“Hey, What’s Your Problem?”

“When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.” – Oscar Wilde

On a recent trip to Walmart I noticed an older gentleman staring at me. He then proceeded to yell in my direction, “HEY COME HERE!” When I approached him he asked me “what my problem was.” Assuming he meant my disability, I told him that I have spina bifida. He did not hear me the first time or the second, so I shouted, “I HAVE SPINA BIFIDA!” He shook his head, thanked me for letting him know and I was on my way. I left the store thinking, I hope that guy can rest easy tonight now that he knows what my “problem” is.

There have been many times in my life that I have had people make assumptions about me based on how I look. I can understand this, as I think it is a natural human tendency to make judgements based on what you see. However, it is never safe to assume anything about another individual, for we are all unique. We all have our own “crosses to bear.” Mine just happens to be a little more visible than the average human.

When I was younger, I used to have people talk down to me, assuming that because my legs didn’t work, my brain must not either. I think this led me to doubt myself in many ways. Did people really think I was “dumb” just because I wasn’t able to walk normally? These feelings made me want to just fade as far into the background as I could, so that I would not draw attention to myself. In other words, if people could not see me, then they could not make assumptions about me.

I have chosen to live this way most of my life. I am a rather reserved person, who often does not speak unless spoken to. Some people may view this as being conceited, but I often feel as if no one really cares to hear what I have to say. It is easier to stay “hidden” than to reveal who I truly am as a person.

Despite my insecurities, there are times when I want to tell people about all of the things that I have accomplished in my life. However, would they even believe me, or better yet, would they even care? Perhaps it is just easier to let them make assumptions.

As illustrated above, I seem to occasionally run into people that assume they can ask me questions that are quite intrusive. For example, when I have been out riding my hand trike, I have had people ask me if they can take it for a ride. On the surface, I understand this. My trike is unique looking. However, when I am riding it, the cycle is part of me. I simply cannot climb off and just sit on the ground while I let others take it for “a quick spin.” I feel as if this would be like me asking them if I can borrow their legs for a minute, as I just want to “try them out and see how they feel.”

I have spina bifida, which is a neural tube defect. This simply means that when I was in my mother’s womb, my spinal column did not develop correctly, which has led me to have paralysis below my knees. My legs work differently than the average human being, however, my mind works just fine. So, next time I am asked what my “problem” is, I may just have to respond with, “where should I begin, I am middle-aged, balding, overweight, I have a mortgage, and my house needs a new roof.” What kind of response do you think that would elicit?

Me on my hand-powered trike.

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