I saw this interview the other day with RJ Mitte. RJ played the son of Walter White in the show Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad I had always heard of, but only finally binged watched it with my parents after coming home from the hospital. RJ has cerebral palsy and gave this interview:
It reminded me of an awareness I came to one Friday night:
After rehab I went live with my parents in Fresno for about 8 months. I was out to dinner with a friend on a Friday night before going to see a movie. We went to a hot spot in town that had a 45 minute wait (that was really only 20 minutes).
Just a tangent, because people who’ve spent a lot of time with me know I love my tangents: aside from places like Mama’s in San Francisco or certain restaurants like that, most 45 minute waits really are 20 minutes at most.
We were seated, we ordered drinks, we ordered food and I then looked around. This was about 4 or 5 months into being out of the hospital. What I noticed was zero other wheelchairs in this large restaurant. Then I thought to myself, ‘Have I seen a wheelchair in public since coming out of the hospital?’
The answer was 1. I met a really outgoing guy my first day at the gym who was in a wheelchair and stoked to see someone else in a chair. But this wasn’t the first time I’d been to dinner and a movie, working in a coffee shop, shopping for shoes I don’t need, or going to Trader Joes. Okay, there was this old dude at Trader Joes with a milk crate strapped to his lap with bungie cords. This was super ingenious because anything after 4 things in your lap is bound to fall off with the slightest bump. I’ll never strap a milk crate to my lap with bungie cords because that’s ridiculous-looking and me saying that is counter-intuitive to everything I’m about to say. But hey, we all have our limits and ? we’re working through. Maybe if I’m still in this wheelchair at 70+ I’ll cave. I digress.
So back to the point, that’s 2 people out there in 8 months.
I asked my friend at dinner, ‘Why is it that there aren’t more people in wheelchairs out and about? The world is pretty accessible and legally it has to be, right? I’ve yet to go to a restaurant or coffee shop where I can’t get in or pull up to a table. The movie theater has rows for me to sit in, even though I prefer to transfer into a normal seat anyway. Why don’t I see more people out there?’
‘Because they are ashamed to be out in public. They don’t like the stigma.’ she replied.
Kind of obvious. My friend is a Physical Therapist, so she knows firsthand what it is like. I wanted to revolt because I have this belief that stigma and judgement and funny looks and all that only have the power that you give them. I believe that people fall in line with how you see yourself. You are a leader. If you say, ‘I’ve had a crappy day and my life isn’t going the way I thought it would because I couldn’t get that hair appointment I wanted’ people will believe you and console you and cup your elbow and say, ‘Poor baby.’ And so goes your life.
But if you fall off your bike and end up in a wheelchair and say, ‘You know what. I’m going to do a triathlon, except as a paratriathlete.’ People will say, ‘Wow that’s amazing and super impressive! How can I help you?’
But I knew she was right. Not everyone has been exposed to that idea. And it’s kind of tragic that that is the case.
The other day I was in-between doctor appointments and craving BBQ from a favorite restaurant. I went through it. Counter to everything I just wrote, I didn’t want to hassle with getting my wheelchair in and out of my car, I didn’t want to miss my timing and fumble through opening the front door, I didn’t want to be a guy in a wheelchair in a busy restaurant right in the center of town with all the pretty people right at lunchtime, and I didn’t want to deal with people looking at me.
But then I did what I usually do. I said ‘fuck it.’ After all, I’m a pretty people too (less I forget).
I went to the restaurant. I fumbled through the door. I sat on the patio because it was a nice day, right on the sidewalk. Other pretty people walked by. They walked in and out of the restaurant right past my table. I asked the waitress to change the TV to Olympic Volleyball. I watched the US fall to Russia in the bronze medal match. I ate my Brisket salad. I flirted with a girl over text. I smiled at people who I made I contact with. I paid my bill. I took off for my doctor’s appointment, and life went on.
RJ Mitte is right. I hope a lot of disabled people see his message. When you want to do something, go to it. Don’t hide your disability. Don’t hide who you are or what you are. Show it to the world. Not by Snapchatting or posting it to Twitter, but getting out IRL. Go rock climbing or paddle boarding. Go to lunch and flirt with the girl. Go do things you want to do.
And that goes for you able-bodied people too. Take it from me, it could be snatched from you in an instant.
Now get on it while I Snap this and post it to Twitter.
Cherie H. says
You continue to impress me with your amazing attitude and ambition. You have already gone so far in this life and will continue to do so my friend. I’ve said over and over and I’ll say it again, so proud of you and proud to call you my friend.
Peggy House says
This reminds me of the grit and determination of my daughter. Debbie, who in the throes of MS never slowed down or gave up one inch without a fight. Thanks for sharing your observation and zest for life whatever your circumstance.
Rob, from a person that is 14yrs post injury to you a 1 year post injury, you have amazing insight and very mature for a 1 im year post injury SCI. Mature I mean we have to learn about our bodies all over again and after about 6 months post discharge I was more and more comfolrotable in getting out of the house. The looks and awards stares no longer bother me and you know me, I’m out a lot and busy. Your friend is right stigma and and the role society views us affects each and everyone of us. If we don’t conform to the norms of society we are outcasts. With the current Paralympics and the exposure they are getting hopefully this can encourage more individuals with disabilities to get out and do something they enjoy. Cheers my friend.