I went to the grocery store today – thrilling, I know. But I don’t go often. It usually either falls on my husband or we order online for pick-up or delivery. But the dog was out of food this morning and we didn’t have anything planned for dinner, so I figured I could make a quick stop. It may sound silly but grocery shopping makes me anxious. Between the high shelves, navigating carts and getting everything back to my car, I prefer the online method of grocery shopping much more. However, this trip would be easy. We only needed six things of which only one I expected to be too high (damn dog food). No need for a cart – I would just use a basket – and I could even do self-checkout. It would be simple; It should have been simple.
I grabbed a basket and went on my way. I was actually feeling proud of myself (again, sounds silly) but it is the mundane tasks of everyday life that I accomplish on my own that bring a sense of normalcy to my existence. Sure enough, the dog food was on the highest shelf but there was someone close by who was happy to help. I quickly found all six items and went to check-out. I wasn’t feeling overly obvious or helpless – I was feeling confident.
I went straight to self-checkout and the lady pointed me to the one that was open. It was easily seen, but I suppose that’s her job. Then it went downhill. She followed me. I put my basket up on the shelf and pulled out my wallet to find my rewards card. She stood there, staring at me. I started to feel sweaty like I was under some sort of observation. I scanned my card and as I was putting it away she asked me if I needed help with anything. I smiled and said “No, thank-you. I think I’ll be okay.” She asked me if I was sure because she didn’t mind helping. I smiled again and told her that I should be fine. She was hesitant but said that she would be close by if I needed anything. I thanked her and, again, assured her that I would be ok. I could still feel her staring at me and my face felt hot and prickly as I carried on.
I took the first item out of the basket and moved my chair forward to get to the scanner. I needed to adjust the angle of my chair a little bit in order to reach the basket, the scanner and the bagging area. Apparently, a little chair adjustment was all it took for her to decide that I couldn’t proceed on my own. I had no sooner scanned my first item and was placing it into a bag when she appeared beside me and began scanning the second.
She stood between me and my basket and completely took over. In her attempt to help, she simultaneously made me feel obvious and invisible. I had been polite. I had told her I was fine. Did she not hear me or did she just not think my choice needed to be respected? Tears stung the back of my eyes and I refused to look anywhere but down. I felt insignificant. With two items left she told me to let her know if what she was doing bothered me. I wish I had. I wish I told her that I thought I had made it clear I didn’t need her assistance and by taking over without my permission she instantly made me feel like a child who wasn’t tying their shoes quickly enough. Instead, I froze. I said it was fine while continuing to stare at my hands. She walked away. I paid and left. The tears fell after I was safely in my car.
As I felt like I was accomplishing something today, a stranger felt like I was failing. She felt like I was incapable. And then, she didn’t respect my wishes. I stuck up for myself. I told her exactly what I wanted and she didn’t see it necessary to listen. Yes, I have a disability. But I am a grown woman, a mother and a person who has opinions and choice. As far as I know, the right to be heard – to be taken seriously – is not affected by a spinal cord injury. If only everyone understood that.