Our Era of Intolerance

intolerance

I follow some of the social networking groups for people with MS, and a lot of what I read is sad, but not in the way you might think. Yes, it’s hard to read the about the plight of others who deal with physical pain, but it’s reading about those with emotional pain and scars that is especially rough.

I’m referring to the torment men and women feel about not being the kind of spouse or parent they think they should be. Then there are the single people who are alone and lonely, lamenting the bleak prospect that their disability might make them a social pariah for eternity. I’m also talking about people who lose the ability to sustain a job because their physical limitations prevent it, or their employers put so much pressure on them regarding unscheduled absences and lack of dependability that it isn’t worth the relentless emotional strain.

What I find incredibly sad, however, is reading posts from people whose friends and family question their integrity by suggesting or implying that they aren’t really sick, and that their symptoms are psychological.

Is this kind of callousness the exception or the rule? I’d like to think it is the former, but am afraid it is becoming or has become the latter.

For some of us, our disability is obvious. All you have to do is see the way we walk, or how we navigate our walkers or wheelchairs to recognize we are dealing with something that prevents us from being whole. Your senses provide proof that something is wrong, which makes our condition understandable and acceptable.

But for many, the symptoms are less obvious. You can’t see pain. You can’t see crushing fatigue. You can’t see cognitive fog. You can’t see depression or the general malaise that can emerge from constantly fighting a losing battle. These are not tangible things, so it’s easy and convenient for able-bodied people to be derisive and dismissive.

While I think it’s bullshit, I understand how people who are unrelated and unconnected to us can make those kinds of judgements. After all, we live in an intolerant age, at least in this country, where the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue practices and promotes this kind of thinking. What I can never understand or accept is how family and supposed friends can be so unsupportive and cruel.

Perhaps these attitudes have always existed, and I was blind to them until MS opened my eyes to the plight of others. After all, people who have been living with mental illness or who are not neuro-typical have been dealing with this kind of prejudice for ages.

Still, why is it so hard for people to accept what their eyes can’t see? What makes individuals so dismissive about anyone who is less than whole, who may be odd or quirky, or who simply beats to their own drum? Why is someone who struggles with a physical or mental/emotional illness considered flawed, damaged, and therefore less of a person. Don’t we all deserve a little respect?

Is it insecurity? Do individuals feel uncomfortable or threatened by what they don’t understand? Or do people have the need to prop themselves up by tearing others down?

It’s sad to think that people are more supportive if you are stricken with something like cancer than dealing with a condition that isn’t as obvious, as easily understood, or curable. I hope I’m wrong about this, and am allowing the grim scenarios some of these posts describe to color my judgement about the world we live in. That would be ironic, because I don’t watch news programming of any kind for that very reason. The news is so negative, and paints such a bleak picture of society today, how could anyone who constantly exposes themselves to that message not be pessimistic about the future?

Maybe I should take a respite from these sites.

I was a child during the turbulent 1960’s, so I didn’t understand or feel the civil unrest that existed during that decade. After watching a recent documentary on the year of 1968, I concluded that I would have thought society was coming apart at the seams had I been an adult back then. I also would have feared for my child’s future.

I don’t think we have bottomed out to that degree yet, but it does feel like we are experiencing a renaissance of the 1960’s and heading in that direction. Our current level of social discord permeates everything, and perhaps feeds the point of views that allow people to conclude that our symptoms are all in our head, and all we have to do is stop feeling sorry for ourselves, suck it up, and get with the program. Kindness and empathy still exist, perhaps more than we think, but it is drowned out by all the other noise, and seems harder to find.

Whatever it is that is driving this mean-spiritedness, I hope it dissolves in the not so distant furture, and we all emerge relatively unscathed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does It Matter What People Think?

outside world

I wasn’t self-conscious about my “disability” or even thought of myself as having one after I was initially diagnosed. Back then, I moved around pretty easily. I had a slight limp, my balance was only beginning to get a little shaky, and I occasionally stubbed my toe on uneven surfaces due to the foot drop. But I wasn’t using a cane yet, and could still get from point A to point B quickly and in a straight line.

Nonetheless, I obtained a handicapped parking tag. I remember thinking, if I’m going to be saddled with this I may as well get some perk from it. After all, having access to parking spots closest to a building’s entrance was convenient, and I could fall if I rushed, so why the hell not?  Be that as it may, I had not yet entered the stage of being self conscious about my appearance. That changed the day I stepped out of my car to enter a local grocery store, and noticed a disdainful look from an anonymous passer-by that screamed, “why the hell are you parking there, you fraud!”

To be fair, I had never liked seeing someone who I didn’t think was disabled park in a handicapped spot, thinking it was selfish and self-centered. In fact, I never parked in one thinking it was bad karma, and that the Gods would somehow give me a reason to have to park there if I did.

But my vehicle clearly had the tag hanging from the rear view mirror, and I still got that dirty look, one that said “you’re not really sick.”

This self-conscious period didn’t last long because it soon became obvious I had an issue, and I had become so absorbed in what was happening to me that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about how the general public viewed me. Plus, once the shock that someone might actually think of me that way wore off, I soon came to realize I wasn’t the one with a problem, and never gave it another thought.

I remember this now because I’ve read a lot of chatter recently about the how general public’s attitudes and perceptions can make us self conscious about our appearance, and influence our self-esteem. This makes me very sad, and very angry.

So forgive me as I climb on my soapbox for a moment.

Reflecting on all of this has made me wonder what those who don’t know me think when they see me. Do they think less of me? Do they pity me? Does the sight of me make them uncomfortable? Do they notice me at all? Most importantly, do I even care?

Above all, I don’t want anyone’s pity, and I don’t need their sympathy because I’m fine with the way I am. And I don’t take offense if the sight of me makes people uncomfortable, because I think it subconsciously reminds them of their own mortality, which is scary.

And if my disability somehow reduces my status as a person in the eye of the beholder, they are a shallow ignoramus in my book who, in the immortal words of my basic-training drill sergeant, I wouldn’t give the sweat off my balls if they were dying of thirst.

The bottom line is I really don’t care what the outside world thinks, and haven’t for a while. Friends and family are different, but the general public? Nope!  I am who I am, and if that isn’t good enough, tough shit! But………..

It’s easy for me feel this way because I didn’t begin coping with my condition until I was in my late forties. I was well-established career wise, happily married, and wasn’t concerned about a roof over my head or food on the table. I’ve been blessed to have a spouse that is a genuinely nice, loving person, and not once have I worried she would kick me to the curb. My mobility wasn’t significantly impacted until my son was already in his teens, so I never lost the privilege of playing with him when he was young.

I still have my issues, not wanting to be a burden chief among them. I’ve been guilty of doing too much, and not asking for help. Those close to me, and K in particular, are already doing more than they should, and need a break. But I also see the pain and concern in their eyes when they see me struggle, and know they want to help. Maybe it’s because they feel helpless, and need to so something. It made me put myself in their shoes and imagine how I would feel. So my hardest lesson has been to learn it’s okay to ask for help, and show vulnerability, because doing the opposite does not make us closer. It disconnects us.

And since I am firmly entrenched as a middle-aged person – I hate to admit I’m getting old – I have the benefit of a perspective I would not have had in my twenties or early thirties.

I would have freaked out if I was stricken at that age. I’d think of myself as damaged goods, and probably do everything in my power to hide or downplay my symptoms so the opposite sex wouldn’t run and hide. After all, who is going to want to hitch their saddle on a broken horse? Nobody wants to be alone, and we especially don’t want to be alone because of something we never asked for.

That perspective also knows this would have been a fool’s errand, because presenting ourselves as something we aren’t is a betrayal of trust, and only leads to worse heartache down the road.

In a perfect world, everyone would understand that living with the physical burdens of a chronic condition does not change our core. It (hopefully) doesn’t change our personality, our sense of humor, our integrity, or any the things that make us who we are. Those attributes are what is most important, and should be the only reason someone chooses to  like us, love us, be our friends, or want to hang with us. Sure, the packaging is important, but lasting relationships are built on more than that. It’s sad to think this might be lost on some, but it’s sadder to let outside opinions change who we are, and lose ourselves in the process.

So my message, particularly to young adults, is I’m not minimizing that it hurts knowing our condition could influence how a person thinks or feels about us in a less than flattering way. It could also be the deciding factor when considering whether to take a risk and share a life with somebody. This reality is unfair, and can make anyone feel angry, frustrated and hopeless.

But it’s their loss, not ours. It can be a tough pill to swallow, but it shouldn’t change how we feel about ourselves.