The Power Of Your Gaze
(I am still struggling to think through the fog. What normally takes seconds to flow out of me onto the page has taken over an hour to pull out of me, but I want to write about the experience of today, so please bear with this piece of journaling.)
Monday April 29, 2019
Head heavy with lack of sleep, leaning back against the headrest, tired body sinking into the deep armchair, music blaring in my ears to block out the sounds of the incessant chatter that is characteristic of public places, I am outside the boundaries of my element of isolation and solitude.
A planned power outage scheduled for the better part of today has brought me to a nearby coffee shop in search of a hot drink, power, and, of course, wifi. Not because I can’t survive a day without it but because for my peace of mind and security as a spoonie living over 100km away from my family and friends, I need to preserve my data and be reachable to those worrying about me from afar.
As I curled myself into this chair, taking in this eclectic reading lounge that I immediately fell in love with the first time I crossed over its threshold from the cafe, I realized that more than the recovery needed for my physical body after the trek here, it was my emotional and mental state that needed time to recover.
Time to build myself back up from the drain it is on my system to be made to feel like a spectacle, like an object of so many others’ attention that is filled with...curiosity? ...confusion? ...pity? Whatever the reason, as I slowly pushed my walker down the sunlit sidewalk and desired to focus my own attention on the glorious sunshine, its warmth, and the way it made the greenery come alive with vibrancy, it nagged at me.
This uncomfortable sensation of being stared at and watched, noticing one turned head after another, every driver turning to stare out their window at the woman with the buzz cut pushing her walker as they whizzed by.
It felt, with each peering face in my direction, as if their gaze was a bullet flying towards my personal bubble, the impact reverberating around me, the vibrations vibrating through me, chipping away at my protective sphere little by little, one look after another.
Self conscious, uncomfortable, internally withering up while forcing my shoulders back, lifting my head, trying to stand confident and tall while being made to feel so small.
Yes, I know I look different. I know I probably stand out. I’m tall, I’m bald (well, pretty much, it’s a very tight buzz cut!), I’m a 31-year old (who frequently gets pegged as looking 25 or younger) woman who strangely is in a wheelchair or walking with a four-wheeled walker, and I can understand the questions naturally running through their minds.
But please don’t stare.
It is exhausting to deal with, when I am already exhausted to the bone.
It is alienating, when I already feel displaced and like I don’t fit into the narrow moulds of the society I grew up in.
It is demoralizing, when learning to accept the use of assistive devices has already felt like a long, demoralizing battle.
I have come a long way with how I personally feel about using a wheelchair and walker, but the effect of how other people feel about me using them still gets to me, still inhibits me from using them as much as I need to be using them, still makes me feel so self conscious, which is hard when you’ve faced crippling levels of self-consciousness your whole life.
I may no longer wish to fit in, for fitting into this society that can still be so myopic in belief, perspective, and awareness no longer feels right, but that doesn’t mean that I want you to make me feel like I stand out.
I’m not a spectacle for you to ogle at. I am a human being, just like you. You live in a world where there are people, young, middle-aged, and old who are sick and/or physically disabled, whether you can see it or not.
It’s time to stop being surprised. It’s time to wake up and be aware.