Welcome to the third installment of the Hidden Disabilities House of Horrors: The Skeptic. The person who doesn’t really believe there’s anything wrong with you.
The way we live our lives often looks inconsistent to other people. For example, I’m not able to work a scheduled, on-site job because my condition is so variable, I miss a significant amount of work time. When I’m allowed to work from home and take breaks as needed, I can get something done on a day when I’d have had to call in sick to an office. I knock off for the afternoon around 2:00 while I still have enough energy to take a bike ride or swim. If I were to work until 5:00, I’d be too wiped out to work out in the evening. My colleagues see me taking off at 2:00 to go ride my bike, and they express skepticism about my need to do so.
I encountered my first skeptic in 8th grade. I was hopeless in gym class, and a big reason why was that I have incomplete binocular vision development, because I was cross-eyed for the first few months of my life. This has only ever been a handicap in one place: school gym class. Remember that advice the gym teachers and coaches always yelled, “Keep your eye on the ball!” Well, that’s the worst advice anyone could have given me. When I did that, I literally watched the ball pass through my hand like I was a ghost. I needed do like Chevy Chase did in Caddyshack, “be the ball.” I needed to feel where it was in relation to my space. I discovered that if I looked away while the ball was getting close, I could reach out and catch it. I was so excited by this, I showed my friends and we practiced, with me effortlessly catching a softball every time, the same ball that had eluded me for years.
I was so excited, I went on about it in the locker room while we were getting dressed. Kathy Tilbury, my teenage frienemy, visibly rolled her eyes. I said, “You don’t believe me, do you?” She said, “No, to be honest.” I think she just couldn’t bear to see me triumph after spending my life on the social bottom with her.
I was on the phone with an elderly relative a year or so ago, one who has been through as much physically as I have. He’s had a major motorcycle accident, fallen from a roof he was working on, and several other big mishaps. He apparently lives without any residual pain from his injuries, because he asked (no, demanded) that I explain why I still have pain. He could not wrap his head around it. Bully for him, I’m glad he doesn’t have pain, but that doesn’t give him the right to question mine. His point was not so much to challenge my pain level, but to berate me for not making more money. I gave up trying to explain how you get work in my field.
I covered the Plate Police in a previous post https://blogs.psychcentral.com/hidden-disabilities/2019/07/food-issues-and-popular-culture/, in which people question your dietary restrictions and challenge every item on your plate. A close friend of mine has celiac disease, and the level of isolation she needs to prevent cross-contamination makes eating in restaurants all but impossible. She’s seen the eye rolls when the assurance of washing their utensils before use wasn’t enough.
Another friend has been diagnosed gluten-intolerant, and she’s low-income and has to use the local food bank. She get the eye-roll there, a nonverbal, “Well, aren’t we fancy.” The assumption seems to be that if you’re poor, you don’t have the right not to have your food make you sick. I realize it’s hard for food banks to cater to dietary restrictions, but the one-size-fits-all system at my food bank, where the bags are prepacked, makes it unusable for people like my friend.
My sister lives with fibromyalgia and has to travel for business. Her company economizes on business travel to the point where it’s uncomfortable for her healthy coworkers. She needs the assurance of chain hotels; the hit-or-miss nature of Air B&B can affect the quality of her sleep. Once she stayed in a place with a steep staircase to access the room, and she had to haul her own bags up there. When she requested a discount chain hotel near a venue, she got the eye roll. She could contest this, but the process is exhausting and when your whole work unit is that unsupportive, it can even be futile.
I’ve ripped on this Heartland episode before (in the same post I linked above), in which Lou’s friend from New York is comically beset with problems—her first inquiry, “Where’s the nearest gluten-free bakery?” is met with eye rolls. There are no celiac cowboys in Hudson, Alberta. The friend strains Lou’s patience until she has an outburst that most viewers probably saw as justified, but I saw as a bully rant. In a subsequent episode, all the friend’s problems have vanished because she met the man of her dreams. This dismisses her issues as neuroses and undermines the credibility of everyone who lives in the trigger-exposure minefield. I love the show, but would like to pump tear gas into that writer’s bedroom at 4 AM and see how she likes being assaulted by random environmental triggers.
The Skeptic is ableism incarnate. Let us try to gently educate, and if that’s not possible, eliminate that social trigger just like we do our environmental triggers.
What Skeptic story would you like to share? Fill up my comments, these ought to be good.