Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Scary Things #1 - Members of my own species

I ought to be getting out and about now I am doing better, but the prospect terrifies me. Last time I went out in my wheelchair was sometime around the end of August, perhaps the beginning of September and it wasn’t fun. I managed to skid into the road twice. I am nervous because my energy patterns are still wavering so I may suddenly feel extremely tired in the centre of town.

However, the big thing is that I am just scared of the people. This is very hard to explain without sounding seriously nuts. And it really isn’t very serious. Nuts it may be.

People are quite terrifying. They are full of expectations. They demand interaction. Yeah, I realise this is me who complained about unsociable Londoners, but when you are genuinely out of practice, you forget all this and it comes as an almighty shock to the system.

I do love people. I love to watch them and listen to their conversations, to snippets of their lives. This is part of the reason I love the blogsphere so much; whatever people write and to whatever standard, they reveal a little bit of themselves, a little bit of their story.

When I go out, I suppose I expect to remain invisible. I am invisible most of the time. I look out the window and watch people, but nobody sees me. I talk on the phone but I don’t have to actually smile and nod when someone is boring me. I read books and browse the Internet but nobody knows that I am even reading their words, let alone how I am reacting to them.

And it used to be that I could stay invisible, or at least be translucent. I can have a very ordinary appearance if I choose; I am neither pretty nor ugly, neither fat nor thin. I am pale but not at all interesting and my hair is naturally the colour of dried mud. If I chose the right clothes, I can disappear completely out of sight. Poof! Vanished.

But the wheelchair. The wheelchair means that the moment I get out the front door, someone in the sky turns a spotlight on me and lights my way around town. Everybody notices the expression on my face and my posture. Everybody listens very carefully to the tone of my voice and my exact choice of words. Everybody notices the slightest mistake I make in the control of my wheelchair. Everybody notices what I buy in shops.

At least so goes my delusion. I know it is a delusion.

Most people pay me no more attention than they would anyone else. I think my presence registers with people such that they recognise me and are more like to say hello to me than to someone less memorable. I am not at all ungrateful for this fact; I know that if I did run into serious trouble, then I would have people who know me close at hand.

I have met my share of weirdos of course, but personally I find I get only as many in the chair as on my feet, only perhaps with a slightly different emphasis. And in Whitby, I know roughly who is who; I think I have been personally introduced to most of the local weirdos, and know which of them have issues with alcohol and which with heroin; the two require a slightly different tact as heroin remains, if just barely, the more expensive intoxicant.

It is just this sense of being the centre of attention and scrutiny that frightens me. People catch my eye and I don’t know how to react; whether to smile or look away. I end up smiling until my face aches – and even then I worry because I can tell a false smile when I see one and presume that others are not only as good at this as me but that it actually matters.

Which is the ultimate delusion of the sociophobe; that any of this actually matters, as if any impression I give to anybody has a profound and lasting effect on the course of our lives. As if anyone would be more than briefly offended if I went about with a scowl on my face, largely ignoring the people around me.

All this will pass. Unfortunately I know it won't pass the first time I go out - my anticipation is not the irrational bit. Previously I haven't expected these feelings after a relapse and I have had to turn back half way down the road when suddenly it hits me. Turning back is always a big mistake; facing something you have previously run away from is even harder than facing the unknown.

But if I do make it out this week and do the same next week and manage it again the following week, by that point I will have much more confidence. And I have to build myself up now before the spring and the tourist crowds return to Whitby.

I started writing this before the weather closed in on us; currently we are having a thunderstorm with really very heavy snow, although frankly I can barely make it out through the fog. The world has turned white! How can you have fog in a thunderstorm? I am sure there’s something quite wrong about that. Anyway, a jolly good excuse to stay in today.

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