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Why My Clumsiness Isn't a Joke

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Slapstick comedy (you know — the falls, trips, the clumsiness) has been around forever, and for good reason. It’s funny.

But for some, this is our everyday life. We trip. We fall down. We overfill water bottles and spill hot cups of tea on our laps. Sometimes, we have trouble talking and might even sound drunk.

As funny as that can be sometimes, it’s an endless cycle of distressing incidences.

Yes, I can laugh at myself. And I do… a lot. Especially when I say something like, “I’m not gonna say that because it’s too much words” due to my nominal aphasia (brain fog) and verbal ataxia.

I sound like a meme, right?

I love a good comedy, but when you’re always frustrated from dropping, falling, stumbling, and stuttering… the humor gets old fast. It’s incessantly infuriating.

And if you have an undiagnosed illness, it’s not just frustrating — it‘s terrifying.

My neurologist doesn’t know what’s wrong with me. I have a mutation in a gene that causes episodic ataxia type 2, and many other illnesses, but it’s unclear if my specific mutation is pathogenic, so I still don’t know exactly what’s wrong. We’ve ruled out a lot of the dangerous illnesses, but it’s still scary. It’s scary because my clumsiness could be progressive and because there’s very little I can do to make it better.

The truth is, so many serious, debilitating illnesses cause clumsiness.

You might laugh at me, or laugh at someone else who appears clumsy, but would you laugh at them if you knew degeneration of the part of the brain that controls movement caused their clumsiness?

Would you laugh if you knew that person had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis? What about one of the many muscular dystrophies?

It’s important to remember that in any person at any age, chronic clumsiness could be to due a medical condition. So unless you’ve talked about it with them, and know why they’re clumsy, don’t laugh at them.

Don’t laugh at strangers who drop fruit at the grocery store. Don’t laugh at random people who trip on the sidewalk. If you think it’s funny, keep it to yourself.

Bullying someone and making fun of someone because they’re clumsy benefits no one. It can hurt someone’s feelings and make you look like a jerk. We shouldn’t have to explain our medical condition to justify why it’s rude to point and laugh.

No one’s illness is a joke, not even mine.

So, if you’re going to laugh, wait and see if I laugh first.

Originally published: June 1, 2019
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