“Wow! You’re here early! I know you don’t like getting here for early morning meetings since you are not a morning person, but thanks for coming!”
When someone says something to Diane about her being a “late riser,” they do not know what she goes through. After waking up (she actually is an early riser), it is painful and challenging for her to start moving around, take a shower, dress, eat her breakfast, and leave her home for the day. She is slowed down by her legs, which are painful, her weak hands, and the fact that she does not want to fall. She slows her movements down and is cautious so she does not fall, all the while wanting to “hurry up” to get to her job.
My friend Diane has severe rheumatoid arthritis. One of her co-workers made that comment to her a few weeks ago. She works part-time, and some days, depending on the weather or if her arthritis is flaring up, she has severe pain, weakness in her hands and legs, and just cannot get moving quickly. Others at work know she has arthritis that causes her great pain, but they might not realize that it takes her a lot more time to dress and move about in the morning than others.
Getting dressed and moving is a challenging part of her disease, along with her pain. She, like many others, has a medical condition that makes just getting dressed a huge challenge and victory. Those going through treatments for cancer or who have severe knee pain, chronic back pain, multiple sclerosis, or a host of other conditions often dread showering, toileting, and getting ready to go out and about. Co-workers see Diane dressed and working, but do not realize all the anxiety she has about safely doing the activities of daily life.
I do not think people mean to cause more anxiety for Diane when they make comments about her showing up. They probably do not know how hurtful or insensitive their comments can be to people who might have been out of bed in the early hours of the morning but need many hours to get ready.
Think about it—if you have little or no use of your legs or feet, particularly, very often you have difficulties rising from bed, getting into your chair, dressing below the waist, moving from chair to toilet and back, reaching for any items on or above standard-height vanities and kitchen cabinets and above centerline in refrigerators, finding and using common furniture such as couches and recliners, getting through house doors (especially closing doors behind you), getting from door to parking lot over curbs, getting from chair to vehicle (sometimes riding in your own chair in a specially-equipped van), driving, exiting your vehicle (usually but not always made easier by a rear-exit ramp), getting from the parking lot into many institutions or places of business over curbs and up steps and over thresholds, reaching over standard-height counters, reaching higher grocery-store shelves and cooler cases, fueling your vehicles at self-serve stations, getting around in narrow business aisles (especially when “normally-abled” people have parked their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle), traveling by any form of mass transit (bus, train, airplane), passing through metal detectors, and traversing any sort of staircases or (even short) vertical blockades (curbs, steps, et al) in general, using public restrooms, eating in bench-only or counter-only diners, using any sort of conventional weighing scales, and traveling on any unpaved surface (sand, gravel, grass, dirt, mud, etc.).
Those are all challenges when a person has lower-body weakness.
If you have little or no control over your arms or hands but retain use of your legs, you have a different range of physical challenges to face, having considerable difficulty dressing yourself (buttoning, zippering, pulling on shirts and pants); using the bathroom; washing; reaching anywhere for any object; and communicating by telephone, computer, writing, drawing, or music. You’re likely to have difficulty handling money, writing checks, or using credit cards. Your signatures can be difficult to acquire. You may have trouble eating your food.
Most people like to be as independent as they can. Adaptive dressing aids include a variety of devices designed to provide support for individuals who are unable to get dressed independently. For the disabled, or for those who just have a difficult time with fine motor skills, dressing oneself can be one of the hardest tasks in the day. While caregivers or spouses may assist with other difficult tasks, such as eating or transportation, getting dressed is one of those very private activities that most people like to do by themselves. Some people may reclaim their independence with dressing aids like button aids, elastic shoelaces, and long-handled shoe horns. But they are only aids. They may be helpful, but the person is still challenged physically.
So, the next time you notice that someone has a pattern of barely getting to a meeting, restaurant, social event, or anything on time, think before you make any comment about them showing up. You might not know what they go through to get ready.
As the Cheyenne Indian folklore saying goes, “Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins.” Or if you prefer Elvis Presley, think of the wisdom of his classic song “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” A line from it says, “Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.”