Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mart Cart

For almost a week, we had really needed to go grocery shopping. Each night, however, I found myself simply unable to face the prospect of expending the energy to do so. There was one night that was an "almost", but the drive home from work sapped what little strength I had left. Even though Brian does the driving when we go places together, the car ride there, the walking around the store, and the thought processes involved were too much for me to handle.

Friday night, I called Brian just before I got off work to let him know that I thought it would be THE night. Coworker Nancy had brought me a fish refugee from her tank (a one-eyed OB peacock cichlid that was wreaking havoc), though, and as I drove home, I couldn't face the prospect of going up the stairs to the apartment, putting the fish away, then going back down to the car. The very idea of it was just exhausting.

Brian was waiting outside for me when I got home. He must have anticipated that I wasn't up to going up the stairs and back down. I resigned myself to the shopping trip and had him run the fish up and put it in the aquarium (no acclimation is really necessary; these fish are strong). I was shaking with fatigue when we got to the store, but I figured we could just get a few things and get out of there. That's when Brian suggested I try one of the motorized scooters.

I had a mental block against the things. I guess some of it was not wanting to give in to that step, admitting that I was in bad enough shape to need one of those, but to be honest, I'm tired of nobly suffering for some false ideal of independence. The real mental block, I think, is not wanting other people to think I'm lazy and worthless. I understand invisible disabilities, but I hear people complain all the time about how they see "fat people using the scooters because they are too lazy to walk", and "if they'd just get off their lazy asses and walk, maybe they wouldn't be so fat".

*I* know that kind of thinking is ignorant and hateful. I know that most people using mobility aids aren't lazy, and that if they are overweight, it is not the cause of their mobility problem. It's often the result of the problem. That large person you see on the mart cart may have arthritis, balance problems, or other issues that you cannot see. It's the hysteria of the "obesity epidemic" being slammed down our throats that is poisoning people's minds against the overweight disabled. Next time you feel tempted to judge a fat person using a mobility aid, you may want to just be thankful that you are not in their position.

I think people have a psychological need to assign blame to those who are suffering or disabled. If the person is responsible for his or her own predicament, after all, then it is believed that we are not obligated to expend ourselves being empathetic or even polite to them. If we accept that a person is disabled due to happenstance, then we are not only obligated to be compassionate, but we must also face the possibility that it could happen to anyone, including ourselves.

And so, I decided to face being thought of as a fat, lazy, good-for-nothing so that I could shop for groceries without pain, without shaking, and without having to focus all of my energy on simply walking around.

I discovered that this was a very good choice! I have previous experiences with Brian pushing me in a wheelchair, first at the Toronto Zoo, then at the NYS Museum. In both cases, while it was still exhausting, I was able to enjoy and appreciate those places because my mind was not tied up fielding pain signals and requests from my body to "sit down, stop walking around!" In those cases, I felt protected by Brian, validated even. Surely if this nice gentleman is pushing the lady around, at least one other person besides herself has decided that she needs help. It's difficult to really explain how it felt, but that's as close as I can get.

The cart was different. This was me, controlling my own movements, with no one to vouch for me but myself (Brian was there, but he didn't have to be). It maneuvered very easily, and my only problems were getting things out of freezer cases (the doors are a pain!) and higher shelves. I had the lovely gentleman do those things for me, and we were able to finally get in a decent shopping trip. Additionally, we were shopping in the late evening, so I wasn't obstructed by or creating traffic jams in the aisles.

Now that I have crossed this mental barrier, I am confident that I can do this again. If anyone gives me lip about it, due to my age ("You're too young to use those! Stop fooling around!") or weight, I will calmly educate them about invisible disabilities. Now that I realize just how much clearer my head is when I'm using a mobility aid, I understand that my use of them is valid and necessary.

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