By Ian D. Jones
As a disabled person, I have learned to expect questions, especially from kids… And I handle them well.
I’m an introvert, so I need a lot of me time. In fact, as I’m writing this sentence, I’m alone in the room. Balancing me time with social time (which includes times for questions) can be tricky. How do I stay sane as an introvert who welcomes questions? I’m sure that my coping strategy doesn’t vary that much from a non-disabled introvert, so I’m not sure how much mystery I’m able to solve. I do a few things: I keep my music gear handy. If my social meter’s at “full” I excuse myself and take a walk, so to speak. I bury myself in homework, my guitar or video games. In the case of the latter, while my friends are all on xbox live, I’m just as happy playing games like “Beyond: Two Souls” solo. Basically, just a lot of me time.
If I don’t get enough time to myself, socially I begin to run on fumes pretty quick. It can be overwhelming. I’ve even been known to take a bathroom break because I just need to get away. Well, maybe I wasn’t “known” for that, but I guess my secret’s out. I’ve even heard that’s a pretty common strategy. Living as an introvert is still pretty new to me. Even into my twenties I identified as an extrovert. I thrived on get togethers and parties. Life was a lot easier then. Somewhere, though, I drew a line.
But questions are a fact of life. They’re unavoidable, and handling them is a skill one has to learn, because sometimes you have to think on your feet. One time in the 1990s, I was at Waldenbooks (remember them?) and a little kid was on the floor, reading a book. Without missing a beat, the kid asked why I was in a wheelchair. He must’ve been using his peripheral vision, because he asked without seeming to look at me. I managed a simplified answer, and he said “oh, ok,” and went on reading. That kid gets an A+ for handling it well.
These days, though, that situation might cause a dilemma: do I take time to answer questions and break down the stigma, or do I recharge my personal batteries? I’m still working on that. Now I constantly check in with myself for when that line has been crossed and I need alone time. But the problem is, if I don’t answer questions, I feel like I’m either being rude, or not doing society any favors (or both.)
In the case of children, I have to think about my response. There’s a lot of factors at play. Age appropriateness. My word choice. Where I am at the time. How much time I have. Regardless of any of the above, parents typically freak out when I get stared at, or get asked questions. They practically trip over their tongues with apologies. It doesn’t bug me. It’s just ‘normal’ for me. Little boys usually come up and inspect my wheels. I learned how to handle it by being around my younger cousins when they were growing up. I don’t remember them asking specific questions, but I’m sure I got a ton over the years. There are two schools of thought on this, but as far as I’m concerned, parents can chill.
Adults ask more… complex and occasionally invasive questions. There aren’t as many factors to take into account when I answer adults. It pretty much boils down to whether I’m in a rush, how politely the person was asking, how invasive the question is, and how well I think I can answer it in the 30 seconds we’re in the same store. I’ve become good friends with people who have asked me some very awkward questions.
So if I hastily leave a room, or I put earbuds in, don’t worry. I don’t really mean to be asocial. And, you know. I might not be actually using it as a euphemism. I might actually need the restroom. If you have a question, hang onto it for a bit. I may just be on mental overload at the moment, but I’d rather you ask me a question than live on assumptions and conjecture.
If we all lived on assumptions, nothing would get accomplished.