Friday, January 22, 2016

"You should let the older lady sit down"

Last week I was doing a bunch of last minute running around with my mom to prepare for my upcoming trip. There was lots to do and many stores to visit. After my doctor’s appointment and checking a few things off my list, we took a little break and stopped for brunch. The restaurant we went to was very busy and we were told we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. We were looking forward to the food there so this was no big deal.


For a bit we stood waiting near the door, along with probably a dozen others, many of which were much older. When two chairs in the waiting area became available, no one wanted to take them. Many times, they were pointed out and offered to people already waiting or just coming in the door. But no one sat down so, after a while, my mom and I took the seats. It hadn’t even been a minute when a lady nearby leaned over and said to me, “you should let the older lady sit down”.

Immediately I stood up and my spot was offered to others. No one took it, so after a bit of everyone saying they’re fine with standing, I sat back down, trying to hold back tears. This isn’t the first time that someone has said this to me, and it made it worse that the lady seemed quite disgusted as she mumbled to her friend something along the lines of how when she was my age she wouldn’t have needed to be asked and that they would just know not to sit down.

My leg after one of my surgeries
But I’m not just an inconsiderate teenager, taking up seats that could be better used by someone else. It hurts me to know that is how people see me at times. I have a disability that affects my leg. I’ve had many surgeries ever since I was little to make it function better and cause less problems, and there will likely be more surgeries in my future. Standing for long periods of time can be painful for me, and pain can be very exhausting. Not only that but my leg is much weaker and my opposite one often does most of the work, which really throws off the rest of my body when I stand for a while.

I’m not sure why this particular incident upset me more than usual; maybe it was because I was tired and hungry. Or maybe I’ve just been stared at, spoken to, or judged one too many times for sitting down. Normally it’s on the bus, where I basically have to sit down because my balance is bad enough on solid ground, never mind a moving vehicle. So maybe being in a restaurant it took me more by surprise. I know you can’t see it though – the scars, the pain, the difference in anatomy – so I forgive you.

It bothers me too when people who don’t look like they need to sit down do, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge them. For example, when I get on a bus and the accessible seats near the front are filled with people watching movies on their phones, reading books, and chatting with friends. In that situation, I try not to fall over as I make my way to the seat at the back, or hold on as tight as I can because I have to stand, and eventually end up balancing on one leg, too scared to ask for a seat. But I remind myself that I don’t know other people’s lives, I don’t know the exact reason why they decided to sit down, and I don’t think it’s any of my business to tell them what they should do.

See this post also on The Mighty and Yahoo Health.

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