I'm Christine, 35 yrs old single mom of one, born & raised in Chicago, certified Paralegal, never married....Oh & I'm disabled! Yea I know that was a mouth full. The irony is that when explaining or introducing myself to someone who's just met me,(and hasn't seen me) not only do I sound like a Match.com ad, but they're not expecting me to be disabled. The goal of this piece is to share with others my most awkward moments transferred with people who aren’t familiar with those with a disability. In my experience, I’ve found that people get tongue tied, often confused as to what to say and do in my presence. College life was the first time I ever really had the opportunity of exchanging pleasantries with individuals who were visibly different than I; able bodied. In fact I noticed how students were only social with those they felt more relatable to. For example, the Asian students only engaged with each other, the African American & Caucasian students were close etc. However the few disabled students were ironically loners, perhaps so withdrawn that hanging with other disabled students would assume that exact same pattern as other students. That or hanging together made more of an eyesore. So I did what any other self respecting disabled person would do….Hung out with the old foggies!! During all 3 terms of college life, I’ve found this pattern to exist in every setting; Junior college, during my two year Associate's Degree program and Undergrad, all conspiring to one enchanting fellowship with a more mature audience. Honestly, I’m fine with that. I’ve always been told that I was an “Old Soul” so I assume it’s only appropriate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I minded, though it would’ve been a nice change of pace to interact with my generation, occasionally discussing who’s cute, the latest gossip or “Did you hear that new track by R. Kelly?”
One of many encounters that were rather odd began on my first visit to my OB/GYN, after finding out that I was pregnant. This particular office is for pregnant women ONLY or for women trying to become pregnant. So when I rolled my bloated belly in this predominantly able bodied office, all eyes were on me! I felt so uncomfortable. I can remember calling my sister telling her that I was about to leave because I just couldn’t handle the stares. Even though I get stared at a lot, these were different stares...These were stares of “Hey, what’s she doing here? She must be lost! She’s not pregnant, she’s in a wheelchair! Is she pregnant? She can’t be, she’s in a wheelchair!” At least that’s how I fathomed them to be. Typically I can handle 5 year olds following me throughout the grocery store or that creepy guy leering at me around the coat racks in Target…. I handle that by saying…”HEY, HOW Ya DOIN?” rather loud & obnoxious….Then he’ll speak, totally unaware that he just got served!! I like to see the look on his/her face when I do that!!! When children stare they don’t understand, they’re merely making an observation of someone that looks very different from them. They don’t see a person like me everyday, so for them to stare is totally expected & normal. Anyhow, I began to not look forward to my visits. Each visit seemed harder & harder to deal with because I would always encounter those same glares. So one day, I felt for pairs of eyes inspecting me like an exhibit in a museum. Finally I said “Hello, I’m Christine, and you?” The conversation went from there. While I didn’t want to make the forefront of our conversation about being pregnant and disabled, I found that it actually was the Pink Elephant in the Room so once I minimized it as being just a “Pregnant woman” things went smoothly and after I broke that chain of curiosity, they, including myself felt totally relieved. I knew then that my pregnancy was much more than that; it was a learning experience for all that I encountered. I realized that many people just weren’t used to being around a person with a disability. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to educate others about me, Osteogenesis Imperfecta and the effects it has towards my quality of life. We can all learn from each other...There are many ways to End the Awkward, one way is to simply start by saying "Hello!" Typically the conversation can proceed from there. Ask questions, just as you would to a person without a disability. Initiate a general topic and you'll be surprised where this will take you. I've made friends by allowing them to break the ice, friends whom are still very dear to me now. Don't be afraid! Talking to a person with a visible disability is just like talking to a stranger on the bus. We can talk, in fact if many are like me I LOVE it!! Making new friends is a way to spread your story, you'll also be surprised how impactful your journey just might be for someone else. Let's join the movement & let's End The Awkward!!!