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To the College Students Who Ask If I'm OK

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Dear College Students Who Ask If I’m OK,

I know you mean well, but I’d really like to continue heading to class. When you ask if I’m OK, I may slow down a little because I’m wondering how long this particular interaction will last. Will you believe me at my first “yes,” or will I have to repeat myself? Please don’t ask me if I’m sure. When you ask that, it makes me feel like you don’t think I know my own body. I know my own body. I’ve lived with it my whole life.

To the last guy who asked me if I was sure – I’m sorry. I don’t usually yell that second assurance. I think it was the addition of the word “’cause” before I interrupted you, that caught me off guard. I keep wondering what you were going to say. I can’t help but think it would have been something like, “Are you sure, ‘cause you don’t look OK.” You would point out that my left heel wasn’t touching the ground. I know that’s what you noticed, because you were staring. The askers always stare.

I wish I was flattered by you thinking that the way I walk is a result of a physical injury, because it tells me that I can at least “pass as normal.” Injuries heal, after all. But my disability is permanent and I will never just magically walk like you. I had surgery just to get to this point, and yet I’m still not “normal enough.” When I’ve worked so hard to feel and look like everybody else, your questions get at a deep insecurity that my disability is all that strangers see.

So while you may walk away feeling assured you did a good thing, I’m often left far behind you, trying not to cry.

When you ask, “Do you need help?” I’m not sure what you would do if I were to say yes. Because it would be hilarious, I sometimes imagine a stranger giving me a piggy back ride or carrying me in their arms bride-over-the-threshold style. It would be nice to get around campus faster. But maybe you just mean carrying my backpack for me, and I’ve got that covered.

Sometimes when you walk away, I wonder why you asked me. Other students use crutches or a cast shoe when they are recovering from an injury, and since I don’t use either, I would think that’s indicative that I’m OK, or in your eyes, recovering.

Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t seen this happen to other students who have a more exaggerated walk than me. I think it goes back to the fine line of “passing” as someone with an injury. I hope it’s not because people with more extreme conditions make you uncomfortable.

In a way, it makes me feel nice to know I don’t scare people off. In another way, it makes me worried that there are other disabled students who aren’t looked out for at all.

I’m doing more than OK, because I have friends who accept me as who I am and I continue to meet people who will. A lot of people have done so with no questions asked. When friends do ask why I am the way I am, it is out of genuine curiosity rather than pity or concern. I don’t mind answering their questions. I often find it funny that my good friends take so long to ask.

So if you’re wondering if I’m OK: I’m doing great, how about you? I know college can be rough. I hope there aren’t little things that get you down. Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t want to be late to class. See you around.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 9, 2017
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