While living with Epilepsy for 15 years I was faced with a lot of “I’m sorry”. As soon as people heard the word ‘Epilepsy’ the look on their face would turn to pity and their immediate reaction would be, “I’m so sorry”. This irritated me to no end and forced me to stop talking about it all together. People could know me for years now and never know that I had Epilepsy because I would never mention it.
I felt categorized and ‘different’ and this never sat right with me. I never wanted people to look at me and feel like I wasn’t capable of doing something just because of my condition. I didn’t want to and refused to be defined by this.
Over time I dealt with it and since I didn’t publicize my condition I didn’t have to be subjected to the fearful stares and the ‘not knowing what to say’ expressions. And when the questions came, I answered them with short and quick responses. I always corrected people and let them know there was nothing to be sorry about. I chalked it up to people not knowing how to talk to someone who wasn’t just like them.
When my infant son was diagnosed with food allergies to egg, wheat, soy, milk and peanuts, as well as severe eczema, I received a lot of, “that must be so hard for the both of you.” When his eyes started to cross at age 2 and he needed glasses and patching I heard a lot of, “poor thing.” When he wasn’t talking at 2 1/2 years and started seeing a Speech Therapist twice a week, I received a lot of, “do you think he’ll be okay?” Because of his allergies he’s a ‘mouth breather’ and constantly drools, which leads to a lot of, “how awful.”
If I had a penny for every time I heard, “I’m sorry” or “poor thing” over the last 3 1/2 years, I’d be a rich woman. If I had a penny for every time I almost lost my temper on the people who said these things, I’d be even richer.
My son has to be the happiest little boy I’ve ever met. His smile is contagious and his ability to just be ‘free’ is so overwhelming that I get choked up just watching him take in life so fearlessly. My ‘condition’, if that’s what we’re calling it, is hidden and can be easily disguised behind my appearance and secrecy. My son’s bifocals w/ patch, his daily packed lunches with allergy alert stickers, his drool soaked shirts and his jumbled speech give him away every day. He’s a target for people that feel the need to notice and stare and see him for only what’s on the outside.
My son and I battle these small issues on a daily basis and its hard to constantly remind myself that people don’t know any better and they really mean no harm. I think about the people that deal with far worse issues than we do and wonder how they react to the same questions and statements. Right now, I’m speaking for myself and maybe some others that I know that have felt the discomfort of the stares and endured the ridiculous questions.
Maybe next time you encounter someone that you think is less fortunate than you, you’ll think twice before saying, “I’m sorry”. Maybe you’ll remember that they probably don’t think or want to feel like they are any different from you. Maybe you’ll know now that they probably fight on a daily basis in a way that you’ll never truly understand and because of that, they are stronger than you think.
Now when I hear, “I’m sorry”, my next words are, “for what?” My response is usually met with a slow smile of embarrassment as they realize that, “I’m sorry,” isn’t always the best thing to say when you don’t really know what to say.
Have you ever been on the other end of the ‘sorry train’? If so, did you use the moment to educate or did you chose to ignore?