation I do need my wheelchair all the time. I cannot walk at all. However, there are people with health problems that may be able to walk occasionally and only use a wheelchair sometimes. I think the lesson here is to be careful when expressing opinions about something that you really know nothing about. Everyone’s situation is different, and it’s not up to anyone else to judge.

You’re dating?? Good for you.

I suppose it’s kind of the same deal as the married thing. Would I like to be dating someone?? Sure (especially nowadays), but I do have standards. And I’d hope that if/when I do find me a gal it won’t be shocking to anyone just because I’m disabled. Now, if you want to be surprised for other reasons that a woman would go out with me that may be a valid point.

Are you sure you can handle this job??

I’ve never had a potential employer ask me that in an interview, and my suspicion is that most would be too smart to do so. It’s much more likely that they’d just decide for themselves and not offer the job at all, with the disabled interviewee never knowing for sure why they didn’t get hired. Having said that, I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t apply for a job that I didn’t think I could handle, especially due to physical limitations. I’m not delusional…I am aware that there are some things that just aren’t possible for me to do, and I’m okay with that.

You have kids?? How’d you manage that??

At this point in my life it is highly unlikely that I’ll ever father children. If I do I assume I’ll do it the old-fashioned way. I haven’t done much research on the topic, but I suppose it may be more difficult for people with certain disabilities to have children, and I assume there are ways around those barriers. That’s kind of what we do…spend our lives encountering roadblocks and figuring out a way to circumvent them. The point being that if a handicapped person does have children they have obviously dealt with the issue in some way, and perhaps you don’t need to know the details.

I guess my life isn’t so bad after all.

Well gee…thanks. If you want to compare my life to yours and utter such a statement to yourself in relief then be my guest. But I cannot fathom anyone being so obtuse as to actually say it to a handicapped person’s face.

You’re this way for a reason. God doesn’t make mistakes.

Here we go. Okay okay…I do believe in the old adage that “God don’t make no junk”, and I think many of us occasionally ask ourselves why we are here and what purpose our life serves. That’s just human nature. However, ask a thousand disabled people if they’ve figured out why they’re forced to spend their lives with whatever malady they suffer from and I bet you’ll get very few who’ll say they understand the reason. That doesn’t mean that we curl up in the fetal position in a corner wailing “Why ME?!?!??” as if Tonya Harding came after us with a billy club, just that we suck it up and live our lives without dwelling on such matters.

I had to use a wheelchair once so I understand.

I get it. It’s cool that you’re trying to be empathetic, and I’m not going to be upset or call you out. I’ll just smile & nod politely as usual. But one thing my Dad has taught me for as long as I can remember is that no one…not even my closest family members…can truly understand things I deal with on a daily basis. What I’ve learned over the years though is that that is a universal truth that extends to everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. No one’s life is perfect. Everybody has stuff that they’re struggling with. We all have problems, and we’re all just trying to do the best we can and be happy.

It’s so good to see you out & about!!

I’d love for someone to say that to me right now!! However, under normal (non-pandemic) circumstances a person’s astonishment that I actually left my house is somewhat patronizing.

Oh you got a degree & have a job?? Good for you. That must have been difficult.

Actually, college was pretty easy for me. I spent a large portion of it intoxicated and still graduated. And my current job is the easiest I’ve ever had. It’s funny how a short little phrase like “good for you” can oftentimes be so insulting. It’s usually a tone of voice thing, so just be aware of that.

Is someone here with you?? Why are you alone??

I spend most of my life alone, and generally I’m okay with that. I go out to eat alone. I go to the movies alone. I go shopping alone. Sometimes a buddy of mine goes out & about with me, and I think he’s under the impression that he’s helping me, but the truth is that I was likely going where I was going with or without him and my perspective is that I’m helping him by getting him out of our apartment building. Being independent has been very important to me throughout my adult life, and to the extent that I feel lonely it is only due to a need for intelligent conversation, shared joy, & friendly human interaction…not because I physically need someone to be with me to help me live my life.

Wheelchair Bingo…Part 1

When I was about ten years old I had a crush on a girl at school, but she wouldn’t talk to me so I asked a buddy of mine to find out the scoop. It turned out that this young lady was nervous to talk to me because I am in a wheelchair and she was afraid she’d say something to offend me. I made up my mind right there & then that I didn’t want to be the type of person who gets easily offended by anything, and I also decided to not let my disability be an elephant in the room that people are scared to acknowledge. It doesn’t define me, but it’s an unavoidable part of my existence. Nothing ever became of that grade school crush (I don’t even remember her name), but to this day I’m usually the first to crack a stupid self-deprecating joke. It’s kind of my thing. So when I ran across this meme a) I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit because they are so spot on, and b) I could not pass up an opportunity to address each statement individually because they are real things that people actually say or do. We’ve come a long way since I was a kid. When I started school it was automatically assumed that my physical disability also meant that I was mentally impaired, which wasn’t the case (actually I was “gifted”, although I’ve gotten dumber over the years). Having said that, there are still preconceived notions & common reactions, and I think it might be fun to dispel (or confirm) them in my own unique way.

Sorry, our building is not accessible…but we’ll figure out a way to get you in.

No…no you won’t. Look, I appreciate the effort, and to be honest accessibility isn’t nearly as much of an issue as it was decades ago. However, if a place isn’t accessible it just isn’t. Chances are I’ve done my homework and wouldn’t even attempt to gain entry to anyplace that’s not accessible, but in a situation where I haven’t cased the place properly we aren’t going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. My wheelchair is quite expensive and I can’t afford to have it broken, and God forbid either myself or someone else is hurt trying to “figure out a way” to get me in.

Can you have sex??

Yes…yes I can. I’d like to have a lot more of it too!! Unfortunately the trifecta of fat, crippled, & economically challenged is a combo that doesn’t attract the ladies. On top of that, I’m at a point in my life where I’m looking for a bit more than just a casual fling, and I have fairly high standards. At any rate, more germane to the question, I’ll just say that I might not be the Jaguar you’ve always dreamed of taking for a test drive, but I am the reliable Honda Accord that’ll give you great mileage for many years.

I’m praying for you.

Well that’s fantastic. You can pray for me anytime. I believe in the power of prayer. But don’t just pray about my disability. I’ve got problems & inadequacies that are much more of an issue than being in a wheelchair.

Be positive…I know you’ll walk again.

Nope, not gonna happen. When I was little my Papaw sometimes talked about taking me to see one of those TV preachers (I believe it was Ernest Angeley in Akron, OH) so they could slap me in the face, I’d fall to the ground, and miraculously be able to walk. Don’t misunderstand…I believe in miracles…but I also believe that if it’s God’s will that I walk one day that’s fine, but at this point I’m not counting on it. That’s not me being negative…just realistic. I’m all about being positive (most of the time).

What happened to you?? Is it permanent??

That’s a great question, and one I do not mind answering one little bit, especially if it’ll break down barriers and lead to other topics of conversation and perhaps a solid friendship. My standard joke used to be that I was born in a wheelchair, which was very painful for my mother (lol). Occasionally I’ll tell people I was injured in an unfortunate accident of some sort (usually related to something being discussed at that moment). The truth is that I was born with a birth defect called spina bifida, which is essentially a hole in the spine. I am fortunate that mine was very low in the small of my back. An inch or two higher and I may have died or been in much worse shape than I am…an inch or so lower and I might have been able to walk. It is my understanding that spina bifida can be diagnosed in the womb nowadays, and oftentimes cured. I guess I was born just a few decades too early.

I’d rather be dead than in a wheelchair.

Well…okay. If that’s how you feel it’s your prerogative. Personally I am glad to be alive. My life may not be perfect, but it seems like an upgrade from being dead.

Can I sit on your lap??

Yes!! Absolutely!! IF you’re a fetching (preferably single) young lady and not a big burly dude.

You’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair.

I can honestly say that no one has ever said that to me. Okay okay…in all seriousness I know the statement is focused on young women, and I’m sure you ladies in wheelchairs have had people say it, which blows my mind. Disabilities don’t discriminate against ugly people. That’s not how it works.

Do you know (insert name)?? They’re in a wheelchair too.

Ha!! I live in a small town, and yes, this is a question that I’ve gotten. When I was in college the basketball arena & football stadium used to sit all the folks in wheelchairs together, and it was weird because I didn’t really know anybody. I just wanted to sit with my friends and I couldn’t. I’ve had well-meaning people try to fix me up with people in wheelchairs because the assumption was we’d have a lot in common. You know what they say about assuming. Look, I get it…there is some level of understanding amongst those that face similar challenges, but that doesn’t mean that all of us disabled folks hang out together and commiserate about how much our lives suck. Say it with me now…that’s not how this works.

I wish I had my own chair sometimes.

Trust me…no, you don’t. A nice recliner maybe, but not a wheelchair. For every one thing that looks like it’d be a positive, like being able to sit when everybody else is standing during a church service or the national anthem, there are a hundred other ways in which my life is made more difficult by having to use a wheelchair, and I wouldn’t flippantly wish that on anyone. Don’t misunderstand…that’s not meant to come off as some kind of whiny “poor me” thing…it’s just the truth.

*Grabs wheelchair & pushes without asking*

That doesn’t happen as often as it used to when I was younger, but when it does it’s usually by someone with the best of intentions, and I’ve learned to take a deep breath and react as politely as possible. We all need help sometimes, right?? If I’m out & about on a warm day and trying to make my way up a steeper than it looks incline I am not above accepting a push, but please ask first. Grabbing a person’s wheelchair without permission is akin to someone coming up & touching you inappropriately, like Joe Biden at a campaign rally. As mentioned, a wheelchair is an expensive & delicate piece of equipment, and I don’t need someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing ramming me into a wall or trying to get over a crack in the sidewalk like The Duke Boys avoiding Sheriff Roscoe. This is a little different with friends or family who have spent time with me and are familiar with when & how I may need assistance.

Do you need help??

I’ve really mellowed about this one over the years. My macho pride & need to be cool have lessened, and I admit there are occasions when a little bit of help is nice. However, I am much more likely to accept help from someone I know than a total stranger, which seems pretty logical in my mind. It always makes me feel weird when some sweet little old lady or a grey-haired gentlemen my father’s age asks me if I need help. I feel like I should be offering to help them!!

Have you heard about stem cell research??

Yes, although I don’t know enough about it to really have a deep conversation. Would it “cure” me? I don’t think so. Like I said…I was born a few decades too early.

But you don’t look sick. You look so normal.

Trust me…I’m far from normal lol. And thank you for saying I don’t look sick. I’ll take it as a compliment.

It must be nice not having to go to work.

Wrong!! I do in fact work for a living. I even have a college education. Could I sit at home & collect “rocking chair money” (as my grandfather used to call it)?? Yes. But I don’t want to do that. I haven’t been as professionally successful as I’d prefer or become as prosperous as I’d hoped, but I have no desire to sit at home and do nothing. Having said that, I know that there are people whose disability does prevent them from holding a job, and to opine that that circumstance “must be nice” is just asinine. Don’t be the kind of person who says something like that.

As always I strive for readability in everything I write here, so this seems like a good place to take a break. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion…coming soon.

Happy Anniversary To Me

Today is my anniversary. No, I’m not married, and nothing else cool and wonderful happened on this day. My life was significantly altered on many levels, and though overall the experience must be classified as bad (to say the least), time and distance allow me to see constructive lessons learned.

I was born with spina bifida, which means that I’ve spent my life confined to a wheelchair. That’s a whole other story that will be dealt with some other time. For the purposes of the here and now what is significant is that, as a result of being in my wheelchair many many hours a day attempting to be a productive member of society, I ended up with an ulcer on my tailbone. It was on this day three years ago, April 9 2006, that I went to the doctor after several days of being very ill and having atleast a suspicion of what was occurring. Long story short…I spent 6 weeks in a hospital, then 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility. Yes, I said 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility, at the age of 33. That experience will change a person…..forever. After being released from the “skilled” nursing facility I was not 100% healed and spent the next year at home, unable to do anything like drive or work or actually leave my apartment with the exception of twice monthly doctor appointments. I FINALLY had the surgery that should have been performed originally in October 2007, a year and a half after the esteemed “medical establishment” should have been smart enough to do it. After another soul crushing stint at an even more horrible “skilled” nursing facility (but thankfully for only a month this time) I spent the next few months at home again before being cleared to resume, in moderation, normal activities.

It is not my goal to cry “poor me”. On the contrary, I am painfully aware of just how little we as human beings give a damn about anyone but ourselves. My goal is simply to mark this occasion in some small way so that I never forget what I’ve learned about life, family, faith, friendship and a plethora of other things the past few years. I am an entirely different person in many respects than I was three years ago. In some ways that is regretful, but in other ways it has given me clarity and allowed positive growth.