On What to Say

I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes people don’t always know what to say when you, as a person with a disability, are frustrated with said disability and need to vent about it. I totally get it. People want to say the right thing. They don’t want to be offensive (with the exception of people who say ignorant things about your limp in the vein of “that looks like it hurts”) and want to be supportive. I don’t want to speak for the entire community, but in my experience, one of the most helpful things you can say is this:

“I can’t even imagine what that must feel like, but I’m always here for you and here to listen.”

A lot of times people try to relate their experience to yours. I’m guilty of doing this with other people myself when I shouldn’t. As an example, someone recently said to me, “well if it makes you feel any better, I fell today.” There are two problems with this. One, of course that doesn’t make me feel any better to know someone else fell and potentially hurt themselves, and two, someone able bodied just can’t understand what it’s like to fall as a disabled person. I tried to nicely point out to this person that at least they were able to pick themselves up off the ground and keep going. They didn’t need to try get up or find help. They didn’t sit there on the ground as people walked by or pretended not to see them struggling to try get up. I don’t say this to be harsh, but the reality is that an able bodied person will never be able to fully understand what it’s like to have a disability. So when someone tries to relate their experience to yours, it tends to only make us feel worse, even when we know you mean well. There are plenty of struggles other people have in the world that I’ll never even be able to begin to fathom too.

Another common response I get sometimes is, “well it could be worse.” I absolutely agree that this is true and have even said it about my own situation when I’m trying to talk myself out of feeling bad. I’m very lucky in a lot of aspects of my life, some not even pertaining to my disability at all. I have a roof over my head, I have parents who love me, I have a job, the ability to travel. The list goes on and on. The issue with this response is that it minimizes what the person telling you feels in that moment. When we’re frustrated and feeling down and need to express it, this response is essentially guilting or shaming us for what we feel in that moment because “things could be worse” insinuates that we shouldn’t be complaining about it or that “it’s not that bad.” Also, using the obstacles and difficult situations of others to make yourself feel better about your own isn’t really a nice thing to do. Though admittedly, this is why I watch half of the crap reality TV that I do (I’m looking at you The Only Way is Essex). 

At the end of the day, it’s always the intent that matters more than the words behind it. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad if they’ve ever said any of the above things to a disabled person. The world gives us zero training on how to handle these types of situations. I don’t even know how to handle my own disability a lot of the time. But I hope that this gives a little bit of a guide on how you can be a support to a disabled person you may know or end up knowing in the future. Having a disability can be an extremely frustrating and confusing thing. I’ll spend a lifetime not just dealing with the physical consequences, but the emotional ones too. Like anything, some days are good and some days are bad so just listening and offering up your love and support can really be a gigantic help.

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2 thoughts on “On What to Say

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