I went shopping with Daughter #2 this weekend. Yes, we braved the post-Christmas mall craziness. I brought my rollator so I could more easily pack water and have a place to sit.
The rollator was a great idea for managing my vertigo. But there was a side effect. I seem to be invisible with my rollator.
That’s not what I expected. I expected to be more visible with my rollator.
I’m not much wider with my rollator. The rollator extends my personal space on the front with the basket, and back rest. (When I’m not sitting, the back rest is on the front.) No, I have not added neon stripes or streamers yet. Nor have I added the blinking LED lights that kid’s shoes have. But my personal space extends a good foot or so in front of me.
That didn’t stop people from plowing into me. I would stop, wait for them to go by, or stop, but they didn’t. They didn’t see me. Daughter and I looked at each other and laughed. What else would we do?
The first time it happened, we were walking in Macy’s on the main corridor. A woman on a mission came out of a side corridor. Her nose was in the air. I’m not sure she saw anyone. She didn’t stop, just kept going. She stumbled into the rollator. I stopped. She backed up. She bumped into it again, then looked down, realized I was there, walked around and continued. No words, just kept going. Like I said, she was on a mission. I do hope she found what she wanted.
The next time, a small boy decided to cut in front of me as I was passing a store in the mall. I guess it was imperative that he make the doorway before I passed him. I’m not sure. He was surprised at my speed. I’m not sure what he expected.
But it’s not just children that do this. Adults do, too. I don’t mind people passing me. I mind when they pass me and cut me off.
I realized what was going on. People are afraid of me. Why? Because I don’t look that old. My legs still work. So what’s the problem? By process of elimination, it must be in my brain. (Do people really think that in the front of their heads? I don’t know. I think it’s in the subconscious. But, I’m mind-reading. I don’t know.)
Here’s what I suspect happens:
If I don’t see you, you don’t exist.
Even if I see you, if I don’t acknowledge you, you don’t exist.
If I don’t acknowledge you, what happened to you, can’t happen to me.
Therefore, I won’t see you. I won’t acknowledge you. I won’t get what you have. I will protect my brain and my body.
Some people fear handicapped people. Some people have some cognitive dissonance about handicapped people. If you ask people, they know they can’t “catch” anyone’s handicaps. But that’s not how they feel. They want to protect themselves. As they should.
Gentle readers, you can’t catch what I have. You can’t catch anyone’s handicap. You are safe! But did that change how you feel when you see a handicapped person? I suspect not.
People fear what they don’t know. Even when the person they don’t know is smiling. I don’t always smile when I walk. I was having a tough day while we were shopping. I don’t know if I smiled the entire time.
But this fear of the unknown is part of what is undiscussable in society. That’s what my cloak of invisibility really hides.
I discuss my handicap. I blog about it! I’m frank with my clients, “I might look drunk when I walk, but I guarantee you, I am not. I have vertigo.” I refuse to let this condition have power over me.
When people fear other people’s handicaps, that fear has power over them. It’s something they can’t easily discuss. And that’s a shame.
Knowledge is power. Discussing what happens to create handicaps allows people to prevent them, maybe. Fear then becomes “Fantasy experienced as reality.” Jerry Weinberg said that to me many years ago.
My cloak of invisibility hides the fear that other people have about me. When I realized that, I felt empowered. What a gift that woman gave me. Let’s discuss the undiscussable.