All, Chronic Illness, Disability, Insecurities, My Favorites, Personal Experiences, Transverse Myelitis

“What Happened to You?”

Update: This post has also been featured on The Mighty! Check it out here.

I’m just browsing the bakery section of the grocery store with my friend, Sarah Todd, one dayas people tend to do when they are searching for dinner items but get distracted by their sweet-teethwhen we hear someone approach us from behind.

We turn around to see a lady, one who works at the bakery, staring at me and smiling. When I give her a confused smile back, she opens her mouth to say something, and I brace myself for the inevitable.

“What’d you do to your leg?” she questions, pointing to the purple AFO on my left foot. I shift in my seat awkwardly, not particularly interested in explaining the story behind my disability to this stranger at the present moment. Right now, all I want to do is continue shopping, like everyone else in this grocery store.

“It’s a long story,” I politely tell her, already turning to leave the area. Maybe we can head to the candy aisle instead…

“Is it a funny story?”

I turn right back around and stare at the lady, blind-sided by this follow-up question. Her cheery expression seems to falter for a millisecond, as if she’s rethinking the words that just came out of her mouth. But still, she looks at me expectantly, waiting for my response.

Not unless you happen to find Transverse Myelitis funny. Though, we all have different senses of humor, I suppose…

“Um… N-no, not really…” I finally stutter.

Somehow, this still doesn’t satisfy her curiosity.

“Well, then, what happened?”

I want to tell the lady that it’s none of her business. I want to ask her why she feels so entitled to know my full storya story which is very personal, an experience that was emotionally traumatic and life-alteringwhen she likely won’t ever see me again. I want to ask her extensive questions about her medical history as well, to show her how invasive it feels.

But I don’t. I don’t do any of that. I just briefly explain Transverse Myelitis, that it damaged my spinal cord. I tell her that the AFO’s purpose is to correct my foot drop. Luckily, this answer finally seems to satisfy her, and at that, Sarah Todd and I promptly leave the bakery section of the store.

But, as we’re walking/rolling away, Sarah Todd turns to me and, not quieting her voice in the slightest, exclaims, “That was absolutely none of her business. I can’t believe how rude she was being.”

I smile at that. Seeing as she has Transverse Myelitis and is disabled as well, I know she gets it. On the bright side, at least I have friends who are also able to recognize the ignorance of too many able-bodied people.

And also, she’s so, so right. It wasn’t any of the lady’s business, and really, I had every right to tell her off. I shouldn’t have to bypass my own comfort to appease a complete stranger.

But this is a problem that us disabled people face daily. We are asked invasive questions every time we go out, while most people probably wouldn’t even begin to consider asking able-bodied strangers things like that, or even approaching them in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong I love raising awareness for my disorder, and any of my friends could tell you that I’m pretty open about those things. I actually encourage friends, family members, classmates, people I’m getting to know, etc. to ask questions about my disability and chronic illnesses. I want them to understand, and I’d prefer that new friends just ask rather than let it be the “elephant in the room” for too long, because that just gets awkward for everyone involved.

However, there is a time and place for those conversations. When we’re already talking to each other, getting to know each other in a friend-meeting setting? Sure, that’s a great time to bring it up, and I don’t mind at all if you do so. But when I’m just minding my own business, trying to shop like everyone else in the store or waiting for my drink like everyone else in line at Starbucks… In those cases, it is, quite frankly, absolutely none of your business.

 

What is it about the sight of a wheelchair or crutches or leg braces or hand splints that makes it suddenly okay to approach a random stranger and pry into their personal life?

Say you’re at the beach and notice as you pass by a random girl that she has a scar near her abdomen. Would you go up to them and ask if it came from an appendectomy?

Chances are, probably not. If you got to know her, you might find out about the scar’s origin eventually, but it’d be rude to go up to her as a stranger and ask like that. So why is it any different when it comes to us?

 

(Oh, and pro tip: It’s maybe not the best idea to say things like “is it because your boyfriend beat you?” as a way of asking what happened… And yes, I’ve actually gotten that. That’s just… Not okay? Like, ever? What?)

 

Chronic Illness, Disability, My Favorites, Transverse Myelitis

The Little Things

This poem is dedicated to my friend Alex, who also battles TM. She helped spark this poem; we were having a deep conversation about this topic a couple weeks ago. She appears in this poem as “a girl”. :p

Our TM stories are very different, and yet we can still relate to each other in many ways!! I thought having another story interwoven into this poem would help get the point across, since the “little thing” vary from person to person. 🙂 Enjoy! I’m proud of this one.

 

From the time I could hold a pencil,
Could form shaky letters with the graphite tip,
Only semi-legible,
I loved to write.

I’d write stories,
Imaginative and mysterious,
About wizards and dragons and princesses;
About talking flowers and animals, and taking a trip to the moon.

When I was a child,
I had a routine with my father.
A few days a week we’d practice pull-ups in the basement.
He taught me a lot about life with those pull-ups:
“You can always try to do one more.”

He taught me to push myself, and push myself I did,
In every aspect of my life.

I loved roller coasters,
Especially ones
With the biggest drop.

I loved the feeling of my stomach in my chest
And screaming loudly with my arms in the air.

I know a girl
Who loved fuzzy socks and hot showers,
And skipping and dancing while she walked.

When you’re paralyzed,
When you have a chronic illness,
A lot is taken away.

I can’t walk well; she can’t at all.
We can’t run or ride a bike,
And both of us
Have overwhelming
Pain and fatigue.

We’re teenagers,
And can’t keep up with our homework,
Let alone our friends.

But that’s not what puts a lump in our throats everyday.

When I think of the little things,
Like writing with my right hand,
Or doing pull-ups with my dad,
My heart
Aches.

When I think of riding a roller coaster,
When I think of the pleasant drop of my stomach
Instead of dizziness and pain
That lasts for
Hours,
I feel sick.

I miss them,
The little things in life.

When people look at someone who’s disabled,
When they find out what ails them,
They say that they’ll
Learn
To appreciate the obvious
Like walking and running.

But that’s hardly what people take for granted.

That girl
Cannot feel the warmth of the water dripping from the shower head
On her legs;
It’s something most of you experience
Every.
Single.
Day.

No one would give it a second thought,
And yet she’d kill to be able to feel it
Just once more.

It might not seem like much,
Since she can’t feel the wind traveling through her hair
As she runs,
Or move anywhere
Without pushing the metal rims
On hard rubber wheels.

And yet,
When she sees the water
Slashing across her lifeless legs
Every day,
The warmth is what she imagines and longs for.
Not walking.

You write with your dominant hand
Every
Single
Day.

You use it to write out checks,
To scribble out a grocery list,
To write a quick note to your mom:
“I’m at Jane’s house”.

You’ve written like that since kindergarten;
There’s no reason to give it
A second thought.

But I miss it.

I miss writing with my right hand,
But I can’t.

Paralysis has ruined it
And it’s doubtful it’ll be
“Fixed”.

Yes, it’s the little things that hurt the most;
We may never know them again.

It’s the little things that make my heart ache,
That make me the most nostalgic.

It’s the little things I most often wish to have back.

The minuscule,
“Unimportant”
Things are the ones we do
Every day.

The things that are part of a routine,
The ones we are most used to,
Are small puzzle pieces in life
That leave holes
When taken away.

And we want to find those pieces,
To put them back where they belong
Because they create a sense
Of normalcy.

Because when so much of your life has been taken away,
When so much is missing,
You crave the little things
Day
After
Day.

Chronic Illness, Disability, Poems

Lost Childhood

As a young child,

Your biggest worries

Are the weather-

Will it rain today?-

And which annoying sibling

Stole your toy.

 

As a young teen,

Your biggest worries

Are clothes

And friends

And homework.

Other than that,

You have your life ahead of you.

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

You get many more years

To think about that.

 

Who’s your best friend?

It may change soon, it may not.

Your answer might not be what it was a month ago.

But you have fun regardless,

Fun with the day’s BFF.

 

What will you wear for picture day?

Will it be a dress or a skirt,

Jeans or leggings?

In a year that will not matter;

You have your life ahead of you.

 

No problems as a young teen,

Young and in middle school,

Or as a little kid,

Playful and innocent,

Should last.

 

They’re temporary.

 

You’re young, you’re naïve.

 

You think it will last,

The care-free nature of childhood.

 

You feel old,

And yet you don’t truly need to worry.

 

You shouldn’t have to worry about

Adults in white coats

And stethoscopes,

 

Thin white sheets

On a button-filled bed,

 

Tests and tests and tests

To tell you what’s wrong.

 

Pills to make you feel better.

 

You shouldn’t have to worry about

Whether or not you’ll get better.

Whether or not your life will begin again,

Whether or not these fears will last

The rest of your life.

 

You don’t think they will last.

 

Why should they?

 

They never have before

 

But slowly you are forced to realize,

As a child,

That they’re not going to leave.

 

They’ll stay with you forever,

Unlike 6th grade picture day

Or a failed math quiz.

 

Unlike a lost toy,

Or wet clothes.

 

They’re forced to grow up,

Forced to mature beyond their time.

 

One day

We might find a cure,

A cure for illnesses

Affecting children.

 

One day

We might find cures,

And save the innocent, necessary childhood

Of many.

 

We can only hope.

And believe.

And pray.

And be aware.