Mane with face buried in hand while people peer all at him from behind.

Stares Know No Bounds

My mom had a stroke last month. I was shocked because she is so young. But, that is how life is, right? You can never expect these things. Thankfully she is recovering, but due to some poor decisions by emergency personnel, she didn’t get the medication that could have prevented the extensive damage that was caused. As a result, her dominate side is paralyzed.

Public stares

I went and visited her recently and we were talking about a trip she made earlier that week to a restaurant. While there, an older man stared at her the entire time as she tried to navigate to her seat and sit down with just a cane and my dad to help. He continued to stare as she tried to flip the menu with only one hand. Finally, she gave him the nastiest look she could muster to get him to stop. She said she doesn’t want to go out again until she is more healed because she can’t handle being the object of attention in that way.

My big realization

I immediately said I understand how that feels. I’ve been the only one in my family with severe psoriasis, but for the first time, we were able to relate, even though the why was different. It struck me right then and there that psoriasis isn’t the only isolating condition out there. Of course, in my head, I knew that. I know there are many other visible diseases out there, but it’s all too easy to get caught up in my own disease. I feel like I have it worse.

I now see that it isn’t a competition by any stretch. The feeling of being embarrassed, ashamed, disgusting, less-than, not worthy, etc. etc. is common across all walks of life. Disease and disfigurement are not received well in our society. Different is scary and fascinating and confusing all in one. There are different reasons for stares, but they all are all unwelcome. Even the most confident, laid back guy *cough*me*cough* finds intense looks unsettling.

Don’t be afraid to ask

One thing my mom and I agreed on is that we would take a question from a stranger over a stare any day of the week. We compared our experiences of people coming up and asking us what happened. Questions, no matter how poised they are, gave us a chance to connect with a person like a silent stare never could. Questions make us feel human instead of like a zoo animal.

The funniest thing is that in my experience, the ones that come and ask questions are always kids or young adults. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that all older adults stare, it just seems interesting that at some point as we age our thinking shifts so that we feel like staring is more polite than talking about the unusual. I’m here to tell you that that is the wrong perspective. Curiosity did not kill the cat and asking me a question about my skin is way less offensive than coming up with a million (probably worse) assumptions on your own.

Be mindful of staring

So, let’s teach the next generation and keep reminding ours to be careful with our eyes. Even if someone doesn’t make eye contact with you, that doesn’t mean they don’t know you are examining them. And it’s uncomfortable. And it’s unnecessary. And it can change.

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