My neighbor down the hall had unexpected surgery last week. I told him that I’m glad to help with small things, but that of course, I’m disabled myself. He knows that. He has shoveled out my car for me and helped me lift heavy things a couple of times. But that’s all he’s seen of my limitations. So it’s not a big surprise that he doesn’t get it.
The other day he asked if I could walk down the street to the farmer’s market to get him some things. I had to explain that while I can walk down there most days, I wouldn’t be able to carry much back. That gave him pause. He had been focusing on his own lifting restrictions. He hadn’t realize that I had some of my own.
And it’s been like that as he’s explained each of his restrictions. He said he couldn’t walk down the street for several days. Well, often I can’t leave my apartment for days at a time. He said he can’t lift anything heavy for a while. I can’t lift anything heavy for the rest of my life. He can’t ride a bike for a while. I can’t ride a bike for the rest of my life. I didn’t give him my own comparable limitations because I don’t want him to feel that I’m belittling what he’s going through.
Still, it’s interesting that after being neighbors for almost 10 years, he has no idea what I live with. And how would he? We rarely say more than a few sentences to each other at a time. We’re friendly, but not friends. And to the outside world, I seem ok. Because on the days I’m not, no one sees me.
At this point, I’m trying to be clear: I can do X to help him but not Y. I don’t go into details and he hasn’t asked. But the next time he tries to explain how difficult a particular limitation is, I might just need to explain that I’ve had that particular limitation for many years, even decades. Then at least he won’t feel the need to explain.