‘Try harder’: things people say when they accuse me of faking my disability

A black and white painting of a woman in a polka dotted dress with red lipstick and red cheeks and clouds and a tower in the background by Valerie Galloway

I don’t know where and how I can start this piece, so I’m just going to throw this out there: I’ve been accused of faking my disability.

I don’t know where and how I can start this piece, so I’m just going to throw this out there: I’ve been accused of faking my disability. This has happened multiple times, and the accusations have come from strangers, from friends, and from family. If you’ve read my work, you know that I’m wheelchair bound and have a spinal cord injury. I’d say faking something like that isn’t just kind of hard — it’s incredibly difficult.

‘Sweetheart, you’re not trying hard enough’

A couple of days ago, a family friend came to my house to meet my mom and I. We were talking about my disability and how it happened and suddenly he says, “Honestly, when I first saw you I couldn’t believe you were on a wheelchair. You’re too pretty and smart to be wheelchair bound. Have you tried walking?”  I replied with the obvious, “Yes I have.” “Sweetheart, you’re not trying hard enough. If you try harder, you’ll succeed,” he said.

I was hurt because he was accusing me of wanting to stay wheelchair bound. Of course I’m trying to walk and I’m trying to move my legs, but because of the injury to my spinal cord I’m not able to. Honestly, if I had the choice I would instantly pick walking over continuing to be wheelchair bound. Wouldn’t most people?

I never understood what he meant when he said that I was too pretty and smart to be on a wheelchair. Does that mean that people who supposedly lack attractiveness and intelligence deserve to be wheelchair bound or have some other kind of disability? What do looks and intelligence have to do with a disability? I’ll never understand this attitude, and honestly, I don’t want to.

‘All you need is a good push in front of a truck’

My brother-in-law is someone who speaks along the same lines. He comes over to my house and with a dead serious face he says, “You just need a good scare to get you walking. You’re scared to walk.”

I was intrigued by his line of thinking so I asked him what the solution is according to him. “All you need is a good push across the highway, right in front of a truck.” I was shocked. I thought he was joking, but he was serious. He thinks that I’ll magically start walking when a truck is speeding it’s way towards me because I’ll be scared to die.

First of all, I’m not scared to walk. My nerves aren’t cooperating with me, and that’s why I can’t walk. Secondly, the idea of scaring someone into good health is ridiculous. Thirdly, is he trying to kill me? It’s safe to say that I’ve cut relations with him because of this.

It’s frustrating when someone tells me these things. If intelligence and looks determined whether I’d be considered disabled or not, I don’t think anyone would be disabled. These statements are demeaning, even if they aren’t meant to be.

I realised why he was on antidepressents 

I know someone who had come from Europe, who was on antidepressants. No one, including me, understood why he was on medication. Mental health isn’t spoken about much in India, and people who suffer from depression and anxiety are made to suppress the fact that they are on medication to help them cope with their lives. The stigma is outrageous.

To come back to the point I’m trying to make, I started realising why he was on antidepressants – things in his home life and environment were wrong, really wrong. He was being treated as if he’s a child, not like the fifty-year-old man that he is. He was being babied, spoon-fed, and pushed around on his wheelchair. His family hasn’t acknowledged his depression and keeps treating him as if he doesn’t have a will, or a say in anything.

Some of the other patients at my therapy center kept telling him that he didn’t need to be on antidepressants because he had a good life. His country is fully accessible, he has a loving wife, and his injury level is quite low compared to many other patients.

True, these might be positive facts, but the most important thing that those patients failed to grasp is that a sudden traumatic event can lead to depression. It doesn’t mean that specific person is damaged, it just means that they’re trying to cope with what has happened and are having difficulty dealing.

These comments that people thoughtlessly make are hurtful. It’s not easy being disabled, especially when living in a country that’s not equipped to handle disability. Like I mentioned before, I’m not claiming to be wheelchair bound just to get the attention. If I could, I’d wish to walk again, because it’s just so much easier.

The future may hold many different medical solutions to treat disability, but right now the reality is that things are extremely limited. It’s better to be empathetic towards someone rather than accusing them of faking a disability.

Featured image credit: Valerie Galloway