One of my best friends and I first met in the spring of 2010 when my body was the best it had ever been. After months and months of walking up and down the gigantic hill in Egham, living in a building that was only accessible by staircase, and committing to pilates at least twice a week, I was the thinnest I’d been in four years. I had the best posture I’d ever had, my limp was barely visible, my pelvis was far more balanced, my legs were straight, and my feet didn’t clunk when I walked. I knew that some of my disability was still evident, but I also knew that I had made monumental progress. After we’d been friends for a few weeks, my friend told me that when she first met me, she thought I’d been in an accident. This is a common assumption and misconception. People think that my disability is actually reduced mobility as a result of a car accident.
When people ask me if I was hit by a car – or tell me point blank that I look as though I have been hit by a car – I usually tell them I am physically impaired or that I have a physical disability. There are times when I wish I had told people I was in a car accident. That response might make them consider me someone in recovery rather than someone with a disability. I wonder how their perception of me would shift and how they would treat me if they believed that my visible mobility problems were the result of an accident and not a disability.
If I consistently told people that my disability was actually injury as a result of a car accident, I would have to construct a story (more for myself) to ‘explain’ the different things that I can do and can’t do as a result of being in a car accident. That would shift my perspective on how to converse about it, how to think about it, how to manage it, and how to respond to people’s reactions and their perceptions of me. I think people might treat me differently than they do now because they wouldn’t consider me a disabled person to be handled delicately. They would see me as a survivor of trauma who is ‘the same as them’ so they might actually be tough on me (as they would be with anyone else) in a way that I am unused to. It’s strange how I find that I want to be treated kindly in some ways and to be treated ‘the same as everyone else’ in other ways. The two don’t seem to complement each other very well, and I find my emotional reactions to being treated ‘the same’ are quite overwhelming and sometimes unsettling.
I don’t yet have a language to describe my present physical state to strangers or to new people in a quick succinct understandable way because I am ‘in progress’ or ‘in between’ or ‘rehabilitating.’ I don’t tell strangers ‘I have a physical disability I have been working to cure myself of.’ I usually just say I have a physical impairment that does not affect me mentally and that I will ask for the help I need. When I get to know people more, I tell them that I am working to overcome or cure myself of my disability. I don’t open with that story and don’t even say it the first few times I meet someone. In writing this, I realize that this can pose a challenge for me: people form an idea of me as a disabled person within the first few times they meet me and – while they seem impressed or amazed when I tell them I work to overcome it – they still consider me disabled because of what they see in my body and what I have told them from the very beginning.
I considered writing here that I would spend a week communicating to strangers or new people that I was in a car accident, but that would create problems if or when I ever told them the truth (either about my disability or my intent to cure it). I suppose I am just curious as to how people would perceive me and treat me if I had a different explanation for my body and my gait.