There was a time in my life when I had to watch my mom endure using mobility devices out in public for the first time. Her cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair. She handled each one so gracefully that I believed it wouldn't be so bad if I had to use one myself. I hoped I never would, but for the first time it happened.
This past weekend was OU/Texas weekend, the big football rivalry between the two schools is one of the most exciting time of the year for students. Girls spend time finding the cutest game day outfit, boys arrange hot spots around the city, and everyone has so much fun. For OU students, we have the Friday before as a holiday and many of us travel down to Dallas on Thursday so we can spend the next day exploring the city. My friends and I packed up the car and did exactly that. That friday we decided to do a little shopping, since the shopping here in Norman can be a little dull.
I was terrified. The mall we were going to was extremely large, and with all the activities we had planned for the weekend I didn't want to risk wasting too much energy. So, I decided that I would use a wheelchair, and of course my best friends were incredibly accepting. My friends being so accepting made me feel comfortable and like this was going to be a breeze, because why would I care as long as my friends don't?
Let me tell you, I was dead wrong. Everyone I knew was out and about at this mall, and I swear we ran into each and every one of them. I held back tears and tried my best to conceal the reddening of my cheeks with humor, but inside I was so embarrassed I could hardly be concerned with my surroundings. Each encounter with a group of my sisters or friends from other campus organizations left me unable to even look up and make eye contact with anyone else. Thank the Lord for blessing me with the kindest and most understanding friends, they're the only reason I survived the trip.
I was a 19 year old sorority girl using a wheelchair.
I'm sure that's not something you see everyday. I know there is a stigma around sororities, and I see that there really aren't a lot of disabled students who are a part of greek life. The house I live in doesn't have an elevator, but it does have 4 sets of staircases and brand new renovations to the third floor, yet if a physically impaired student were to join my sorority, there wouldn't be a way for them to live in the house. There are days were I have to crawl up the stairs because I hurt so bad and am so exhausted, I can't imagine being wheelchair bound and unable to even get to my room.
In this moment at the mall, I realized how little I thought of others with disabilities and how hard it must be. If I was so anxious and flustered using a wheelchair for the first time in public, how does a child feel?
I look back on this moment of last weekend and want scold myself for being so self involved. It really wasn't a big deal, but I still feel the blush in my cheeks when I look back as well. It's conflicting, but it is something every chronically ill person has to face.
So a little advice for those who do not need a device to help them walk:
Please don't stare, just ask. I would rather you ask me what's wrong than awkwardly try not to look at me. I would love to explain to you and raise awareness for those with invisible illnesses! It doesn't bother me one bit to explain to you what's going on.