December the 10th and I have just eaten a Mince Pie, well I needed something after ASDA’S deliver of my shopping! I unfortunately seem to have bad luck recently with the person delivering our food, all to often I get the grumpy one who enjoys throwing our food all over the place and not talking at all beyond a grunt. I asked this time to please keep the deliver boxes away from the front door as I didn’t want to loose the heat from the house, guess where he put the next one, correct and there was nothing I could do about it. I have always found people like him difficult to deal with as I am the kind of person who always talks to everyone, but when you get no reaction that could be interrupted as human, it is a hard job. It was at first the thing I found hardest about living in England, I moved to Portsmouth in 1977 and stayed there for just under 2 years. My first few visits to the local shop made me feel like I had three heads and an invisibility cloak from neck down. People just look straight through you and when you spoke to them, they acted as thought you had fallen off a tree and rarely spoke back, other than in grunts. I did find though that the longer I lived there and the longer I persisted in talking, they slowly began to talk back and the odd one learned to say “hello” before I did. I have always been that sort of person, I have never found a reason to not acknowledge another living person, unless of course I have been totally distracted, but when someone talks to me, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or how they sound, I talk back. How we react to people and how others react to us, makes a huge difference to how you feel about yourself. I suppose I am even more aware of it, firstly due to being heavily tattooed and how others reacted if they were on view, to when they were covered and then how things changed once I gave into a walking stick and later my wheelchair. How a person looks makes a huge difference to far to many people, does it matter in any way at all as you are still the same human being. I just wish that people would slow down from the rushing everywhere life style and allow a minute here and there to make someone else’s life brighter by simply talking to and smiling at them. It’s not hard, but it can change lives far more than you might imagine.
It really is one of the hardest things when you are living with a chronic illness. The fact you are ill makes you far more aware of how others see and react to you, I know it was what held me back from actually accepting the fact I needed to use aids. Going out that first time with a stick, was actually really, really hard, strangely harder than the wheelchair. I know I was scanning others faces to see how they reacted towards me and far too often what I saw, made it harder to actually go out again. I didn’t need the looks of pity or the questioning stares, nor did I need the occasional look that simply made me uncomfortable to be there. I’m sure I am not the only person who has been made to feel that way, as if I wasn’t allowed to be out and about simply because I wasn’t able to walk, the worst place for that reaction was actually in pubs and bars. In fact I would say it was in any place you would go on a social bases, the very places that people who are all to often spend long hours alone actually need to be able to go. It would have been nice to be made welcome rather than being sneered at by people who had to let you past because you are on wheels. Adam and I used to go out together before I wasn’t really able to, for me it was those reactions that slowly ate away at me and stopped me from going at all. I used to be a bar manager many years ago, making everyone welcome is a major factor in running a business, I saw very little of it. I didn’t change when that stick or the chair appeared, I was still the friendly chatty person I had always been, but it wasn’t what I had returned, far to often I was made to feel I was a nuisance. I have heard a great number of people who say they are not housebound, but stay at home nearly all the time, getting out only very occasionally, their health is cutting them off from the outside world, but I am reasonably sure that not being made welcome out there, has a great deal to do with it. Government can force companies to supply ramps, lifts and disabled toilets for the rest of time, but if once you have gone up that ramp only to find people who clearly don’t really want you there, is just as much, if not more of a barrier than 10 flights of stairs would be.
Chronic illness steals our lives slowly, yes every one eventually sees what it has done to our bodies and our health, bit by bit leaving us more and more disabled. It steals our friends as they vanish one by one, unable to deal with the whole situation. With friends vanishing we are simultaneously hit by a world that doesn’t want us amongst them, finding and building new friendships gets harder and harder, as all the places where time can be spent with them, just don’t want you there. How to change all that, well I don’t know how you change a nation, or even a world. It’s a one person by one person situation, each has to be shown and taught that wheels or not, we are still people with lives, voices and personalities, try talking to us, try listening to us, we are just the same as you.