state fairIf you would ever like to gain a better appreciation for what life what must be like for anyone confined to a wheelchair for any amount of time, I would recommend wheeling someone around the Kentucky State Fair for an afternoon in late August. That is exactly what I did today with my 11-year-old daughter, and I must say that the lack of consideration shown toward her mobility astounded me. I don’t mean in the facilities; I mean in the people just walking around. After witnessing my daughter nearly being walked on top of about a dozen times, I can now say with all sincerity we all need to be more aware of the challenges those confined to a wheelchair face every day.

I don’t mean, of course, that everyone we encountered at the state fair was an insensitive jerk, nor do I want that first paragraph to come off as a “People are idiots!” statement. Several people actually engaged my daughter in conversation, asking her what had happened to her leg (This is my daughter who had the dislocated knee, by the way.). This is my talkative child, so I think she enjoyed the attention. I’m glad she did, because there was a tremendous amount of staring at her leg brace she’s having wear, as if it were some space-age miracle developed by NASA scientists. It’s some plastic, fabric, and Velcro, folks. Move along.

Getting back to the conversations, most of the comments my daughter received were very nice and thoughtful, although I think most everyone believed she had been forced to wear the brace for a really long time (she hasn’t) and wasn’t actually able to walk on the leg (she can). One passing comment from a gentleman at one of the vending booths really bothered me, though. As we passed by, he looked at my daughter and said, “Gee, I guess you must have had a pretty miserable summer.”

Bear in mind, this injury only occurred last week. Up until that point, my daughter had been doing whatever she wanted this summer. Even today, she actually enjoyed riding around in the wheelchair because it meant she didn’t have to walk around the fair. Aside from the night the injury actually occurred, she really hasn’t been “miserable” at all. She’s been quite content to kick back for a little while and take it easy. In fact, she’s probably handling it much better than I would.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out why this guy’s comment bothered me so much. It finally dawned on me on the way home: He made an assumption about someone without knowing all the facts. Now, I don’t believe he meant anything malicious by what he said, but the incident reminded me of how annoyed I get when someone makes a judgment on someone without knowing them well enough first. It is a practice that can range from simply being annoying to wrecking someone’s life unnecessarily.

I am firm believer in the following statement: Some people just do not get depression, and they never will. I don’t mean they don’t try. I don’t think they mean any ill will toward people with depression. They just don’t understand it, and sometimes they say things which reflect this lack of understanding. At the same time, there are also some people who just rush in too quickly with a fix for everything. I also don’t think they mean any ill will, but they can sometimes cause immense amounts of damage.

What do I mean? Here are some statements a person overeager to help someone with depression might say:

– “You just need to have a better attitude.”
– “Think about positive things.”
– “You need to pray more and draw closer to God.”
– “Stop being so hard on yourself.”
– “You need to get some professional help.”

Those are just a few things someone with depression is likely to hear at some point or another. Spoken from a close friend or a counselor, statements such as these can be powerful tools, but they can’t come from just anyone. This is why counselors spend so much time simply getting to know a client before they launch into any kind of treatment. Depression is serious business, and that is difficult for people to understand sometimes. You may just seem sad to them or you may seem unmotivated or angry or you may look like you’re just not trying very hard, when in reality you are working your butt off just to stay afloat.

I would recommend that if you know someone who struggles with depression or you suspect may be strugglingdepression dummies with it, sit down and talk with them for a while. Don’t bring up their depression, though. See what makes them tick. Learn about their problems and their hopes and their dreams and their frustrations. Find out if anything is going on in their lives that may be causing the symptoms you’re seeing. If you enter the room carrying the Depression for Dummies handbook under your arm, you’ve lost them already. You simply must know a person before you can even think about questioning their mood, their motivation, their faith, or the behavior.

If it seems as if I’m overreacting to this one little statement, well, that’s just what depressed people do. See what I did there? Total generalization. I hope no one actually believed I would say that. If you did, I’ll run over you with a wheelchair. You know, because depressed people are angry. 😉

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