What I Wish I Knew About People's Reactions to My Disability When I Was First Injured
Having a spinal cord injury means you suddenly acquire one of the most physical disabilities that can exist. The transition from being able-bodied to disabled can be incredibly difficult, and one of the most difficult aspects is learning to deal with the difference in how you are treated once you become disabled.
Human beings do not deal with a disability that great. They will ignore it, compartmentalize it or they will run away from it. Friends, family, and strangers will treat you differently, but it need not ruin you. Read on for advice from SCI survivors on what they would've loved to have known about reactions to their disability when they were first injured.
Humans Love to Stare
It can be difficult to be the object of staring, but this will happen the moment you're wheeled out of your hospital room. Human beings are curious creatures and will always look. Many people find this offensive after their injuries and will get mad, but try not to let this upset you. Most people who stare do not even realize they're being rude. If however, they continue to stare for several minutes, you have every right to wave or to say something.
Not Understanding Can Turn Into Fear
One of the saddest things that can happen after a spinal cord injury is people no longer hearing from their close friends and acquaintances. For many who have never known anyone with a spinal cord injury before, or let alone any kind of disability, you’ve suddenly become an unknown territory and people are unsure how to navigate this.
Sadly, since many people do not understand disability, it can turn into fear. To help people overcome their fear, let your friends know you are an open book and they can ask you anything they would like. This can help the process of moving forward with your friends after a disability.
Guilt Can Stem from Their Able-Bodiedness
People may hide it, but there is a certain amount of guilt people will sometimes feel when around someone with a disability. It may be a stranger, your mother, or a sibling who feels guilty, seeing their lives flourish while yours takes a much different path. It is up to you to let them know that you do not look at them with jealousy. We live in an able-bodied people world and most people with disabilities are ok with that.
People Will Ask “What Happened?” Forever
One of the first reactions people will have to your disability is they want to know more and will always ask, "What happened?" As annoying as this is on certain days when the last thing you want to talk about is how your injury occurred, just know that this will continue to happen. Humans are curious creatures and will always want to know more. Instead of getting upset when someone asks, remind yourself that humans can’t help themselves. If you must, give them a crazy, humorous tale to satiate their curiosity without giving them the real story.
You May Need to Take the Initiative When Socializing
You'll also notice when you’re first injured that your social life may slowly dry up, and this is also because of people's unsureness about your state. Many people don't even know if you still want to do the same things as before. It is important for you to take the initiative and show people that you still like to get out and enjoy yourself and that you're the same person. There is a certain amount of education you'll have to do with your friends in this area of life.
Remember, humans are complicated creatures and do not let any of their strange, bizarre and at times superficial actions bring you down to where you are unable to function. You are a survivor and remember that throughout your journey post-injury.
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Spinal Cord Team