I got the same feeling in my stomach. I was at a conference and a regular blog reader said, "You know a lot of people think you make up stories for your blog because no one can have something happen every day." I was immediately devastated. I don't remember what I said but I remember remarking to myself 'but something does happen every day, I mean I do go through my day AWAKE'. I read another blog a few months ago, I don't remember the blog - sorry to the blog author - said something like, "Having a disability is like a trigger for people to be socially inappropriate with me every day." I remember thinking, "How true is that?"
It was like when I first started getting recognized publicly. I had been lecturing for a few years and been the subject of a one hour television documentary and a 'talking head' on two or three other television programmes. I was in an airport and someone approached me and said, "Are you Dave Hingsburger?" I was shocked and, truthfully, a little pleased. It was a nice feeling. I came home and told Joe who had a 'Yeah, sure,' look on his face.
Over the next several months it happened more and more often. Joe was never with me when it happened and I was always frustrated because I really wanted him to see what was going on. Then we were in the food court in the airport in Minneapolis. On cue Joe had left to get some thing at the Chinese food place and I had picked up a pizza slice and was sitting at a table. A woman approached and said, "Are you ..." and I groaned. She immediately apologized for bothering me and I said, "No, no, it's OK, except this happens all the time when Joe is away. Could you stay a second so Joe can see that you aren't a figment of my imagination?" She laughed and said, "Sure."
"See!" I said to Joe after she left. Since then it's happened several times when we are together and Joe no longer questions my stories about recognition.
Well, on Labour Day we were out with friends for tea. We were all chatting and the woman sitting at the table next joined into the conversation for a wee bit. It was all very friendly until. Out of the blue she leans over to me and says, "I'm a nurse and I'd like to know what caused your disability? What's your diagnosis?"
I don't know what being a nurse has to be with being rude, having no boundaries, and asking someone a personal question, in public, in front of friends, in Starbucks, on a holiday Monday. But oddly, I was really flustered. If I'd been alone, I'd have confronted her for what I considered to be a intrusive question. But I wanted my friends to see me as being more socially graceful. So, all I said was, "I'd rather not say." She looked at me, glared for a second, and then smiled and said, "But I'm a registered nurse," and waited for a response.
Again, I'm not sure what being registered had to to with not having boundaries, not respecting my privacy, not gauging the seriousness of my previous response.
Quietly, but firmly, I said, "I'd rather not say." She was really offended but that stopped the questioning.
It festered in me and I wondered what my friends all thought. Firstly, this kind of thing happens to me all the time. Most of the people aren't nurses, registered or otherwise, most people - even if they are a trucker - feel they have a right to personal information about my disability. But this had happened in front of others. So I asked, "What did you think about how I handled the question about my disability?" Something odd happened, my friends immediately responded about how they were glad I didn't give out the information, about how that woman had no boundaries, about how they were shocked at the intrusive nature of the question. All things I needed to hear. I had begun to wonder if it was just me, if I was being offended needlessly, but here they were giving me support for living a life with dignity and privacy. It felt really good.
On the way home, I thought about that post written by another person with a disability about people spontaneously becoming socially inadept when someone in a wheelchair enters the room. It sure is my experience. But I said to Joe, "At least I have witnesses this time!"