Thursday, January 03, 2019

Wishing To Be Who I Could Have Been But Wasn't

I've heard a number of people talking about New Year's resolutions over the past couple of days. They ask me if I've made any. No. I haven't. Not because I don't have things that I wish to change, I'd like better control over my addiction to sugar and I'd like to like kale. But these things are so trivial aren't they. I've not heard people making much in the way of resolutions about the big changes that need to be made.

I had to pee. Peeing is an issue for people with disabilities just because the architects wish it so. So we went to a men's toilet off in a dark corner, the lights being off as the stores in that area of the mall are closed. Once in the accessible stall was taken. The person in there knew there was someone waiting because he called out that he'd only be a minute when I pulled on the door. I waited 5 minutes and I was bursting for a pee. I called to him and told him that I needed to go. He called back that he was changing, that the stall right then was his home, he had nowhere else. "OK," I thought, "But I really have to pee."

I decided to make a dash to the other men's toilet. It was a long way away and I didn't know if I'd make it but I had to do something. We left and I thundered through the mall, up ramps down ramps and finally I pulled into the other washroom and there was another homeless man in there, also having made camp. There is NO OTHER PLACE to go in the area. I really, really, really had to pee. I spoke to the janitor and he came and pounded on the door and asked the guy to get out so I could go pee. I'm dying now. But he gets out, I get in, and I pee. It felt so good.

It didn't feel so good later. I had a right to a space to pee in. But my feelings towards both men weren't kind. Even though my mind told me that these stalls are bigger, roomier, and I could see how they could be used as sanctuary, I was still angry that they had taken 'my space.' I get that I have a right to pee but I also have to get that other people have other needs. I don't want to sound like a bleeding heart as I'm writing this, I just wish that in these moments I could replace the anger with understanding even as I need to assert my needs. My anger is just another reason to hide away in a bathroom stall for safety.

He sits down beside me as I'm working out. I've seen him before, I know that he has autism, I've heard that explained by a staff that's usually with him to people who inquire about his behaviour. I think that his diagnosis is no one's business but the staff seems to think sharing it freely is acceptable. Today he has no staff, he has never spoken to me before and when he does I'm a bit stunned. He makes a really derogatory comment about my body. I sit in silence because I'm stung. Going to the gym always puts me in a vulnerable place but most people, thank heavens, keep their mouths shut. Since I don't say anything, he makes another even more nasty comment. He does so in a regular speaking voice as if it were fact that I was what he said I was. And. Maybe I am.

But, even though I work with people with intellectual disabilities, even though I am supposed to understand, I didn't. I said to him, "What you said to me is really rude, please stop." This devolved to me telling him to just leave me alone. And finally, he did.

Again, I was unhappy with how I felt inside, how I responded. I do have a right to be left alone and people don't have a right to make very personal comments about my body, true. But it's also true that so many people with disabilities aren't given the skills necessary to manage their world. You will find fat people at gyms, it's a given, the staff have seen the clientele, so, teach to the situation. I'm guessing I'm not the first person he'd made these kind of comments to ... help him.

I tried to stretch my understanding but it's only so elastic and it broke. I'm sorry, I could have been way nicer in my interaction with him. I need to tamp down my vulnerability such that it isn't an excuse for me to react like a jerk. I need to acknowledge I'm still hurt by ugly comments about who I am and what I look like and that I react harshly when that hurt turns into a feeling of humiliation.

If I made a New Year's resolution it would be about how to become a finer person, how to be a little nicer, how to use understanding as a tool so that I react like in the present like I wish I would have in the future. Does that make sense.

I vow only to keep living an examined life.

And I thank you, readers, for joining me on my journey.


Martijn said...

This is such an accurate description of what I feel so many times. I have a lot of understanding for people who "don't know any better and don't mean it n a bad way". Or for people who "Might have their own valid reasons to use this or that accessible facility".
But...what about people understanding my need for accessible spaces. My feelings about the hundredth time I can't get into a store or bathroom because it's not accessible?
We always try to not let it bother us but at some point you're just tired and not feeling like being understanding...

clairesmum said...

The young man with autism - my impression is that he knew what he was saying was hurtful. He has not ever spoken to you. or apparently even exchanged non verbal communication (smile, nod, stare, etc) when he is with staff. It sounds as if you were targeted and he intended to hurt your feelings. That is bullying, and it is not OK. I don't know that your behavior was inappropriate or that you lacked patience with him. You treated him the way you would a rude stranger. Which he was.
(And as his staff don't model respectful boundaries and demonstrate that it is ok to talk about someone's private business in public places, that may be a factor but it is not YOUR job to fix it. )

The homeless man in the stall - kinda seems that the security staff should be more effective in ensuring that the stalls remain available for their intended use. But hard to see any solutions.

Unknown said...

I know I'm getting to this a bit late....

Remember (I say this because I struggle with it so very much) that one of the people who's entitled to your kindness and generosity of spirit is you.

It's often uncomfortable, and I know that I personally would rather be compassionate than angry. But I'm learning that if I would be angry on someone else's behalf because of an injustice, it's okay to be angry on my own behalf. I have to be as compassionate with myself as I would be with others.

If any of your students, or attendees at conferences where you've spoken, had described one of these situations, I would hope you'd tell them that while they're not entitled to be cruel, they're entitled to be angry.

You're entitled to your anger. When you are hurt, when you are forced to fight for space that was designed for you, you, too, are entitled to be angry.

Kate said...

There is literally nothing else you could have done in either situation. It sounds like you were quite polite to the autistic guy. Speaking as someone with autism, I think I can say that. He still needs to know when his behavior is out of line, just like everyone else.

I was lightly insulted by a woman who I knew was ID in the library today. I clarified what she was saying, and then politely but firmly let her know she was wrong. I was confused and stunned, but treated the situation calmly, politely, but firmly, just as you did.

We ALL deserve our boundaries. Both to pee and to not be verbally assaulted.

Doing it politely is key. You succeeded in that.

Jasmine said...

A few years ago I adopted a motto that has helped me in situations like this - "do no harm, take no shit." Now whenever I get frustrated I try and find a way to stand up for myself in a kind way. I still fail as much as I succeed but that little phrase often helps me figure it out. (I actually wear it as morse code on a necklace to remind me.) May we both find that balance.

Amanda Forest said...

I don't think anyone should let someone else insult them because the person has a disability. Honestly, it's insulting to think that people with disabilities will naturally act like that and aren't responsible for it.