By Tammy I. Glenn, founder, HomeBoundResources.com
My friend, Cindy, is developmentally-disabled. Recently, I invited her to join me for a few social events. This poses some challenges—for her, for me and for some of the people attending the events we go to.
Among the challenges, Cindy is sensitive about how others see her. She knows that people stare at her because she looks and acts a little different. For me, I’m a bit on edge because I’m trying to anticipate anything that might be uncomfortable for her, so that we can mitigate it swiftly. What I didn’t anticipate is how uncomfortable other people might feel having her around.
When we walked into a party last week, I was shocked when I caught the contorted face of one of my friends. Let me stress the description here: My friend’s face was CoNtortEd! It was surreal to me that this mature woman would have such an exaggerated reaction to a young woman who clearly shouldn’t be perceived as a threat.
I didn’t even know how to react. Cindy and I tried to nestle in at one of the tables where everyone was already in the middle of a conversation. While Cindy is chatty one-on-one, she’s not as inclined to participate in this setting. In fact, she has a defense mechanism that I envy! She started saying to herself, “This isn’t real. This isn’t real.” She bowed her head as if she was taking a nap. At that point, I asked her if she wanted to move to a more quiet part of the room. We did and while she still withdrew, she was more comfortable the rest of the evening.
As it turns out, Cindy and I had a wonderful time together and we talked all the way home about how good the food was and how much we enjoyed each other’s company. She was literally giddy when her attendant greeted her at the door to welcome her home.
My conclusion: We all have developmental disabilities, and we can all learn from each other. Cindy was the only one who hit the nail on the head, saying “This isn’t real, this isn’t real.” She was as overwhelmed as my friend with the contorted face who was probably thinking the same thing when we walked in, “Did Tammy really bring this young woman?” She didn’t know how to express it as well as Cindy did. I, too, was flustered by the look on my friend’s face—a look that I thought was sur-real given life experience and compassion.
Society challenges us to put our game face on when we head into social settings. Some realities, however, are just too overwhelming to comprehend, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth facing. When they are, I now have a new tool to use. I just keep repeating to myself, “This isn’t real. This can’t be real!” until I get home and I can laugh until I’m giddy!
Tammy I. Glenn is the founder of www.HomeBoundResources.com . She serves as an expert advisor on elder care/aging to KCET-TV Los Angeles, is a member of the Board of Advisors for the National Senior Citizens Bureau and as the Executive Director for www.vcCaregivers.org. She has nearly 20 years of experience as a caregiver to her mother and is the author of “The Carefree Caregiver: A Short Course to Peace of Mind” in addition to numerous contributed articles.