Starting something new and knowing that you’re going to be meeting a lot of new people – people that you’re going to spend a lot of your time with for a week, a month, a year – is always tough. We worry about how people are going to view us and feel like we need to make a good first impression, or risk being friendless for however long we’re going to be there.
But it’s especially tough when you have medical issues that you’re going to need to explain. You might not need to talk about them straight away; you could leave talking about it for as long as possible -which is always preferable of course, you’re not going to want to start a conversation about your disability as soon as you come face to face with a new person, what if they think that you’re being attention-seeking? What if they decided then and there that you’re going to require too much work? But sometimes you might need to. We, as humans, have an inherent need to be liked and always fixate on something that might impede upon our ‘likeability factor’. Just know that everyone everyone does it – someone might be particularly worried about whether their fashion choices come across well, whether they remembered to put on perfume, if they’ll find someone with the same likes as them… It’s just how people work.
I started at college this week, and knew that I’d be facing loads of new people; this is the first time I’ve been in a situation where absolutely no one knows me or has experienced me having a seizure, no one knows that some days I can walk, some days I can’t even get from my bed from the bathroom. Never have I ever wished so hard that I could just shrug off my medical conditions. But the truth is that you can’t. I wanted to wait as long as I could before addressing what I considered to be one of the most alienating things possible – I’ve had plenty of experiences where people immediately decide that I don’t actually need a wheelchair and that I’m just doing it for the sake of laziness, I’ve had people tell me they’d rather I didn’t go somewhere with them, and I’ve been denied a place at my top choice university – all because of a disability that I’ve never asked for or had a choice in how it affects me.
I wanted to go at least a day without saying anything – I was using my wheelchair and figured that people would just accept that I use a wheelchair, and I’d let them think that I did so all of the time. Seizures were a little trickier. I’d gone in my wheelchair that day with the hope that it might help to curb my seizures – anxiety is a pretty common cause of my floor dances, and I was feeling a lot of it! I was playing quite a dangerous game – do I tell them about my seizures before I have one and possibly not have one for weeks after I’ve told them, or do I risk leaving it for a day and potentially have one before they knew? It’s very hard to judge, and I seemed to make the wrong choice. Of course, I threw myself to the floor and wobbled about in front of a class full of people who had no idea what was going on (except for the teachers, of course) I know that they were all only concerned and that no one was judging me at all, but that really didn’t stop me from feeling utterly humiliated. I know, I know that I shouldn’t feel that way when I have a seizure, but the truth is that, unfailingly, I do. Once everyone had calmed down and I’d had a private word with one of the tutors, I sat down and the tutor spoke to the class about my crippled side.
Judging when to tell new people about medical conditions is something that a lot of people have to do. We worry about what someone will say, we don’t want to be labelled as ‘that girl that has seizures and uses a wheelchair’ and we don’t want to come across as self-obsessed. I was waiting for a flood of judgement and embarrassed stares after the tutors’ speech, but they didn’t come. No one looked at me as she was speaking, no one whispered, no one looked affected in the slightest. And that was the best thing that they possibly could’ve done really. Of course, you can’t guess how people will react, but you’re (pretty much always) going to be expecting the worst – whether you’re telling them about your crippledness, or wondering if they might exile you for wearing the wrong shoes. There’s always a chance that the worst could happen, which is while we fixate on it, but the truth is that it’s unlikely people will bat an eyelid – they’re more worried about what people are thinking of them.