I’ve read that people are scared of disabled people. Not the people per se, but the disability itself. For me, this statement brings to mind scary cartoon monsters. They are called names like Mad Dog Multiple Sclerosis. Anxiety Annie. Dr Depression. It just seems a touch silly that people are scared of disabilities. Even ones with evil villain names.
But scared they are.
I first saw this when visiting a recently paralysed friend in the hospital. She was very young and had experienced a nasty accident. The tragedy of the accident sent ripples through her local community. But the tragedy continued (tragedy is mean like that) when hardly any of her friends visited. Endless days in a rehabilitation ward with no visitors are no fun at all.
They were scared. Scared that this could happen to someone at such a young age. Scared of what the future might hold. Scared of the hospital environment. Scared that they might not be able to do anything to help. But most of all scared about not knowing what to say. It’s worth remembering that most disabled people would far prefer you to say the wrong thing (with the right intentions) than nothing at all. And disabled people are… just people. The same as anyone else.
As a nurse, I quickly became very comfortable talking about most subjects. I can ask intimate questions with ease. I’ve shared heartbreaking situations with people on a daily basis. And I’ve also become skilled at spotting the small daily moments that make life special. And yet, it is still hard to talk about my own health. Or sit side by side with the pain of someone I love. It’s still hard to bring my whole self to a work environment. And it’s still hard to be a person that talks openly on subjects that can make us all squirm a little. But please do. Please speak out. Because far worse than feeling scared or saying the wrong thing, is staying silent.