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Don't Pity Me for Having a Disability

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What happened to you?

Sigh. Take a deep breath. Decide how to answer.

I travel around the world on a regular basis, and usually by myself. I’ve had multiple sclerosis for over 12 years, and since I can’t walk as a result, I use a power wheelchair at home and an electric scooter when I travel. For whatever reason, the combination of traveling alone, looking young and (otherwise) healthy, and using a mobility aid just begs people to ask me this question. I usually decide to answer honestly, and prepare for anything. However, nine times out of 10, I get this.

I’m so sorry!

Now, you don’t know me. If you did, you’d know I speak fluent sarcasm and have little patience for ignorance or lack of common sense. I consider myself to be a nice person, but on some days — especially when I’ve just gotten off a 10-hour transatlantic flight — I have to work harder at it than others. Sometimes I choose the less polite path and outright ask people why they’re sorry, which usually leads to an awkward and uncomfortable situation. But more often than not, I tell people not to be sorry. Why? Because I live a more active life than some people who can walk and don’t have an incurable disease.

That’s when I get on a roll. I tell them that by the end of 2017, I will have visited 17 countries this year alone. I tell them I’ve been to the top of the tallest building in the world and ridden a camel in Dubai. I tell them I’ve eaten Belgian waffles in Belgium, danish in Denmark, and Polish sausage in Poland. I tell them I’ve heard Strauss being played by an orchestra in his native Munich and held a koala in their native Australia.

Nothing illustrates my passion for travel better than a photo I had taken during a solo trip to Iceland in September 2016. I signed up for a helicopter tour that would take me to the surface of a glacier and over volcanoes. When I called the tour company and told them I couldn’t walk, they assured me they could work with me. Upon arrival and after the pre-flight briefing, it became clear that “work with me” meant a large lumberjack-type Icelandic man would deftly lift me off my scooter and deposit me in the helicopter seat. I couldn’t have cared less what it took to get me in that chopper, and I’m pretty sure the grin on my face as I sat atop the Langjökull glacier proved it.

If you’ve read this far, I’m hoping pity is not at the top of your list of emotions right now. If it’s lingering close by, add on to my frequent world travels the fact that I own a consulting business and accessible travel agency, I’ve authored two books, and I’m the president of a successful nonprofit corporation. These tidbits often don’t make it into brief conversations with strangers on planes or at airports, but sometimes they do. Then I usually get the eyeroll-worthy responses of, “You’re so inspiring!” or “Good for you!” As much as I despise those statements, there’s no malice behind them, and I’ll take them over pity any day.

Just know that the next time someone tells me they’re sorry for me because I have MS and can’t walk, I’ll be visualizing glaciers and muttering under my breath, Sweetie… you don’t even know.

Follow this journey at Spin the Globe.

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: September 27, 2017
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