Article: Incapacitated Anxiety
They say, having a disability ‘builds character’ which is true (to an extent), I had grown confidence. My confidence grew through loved ones who defend and shield me from inquisitive stares. You would laugh if you were there too. I have had family members outright ask people what their issue is. I have had family stare at people passing by till they get uncomfortable, friends give the onlookers the dirtiest look they can muster (it is funny). I become an audience member for a few moments as the centre of attention moves away from me and onto the ignorant perpetrator. I can watch upon the scene with an act of petty revenge. I usually do not bother myself by responding. I have better things to do, places to be, people to see (eye-roll). With that mindset, these onlookers become part of the wallpaper that is my life. They are just there, sometimes I would notice them, and then I would move along to something worthy of my time and energy.
People’s thoughts and curiosity are so tangible that the awkward tension in the air threatens to choke me. It is embarrassing when they ask about my disability; it is awkward when they do not. I should not have to feel embarrassed about this (no one should). Feels like I am stuck between two possibilities every time I meet these inquisitive stares, and I am continually being ping-ponged between the thoughts and the actual voicing of these thoughts. It is tiring. My eyes are always averted, trying to avoid as much of the conversation and strained small talk. A small talk that always involves my disability (this is partially the reason I am anti-social). Eyes lock onto me as I travel past. I could barely sense the questioning looks aimed my way, so it rarely affected me. Ignorance is bliss. Yet, not once was I anxious, just prepared. I had my answers ready to go: ‘I’d rather not say’, ‘I wasn’t born with it’, ‘It’s not a difficult life’. My response depended on the vibe I got from a person. I would have rather answered someone who has a curious vibe than someone who has a malicious or pitiful vibe.
Recently, I am hyper-aware of my disability. It is as if I have only begun using a wheelchair and I am adjusting to this new wheelchair bound life. I am adjusting to how people react with my disability. I am adjusting to how difficult it is to use public transport. It is as if this human-surveillance world is something new to me. The stares bother me more than before, after being locked inside my home (it was not as torturous as I thought it would be). I had gotten used to shielding away from the world and the violence of judgement. I have forgotten how intrusive people are. There was this ability I had where I could ignore people. Coupled with the anxiety of catching the COVID-19 virus, going outside has become more suffocating for me. Preferring my bed, I have gotten too used to being away from people.
These eyes all hunt me down as I climb around greenery in hopes to not get muddy wheels (not nice to clean). They follow me through the small and constricted alleyways. They have also stalked me as I slide across narrow sidewalks. There is not a moment where I can pass by invisibly, I stand out like a sore thumb. I do not want that. I have never wanted that. I will never want that. Yet, standing out is the most prominent infection to ever overtake my body. The attention of people fights with my immune system that is trying to protect me against people and their judgement. An immune system that is made of hormones, chemicals and jumbled up emotions.
There is a cacophony of confusion now that assaults me with anxiety. One that was barely there before COVID-19. I am more aware of this confusion. Why are they staring? There is a lot of answers too that, unfortunately, nothing straight-forward. Is it because of my hijab? Does me not sitting on my wheelchair bother them? Is it because I am a woman? I have not fully obtained the knack for linking stares to their correct meaning.
At times I forget. I do not forget I have a disability, but I forget that there is something not fully complete with my body. Something that others seem to notice an absence of but an absence that is just in my peripheral vision. Always there but never fully clear to me. Or maybe this absence is the clearest to me.
©️ photo from Pexels.
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