Stacy Ellingen

Stacy's Journal: Being on Stage isn't Always Fun

user image 2021-09-29
By: Stacy Ellingen
Posted in: Stacy's Journal

When was the last time you really watched a person get into a swimming pool? Do we stare at girls dancing at a wedding? Do we watch when people do ordinary things like this? Typically not—unless it’s different. We are accustomed to seeing people do things a certain way. When a person does a task or activity different, we are interested. It’s not wrong--it’s human nature to want to watch someone do something in a different way. For people who have visible disabilities or health conditions, it sometimes feels like you’re in the spotlight anytime you go out in public.

In a journal entry a few years ago, I wrote about fitting in at various social events. Using a power wheelchair and having uncomfortable movements understandably draws attention to myself pretty much wherever I go. It’s just something I’ve learned to deal with. Usually, I do whatever I can not do make even more of a scene when I’m out. It doesn’t work too well most of the time, when I’m at a gathering with friends or family, I try my hardest to keep my movements under control and not make too much of a scene. As I explained in previous entries, though, when I try not to do something intentionally, my body doesn’t cooperate. In fact, it does the complete opposite - - the harder I mentally try, the more my body does the opposite. It’s part of Cerebral Palsy. Usually, I just “try not to try” and just ignore my body. I’m learning that it’s pretty much all I can do in those situations.

There is a different kind of attention when I try do something ordinary, but it causes a scene because I do it different. Let me try to explain. A few years ago, I was at a friend’s wedding. She had worked for me for a few years and we became friends. My mom went with me to the wedding. I didn’t know anyone but the bride, and I was the only one with a visible disability. Obviously, some of her family knew about me, but I didn’t know anyone else which was fine. I was just there to support my friend. My mom ended up running into some people she knew, so we sat at the reception with them. It was a nice time. However, the whole night, my mom kept urging me to get on the dance floor. I kept saying no. When we left, she said, “I really wish you would have danced. It warms people’s heart to watch you dance.” I tried to explain to her that’s exactly the reason I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be a spectacle that night in front of people I didn’t know. At other weddings, yes, I’ll get out on the dance floor, but, it’s different around people who I know.

Another example is when I get in and out of swimming pools. I love to swim and it’s so good for my muscles. However, when I get in and out of pools, it’s a scene. My parents have a system down. It takes both of them to get me in and out. Getting in is easier than getting out. They get me out of my wheelchair, sit me on the edge of the pool, one of them holds me up while the other gets in the pool, and then they ease me into the pool. Getting out is even more of a scene. We sometimes use the lift if the pool has one to get out. Regardless, it’s something that draws attention to us. Normally, in hotels, I don’t care. Usually, we go to places that aren’t crowded, so there’s just a few people around the pool. I figure it’s worth making a scene if that means I can swim. My aunt and uncle have a pool at their house, and this summer we had a big family gathering for my grandma’s 90th birthday. All of our family came in from across the US, and we had a big party. On the second day, it was a pool party. We did family pictures as soon as everyone got there, and people were swimming all day. I wore my swimsuit, but I wasn’t sure I’d go in. After pictures, I was just about to go in because my sister and nephew were in, but then other people (besides family) started arriving. They were friends of my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I quickly changed my mind and didn’t go in. Even though nobody would have probably cared (and likely people would have offered to help), I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself. Does that sound conceited? Probably, but I knew it’d cause a scene.

Unfortunately, I’ll probably always have this issue. It’s just something I’ve learned to deal with. Most of the time, I have a choice whether or not I want to do the activity. It’s a fine line between wanting to experience or do something and feeling like you’re a spectacle. Everyone is different—some people care less about being watched while doing an activity in an unusual way, while others hate being the spectacle all the time. Most of the time, I don’t really mind people looking at me when I’m doing something different because I believe that’s part of advocacy—showing others what I can do despite my challenges. However, admittedly, sometimes I miss out on opportunities just because I don’t want it to be made into a scene. I feel like some things are just not worth being put on stage for.

***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.


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