Monday, December 28, 2009

Greetings, Handshakes, Smiles and Disability

image The holiday season means that we are in closer contact with family and acquaintances.  Hugs and handshakes are exchanged as we say Merry Christmas, or Happy New Year.  Before becoming disabled, though the process of hugging people I was not overly familiar with was something I disliked, I was able to tolerate it.   Since fibromyalgia and sarcoidosis have entered my life, a hug or a handshake costs me a lot.  There are days when it is extremely painful to cuddle my children and to be expected to endure this to give a greeting to someone who means very little to me is  ridiculous.

For some people, the handshake is a sign of virility and therefore they latch on and squeeze as though their very lives depended on it.   That kind of handshake is all about presenting an image to the person you are interacting with and the pain that it causes is something that is often laughed at.  One man shook my hand at Destructions Christmas pageant and he literally caused me to cry out, bringing tears to my eyes.  He of course apologized but not before smiling at his manly strength. The pain  is debilitating; my hands will ache for hours afterwards, thus limiting my ability to do other things.

I finally decided that I am no longer willing to risk pain and simply informed people that I don’t shake hands or asked them not to touch me.  At some point, self preservation has to be the priority.   This is a very simple request and yet the amount of eye rolling and questions that it raised is ridiculous.   It seems that to avoid that fact that some people feel rejected, I am expected to tolerate pain.  Their fee fees matter more than the hours of pain that my body is going to experience if they touch me in the wrong place, or in a manner that is painful. 

I further resent that a medical history is expected to reject a hug or a handshake.  Why must I provide a reason and why isn’t a simple no satisfactory?  No one is entitled to access to my body on demand regardless of the fact that it is  the holiday season.  I should not be expected to repeatedly give the details of my personal life simply because I don’t want someone to touch me.  Pointing out that I may be holding my child's hand or the unhusband’s is also not your business.  My children and my spouse live with me daily and they intimately know my hot zones.  They also know to ask before embracing me and understand that no does not mean that I don’t want to touch them but that I cannot do so without experiencing pain.  If a small child can understand this very simple thing, why is it so difficult for an adult?….oops silly me how could I forget EGO?

In the future, I intend to smile and wave but reject hugs and handshakes.  I don’t care about the feelings that are hurt because my physical health is worth something to me.  I will not be providing a note from my doctor or detailing my medical history for the last five years.  Any assumptions that are made, are just that, assumptions.  If people chose to learn about the various reasons why someone cannot hug or handshake, an explanation would not be necessary each and every time.  I am not going to enable your ignorance about disability by informing you about something that you have casually chosen to ignore. Finally, because I believe I have the right of any other person to physical autonomy my no will be forceful and direct.   My body, my rules and if all else fails, my cane up your ass will be a not so nice deterrent.