I see you. I see you as your ‘glance’ lingers over me just that little bit too long. I see you look and I see you judge. Not that you’d know. As I walk my eyes flit between the pavement and anything close by I can take hold of. As I sit I stare down at my lap. Avoiding eye contact. Avoiding conversation. The once bubbly character hidden deep down inside. Below pain. Below exhaustion. Below stammers and stutters and a noticeable tremor.
I know what you think. As I sit here, wilting, in the doctors surgery. The weight of my thick coat weighing down at my shoulders. A woolly cap of my daughters hastily thrown on to hide the greasy mess that is my hair. Sticking up in all directions after a night of hot sweats and tossing and turning. My face crusty and falling apart. My lips splitting and bleeding. I see the assumptions in your eyes. At best I’m seen as lazy, unclean. At worst an alcoholic. Maybe a drug user.
It doesn’t matter that I’m in a doctors waiting room. My pallid skin, the bags under my eyes, it tells them all they need to know. You may think I’m being over sensitive. Assuming the worst of people. But years of illness teaches you the difference between inquisitive, friendly and downright accusatory. When you have health problems that mean you can, and do, have to ask help if strangers; it’s a skill one has to master.
I’ve had people yell abuse as I desperately stumbled towards home with my daughters hand in mine. Screaming that it’s ‘disgusting to be drunk at this hour’ with a child no less! Outside her school, parents who had previously chatted to me in the pick up line stepped over me without a second glance the day my symptoms got the better of me and I ended up gracing the pavement. Once again my daughters hand in mine. At four years old she eloquently stood up for me when I stood grasping like a landed fish as a rotund gentleman called me out on using a disabled bay. ‘My Mummy has a poorly heart, she’s allowed to park here!’ He looked suitably ashamed.
I admit it. My family is my shield. Looking into the loving eyes of my children and the steady gaze of my husband saves me from looking at the prying eyes of strangers. But today, alone in the doctors waiting room, my shield isn’t here. My rescue comes only when the doctor calls my name. I wince as I try to get up too fast and escape what feels like a barrage of ever lengthening glances.
Fast forward through the usual soul destroying back and forth with my doctor and I’m outside, desperately trying to get to my car. The doctors has no carpark so I’m forced to cling to a wall as I move in my half shuffle half stumble towards my goal. Somewhere behind me I register a friendly voice. “Are you ok?” he asks. His eyes are different. Unclouded by suspicion, he’s just friendly and concerned. I tell him I’m fine, whilst clinging to the wall as though my life depends on it. He thought I’d had a funny turn. “Oh, so this is just your normal?” Yes, unfortunately it is. With that the kind gentleman leaves me to my quest; walking off slower than he needed to, perhaps in case I changed my mind. My faith in humanity somewhat restored, I continue on my epic quest.
The truly unfortunate thing about this story though, it’s not my health. It’s not my struggles. It’s the fact that the friendly encounter I had today is not my normal. It’s not even close. My normal is the opposite. It saddens me how surprised I was when I was offered a helping hand. If I could have one wish it would be that people offered me that first, rather than their judgement.