Sometimes, getting around can be difficult. It takes a lot of concentration for us to get about, and heavens above it can get tiring. The last thing you need on top of all of that is someone giving you the eye – and I don’t mean in a good way, either!
If I had to find some ways of describing how having CP impacts my life, one of them would be that whereas someone admiring how someone looks tends to quite literally ‘look them up and down’, folks with CP are better accustomed to being ‘looked down and up.’
What I mean by that is exactly what I’ve said; when I break out my best shirt and I actually remember to put on some pants, Mrs Paddock will often look me up and down – she’s only human after all, right? And she married me for a reason! So that’s the up and down for you. That’s nice.
Many with a disability or something that people often find curious to the eye, are often met with the down and up. If I ever take leave of my senses and occasionally walk around town or somewhere public, I see the down and up. In a maze and general blur of legs and people walking around and everything generally looking ‘normal’, my odd gait, limp and lean is an anomaly – and often people can’t help but instinctively look at it. What happens next really defines people: most people, in a fraction of a second, realise they’re instinctively looking at my legs or feet, and divert their gaze elsewhere. I have no problem with those people. It’s instinctive, not deliberate, let’s not get oversensitive. It’s all good.
The other people? They’re the down and up people. They, generally, are divided into two groups – the very young, and the ignorant. The very young are much like the group of people I just described – fairly blameless. If you’re a toddler, you’re often (not always) underexposed to disability and what it looks like. So, if a two-year-old sees me hobbling around or in my wheelchair, they’re curious. They look at my feet and draw their gaze upwards. Hello, they think to themselves, what do we have here? This man walks kinda funny; this person is being pushed around in a chair – what’s that about? Generally speaking, I don’t mind the very young. What I do mind is the ignorant. These are the adults, more often than not. It sounds unthinkable in this day and age, but they’re a mixture of frightened, disgusted and shocked by how disabled people look.
I was walking through a shop once and caught the gaze of an elder gentlemen at my feet. As I walked past him, he was transfixed – up to my knees, up to the waist, all while sporting a very prominent and not-very-well-hidden frown. If I could caption this expression, it would say one of:
“What are you doing out of the house on your own?!”
“Shouldn’t you have normal adult with you?”
“Ugh – what’s wrong with you?! Stay away from me!”
Nowadays, I greet this with a stare back in their direction and a cheeky smile or a wink. Might even blow them a kiss. Once I even retorted with “don’t worry, mate, you can’t catch it!” It bothers me a little, but it doesn’t upset me – not any more.
That wasn’t always the case, though, and that’s the point I really want to make in this installment of the blog. I know there will be younger people living with CP who experience this – it’s entirely a form of discriminatory behaviour, and it isn’t right, so you must not think a) it is right or b) that it’s in any way your fault. You are not responsible for other people’s ignorance.
I can understand it’s upsetting. I’ve been there. But this kind of attention deserves the response any other kind of ignorance deserves – you must rise above it. Be bigger, bolder and stronger. Young kids are fine – they’re curious and learning about the world – give them a smile and say hello. But if you find yourself getting the down-up stare from someone that you’re sure is old enough to know better, please never let it make you feel like you’re any less a person, or that you’re ugly, or don’t look ‘normal’ – what on earth is ‘normal’, anyway?
CP isn’t a cold, and you’re not spreading any germs (unless you have CP and happen to catch a cold, in which case you are!), so keep walking, limping or wheeling with pride.