Stop Staring At Me!

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

I hear you!

If you have/had a sibling, surely you have used these words. Hello, dinner table? That was a popular and recurring statement for us growing up.

Being honest, I was usually one of the guilty ones ~ 3 siblings ~ and I directed it towards one or both of my brothers. What was my motivation? To bug the heck out of them because I knew it would get a reaction. Yup, welcome to one of my childhood memories of dinner.

People also stared at me, for different reasons. My sister and I were identical twins. People love to stare at identical twins. It’s fascinating to see, and I am just as guilty. Perhaps where my brother retaliated, as brothers do. He had a habit of calling us ‘Thing One and Thing Two’, from the Dr. Seuss book. I hope I got a thicker skin from that!

When I moved to the Midwest, I found those eyes staring at me again. I worked at two radio stations on their morning show. I have a distinctive voice because I found in no time that someone recognized me rely by the sound of my voice. That began a conversation, on their part, of everything they loved, liked, and strongly disliked about my morning comments. I began speaking less in public, which ended up being a good lesson in listening.

I love children. Children of all ages. They are refreshingly honest. Children stare, but differently than adults. Most, if not indoctrinated already by their parents, will stare at me sometimes. Soon  a barrage of questions comes. I love that! That opens up discussion.

I have a question for you!

Questions on why I can’t walk (if that is a current issue). Why did I pick out the color red for my wheelchair. Can they try it out? How fast can I go? Questions that open up conversations that both they and I enjoy discussing.

Then it happens ~ BAM! Mom or Dad steps in. ‘Stop bugging that lady with all your questions and leave her alone. I’m sure she doesn’t want to talk about that.’ The parent just sent a strong message, perhaps indelibly imprinted in their memory ~ don’t ask questions.

Adults usually stare in a different way. Here’s the scenario. Perhaps I am using my walker, as an example. Person A sees me pull into the handicapped space when Target has about 3 parking spaces left. There is annoyance because they can’t find a space. They quickly assess my age as their eyes roam up and down. Sometimes, the question comes. . . ‘Why do you really need that space?’ Sarcasm sets into my thoughts as I ponder asking ‘Why do you think every person using a walker has is surely past age 70? 80?’ Why is it your business? Already, they and I are defensive. Judgment. We all do it. We just prefer being on the giving end instead of the receiving end.

Some people further assumptions. If I can’t walk well, I can’t hear well. They shout, ‘CAN I HELP YOU?’ I know they are about to grab my walker, throwing me completely off-balance and perhaps to the ground. Thank you, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t help. . . since you asked. Sort of.

My asthma was a huge learning curve. I worked in the world of cubicles. Specifically, cubicles at a healthcare facility.

I'm not sick! It's just my asthma

Management frowns upon incessant coughing when the mission is to keep people healthy. It is very misunderstood, and I was as guilty as anyone of judging people. Asthma usually produces wheezing, shortness of breath, maybe a dry cough.

Before my diagnosis and being treated, this caused real issues at work. Several times managers urged me to go home until I was well. No one ever suspected asthma as the cause for my hacking cough except for my physician.

I am learning how to handle these situations. I always encourage children to ask questions, sometimes to the chagrin of their parents. I proactively thank people for their offer to help, followed by a brief explanation that it compromises my balance when they grab my arm. Educating the world one person at a time ~ that’s me. If I am having a small asthma attack, I state simply what it is so people don’t run away from me in fear that they are catching the next virus.

I learn to listen before presuming the worst. I love the words, ‘Is there any way I can help you?’ Some people have had fantastic advice for improving my lifestyle and conditions. Most of all, I do my best to put the other person at ease. I can either send a message that that reflects embarrassment or fear; or ease the discomfort with a simple smile that breaks down barriers. Greet others first, and warmly. I then own my situation.

Staring is natural. Who doesn’t like to people-watch? If you have a situation that brings unwanted attention ~ maybe a cranky child (or spouse!), a problem communicating effectively, perhaps a medical condition. . . How do you handle it? Share your suggestions for turning it into a positive. I’d love to hear from you!

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