Every once in awhile, something happens that really “jerks the rug out from under me” in regards to disability and invisible illness. Hearing Elmo, numerous support and community service groups, and strong connections with others who GET IT, usually keep me cruising along with optimism and a healthy passion for life. However, once in awhile something may happen and I ALLOW it to undermine my confidence and throw me for a loop.
About a month ago I was at church and turned to walk out of a small group study into the foyer. A person I see every single Sunday stuck out their hand and shook mine saying, “Is this your new dog?” Because I have a hearing loss, I default to a specific response when I hear something that I know cannot be right. I’m desperate to clear up what my ears MUST have misunderstood so I am eloquent in my response:
“HUH?” I asked with big eyes.
He repeated, “Is this your new service dog?”
I stammered and was able to eek out, “No, I’ve had Chloe for almost 6 years now” and walked/wobbled away as quickly as I could. I could hear him still talking and looking uncomfortable (I’m sure I looked completely shell-shocked), but I wasn’t going to stand around and “play nice” when I felt truly sucker-punched! I made my way to the car and sat waiting for my husband, trying to make sense of what I’d just heard.
Prior to this I had missed a Sunday. Chloe had been sick one weekend (something that happens as she is in contact with so many things a pet is not) and having been up all night, I skipped church with her. Had this church leader asked this because Terry probably informed him I was gone because of a sick pup and he assumed much more than what was going on? If he sees me each and every Sunday, how do you not recognize the bright, red dog who has been my partner for almost 6 years? How in the world can someone get a specially trained service dog so quickly even if you DID have to suddenly retire another dog? Did he not know it took me 15 months of training to even get matched with Chloe? You don’t slap a vest on a pet dog and call it a service dog. These dogs are tested for temperament, trained for public access, and trained to perform specific tasks. It takes years and thousands of dollars! All these questions whirled through my head.
I’ll be honest with you and admit…
I WAS MAD. After that though I was actually very hurt. A couple of weeks later I finally ‘fessed up to my husband about what happened at church. Small miracle THAT to keep it quiet from him that long – but proof positive how deeply this had affected me.
There are some real perks to being married to a psychologist . Long story – short, after discussing all the reasons this person must have misunderstood what was going on in my life, we agreed that some people just don’t get it. This doesn’t mean they don’t CARE. They just don’t get it. My response has to be – CUT ‘EM SOME SLACK.
Even though this person is in church leadership and sees me every Sunday, to my knowledge they do not have anyone close to them who lives with disability or invisible/chronic illness. I don’t think they even own a pet dog and I’m probably the only one they know with a service dog. We don’t hang out. I don’t share my life with them. (They don’t read Hearing Elmo – smile).
You are going to have people in your life you simply must, “cut ‘em some slack”. Maybe they are a co-worker that you don’t work with very often – maybe only a couple of times a month. Maybe it is a cashier at a grocery store who you occasionally see when you are in her line; or, perhaps a bank teller, physicians assistant at a doctor’s office, or UPS man ringing your doorbell.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m the first one to encourage folks to educate in a proactive and positive way, how best to communicate, or assist (if needed). However, the people you take the time to share how best to interact with you, are folks you have a more intimate relationship with and see frequently. Close co-workers, friends, parents of your KID’S friends, people you see more often and converse with a lot… these are folks you are proactive with and to whom you communicate your needs. They very likely will care enough to ask YOU how best to assist or communicate. This means there are plenty of folks you’ve left out of the loop
They don’t need to know the details. You may have a relationship with them, but it is not a close relationship. I, for example, do not need to let a church leader know how long it took me to get matched with Chloe, nor how often we continue to train at Fidos For Freedom to polish and perfect our skills each month. We make eye contact and smile once a week. We may shake hands one or two times a month. This person does not need to know how badly he erred, nor do I need to take him to task for being clueless about something I’ve not invited him to know about regarding ME.
There are folks at work, church, and whom I interact with often enough that they have learned how best to communicate with me. It may be a friend inviting me over to her very quiet, empty house to catch up! It may be a nurse I see often at my primary care doctor who quickly re-reads the bookmark I asked to be stapled in my chart that reminds her I need her to face me. It reminds her I have Chloe so she helps me make sure Chloe doesn’t have her paws on the scale when I’m weighed (seriously, right?). It may be the lady I see every morning walking her dog who use to act hurt when she struck up a conversation with me and I didn’t hear her at first. Now she stands nearer and faces me and we talk about the weather or our families as we “potty our dogs” before heading out! It may be the friend in small group at church who knows I’m having a really bad balance day. As I sit in the back out of the way, she stops to confirm, “So if you pass out… I keep everyone from calling 9-1-1, and just get Terry, right?” It may be the co-worker I see every day while retrieving my mail from the Arts & Sciences department. Our boxes are next to each other and it stood to reason that I explain I only need her to get my attention first before speaking…
You know who needs to have a more clear idea of “who you are”. But there are plenty of people we need to cut some slack. We just do not see them frequently enough to take the time to give them our life story (smile). You know the difference. I’m not saying it is EASY when misunderstood. I felt mad, then hurt, then filled with righteous indignation, bent on educating someone who really isn’t a part of my life. I had to let it go.
I’m learning a life worth living is all about choosing the battles and knowing when to take a stand. We learn to determine who to take to task and who to cut some slack. We never stop learning!