I notice it most when I’m tired and I make mistakes.
Sometimes the fatigue will cause me to become sloppy. I’ll miscalculate and take a wrong step, or I will not gauge the depth of clearance I have before I need to pivot from a wall. I’ll smack into it and hurt my shoulder. Ruefully, I will rub it as I am walking away.
People will stare. Look at me strangely. I will ignore them and keep on walking.
But some people will notice that I don’t look “right,” and ask me, “Are you okay?”
How do I tell them? I wonder to myself.
How do I tell them that I am actually feeling great? That I am walking around without thick prism glasses to alleviate my double vision? That I am wobbly because I am daring to venture out without my cane to hold me steady?
You see, it is very strange seeing a well-dressed woman stumble and bump into things in the middle of the day like an incredibly drunk tavern dweller. Most bystanders don’t know why, so they avoid walking near me, as if my affliction, whether drunkenness or clumsiness, is communicable.
But some people will ask me that question. Some people may even ask if I need help. They will often ask if I need help as I am walking down the stairs. Clutching the railing tightly, I will slowly take one step and steady myself before attempting the next. It takes incredibly long to go down one flight of stairs, so I take the elevator whenever possible. But I don’t expect that there will be an elevator everywhere. In fact, most places are not very accessible.
However, it is more noticeable when I go someplace and I park in a disabled parking spot. As I exit the car, people will look at the young, thirty something chick with a leather jacket, manicured nails and flashy midi rings with gold shoes. They will look disapprovingly at me with their judgey scowls and raised eyebrows.
It’s times like this that I wish I had my cane with me.
Not everyone realizes that the girl they are looking at with the flashy rings and leather jacket is the same girl that was fighting for her life in a hospital just over a year ago. A girl that couldn’t speak when she woke from her week long coma, strapped to the bed like an animal. A girl that couldn’t eat because of the breathing tube down her throat. A girl that had to rely on gestures and sign language to pull the curtains because she wasn’t strong enough to do it on her own, having lost 20 pounds in the hospital. A girl that was released from the hospital two months later in a wheelchair and instructions to practice walking a few feet with someone holding on to her every day.
No. Not everyone realizes that when they look at me. They see a seemingly normal looking person who needs to stop using her grandmother’s disabled placard or stop drinking so damn much in the middle of the day.
Sometimes I want to say to their face, ‘Hey, why don’t you have a ruptured brain aneurysm and stroke, and spend two months in the hospital? If you don’t die, as 40–60% of people do, or spend the rest of your life in a vegetative state as most survivors do, you can tell me if you are disabled enough to warrant a parking placard.’
And what do I say to those people who ask me if I’m okay?
I tell them the truth: “I’m doing great! I am better than I have been in months!”
No, I’m not perfect. I’m not “back to normal.” But I am alive, thanks to The Creator. And for that, I am grateful everyday.