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Please Stop Calling Me a 'Child' or 'Old Lady' Because of My Physical Limitations

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I’m 23, not an old person, or a child. I wish people would stop treating me like either. Sure, some of my symptoms from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) might be associated with another age bracket, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a successful young adult – and people can treat me like an old person or a child. People may not mean it in an offensive or insulting way, but it still hurts. It’s hard enough finding an identity as a young person with a chronic illness, let alone feeling like you have to keep proving yourself as a young adult. Every comment about me being old or a child, makes me feel even more insecure about my condition and my age.

• What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
• What Are Common Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Symptoms?

For example, I have a lot of joint pain, and people’s favorite line around that is “you are such an old lady.” Like no, all I have in common with an old lady is that we both might struggle with joint pain. That’s it. I have no issues with old people, but I simply am not one. I have the rest of my life for that.

First and foremost, I’m a young person. Second to that, I have joint pain, but that does not define me. Joint pain doesn’t mean “old person.” Also, if I ever need a walking stick or a wheel chair, please don’t joke that I am turning in to an old person. Don’t tell me that your grandma or granddad use one. I’ve genuinely refused a walking stick that might be able to help me sometimes when my condition is really bad, because of that stigma, of only “old people” using them.

On the other end of the scale, I have issues with my coordination and fine motor skills, and sometimes my body just can’t do whatever my brain is telling it to do. On a really bad day when my body won’t cooperate, it’s hard even doing simple things without causing pain or an injury.

Some of the issues around this are that I sometimes struggle with shoe laces or buttons (my fingers just refuse to work). My least favorite is when cutting up my own dinner causes pain in my fingers, hands and wrists. These situations lead to lines such as:

“You are such a child.”

“You are so stupid/silly. A five 5-year-old can do that for themselves.”

“You should be able to do it yourself – act like a grown up.”

These ones make me the most angry and upset. I already feel useless sometimes because I can’t always do simple thing. I don’t need a constant reminder that adults should be able to do these things, or that I come across child-like because I can’t do things, or that even a kid can do something that I can’t. None of this is helpful. You can’t shame me into being able to do these things. I wish you could, but I genuinely just can’t do certain things sometimes – not because I’m “a child,” but because I have a illness that I can not help. Once again, I’m a young person first, second I have a condition. Having a condition does not make me a child.

I’m sure all the people who have said the things above and other similar stuff don’t mean it in a mean way. It’s usually a joke or a comment that I’m sure they don’t think of again. But I do. Sometimes I don’t feel validated as a young person, that I have to keep proving that I’m not old or a child, that I’m a successful young adult. Most of us spend our lives trying to act how society tells us we should at our age, but failing because no matter how hard we try, we can’t make our body listen. I just want people to realize that these sorts of comments can be hurtful. Please remember that our illness and symptoms do not define us or our age.

I’m 23, not an old person, or a child.

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Originally published: August 15, 2018
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