Certain things have become second nature for me as a full-time wheelchair user. I get stared at in public almost every day. I’m also used to being asked very intimate and personal questions by strangers. Whenever I go to the supermarket, the one thing that happens to me is the pitying “I’m sorry” from other shoppers.
The reason why this has always confused me has many different layers. More often than not, the person who is apologizing to me has no reason to do so. I’m not in their way, they’re not in mine. Then the barrage of questions that naturally swirl around my head when this happens goes into overdrive: What could make them want to apologize? I’m not in their way, am I? Do they not know what else to say because the chair makes them uncomfortable? They haven’t accidentally bumped into my chair. Their child hasn’t stared at me. Their child wasn’t in my way either.
When I was a younger, more self-conscious person, I would find myself getting angry when people would unnecessarily apologize. I would think: Are you apologizing to me because I’m different? Because I don’t live my life according to the so-called norm? Because they immediately presume without even speaking to me that I must be a sad person because I’m disabled? Sometimes these thoughts still happen, but much less frequently as I am nearing my late twenties. One of the things I quickly realized in my early twenties was that it was okay that my relationship to my disability was never going to be linear.
We all have our good and bad days, regardless of whether we have a disability or not.
It is sometimes okay to feel self-pity, but I always try to remember to celebrate this life, not pity it. My life is a disabled life, but also an incredibly joyful one. I have a job I love, friends and family I adore, and a blossoming relationship that makes me feel like I am enough every single day. So, when I encounter an awkward unnecessary apology from a stranger in the supermarkets (one of the many) and say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine;” I realize it’s true. My life is more than fine. Life is wonderful. It’s just more unique than most, that’s all. That one awkward apology made me look at my situation in a whole new way, and it brings me peace. That’s what I had been searching for all these years.
Header: Valeria Smirnova