Monday, October 3, 2011

See me

I sometimes have to shake myself back to reality.

Two years ago, when my scars were still fresh, I was pretty self conscious. I had become a new person, and I wasn’t sure if people would accept me. People who hadn’t seen me in a while were shocked.

One year ago, I was anxious to start medical school. I was unsure of how my classmates would treat me. I was scared about starting and eager to live on my own. I wanted to prove to people—especially the doubters, but perhaps even myself—that I could attend medical school and live alone.

These blog posts have shown how I have evolved, although they certainly do not paint the full picture at times. My more recent posts seem to show how I’m much more comfortable with who I am, with how things are, and with life in general.

The shake back to reality happens when I am doing the most random of things, like checking my mail. I will think to myself, “Man, Hammad: you’re not like other people; you’re different. You really are different.”

I have to remind myself that I’m not walking to check my mail or to my car; I’m rolling. I can’t quickly run out of places; I have to use the elevator. I can’t pace through the aisles of the library or in my room while trying to memorize facts; there isn’t enough room for that while in a wheelchair. I can’t see other people (peers, professors, patients, etc) eye-to-eye; I can only do that when they are sitting down.

Then I wonder: what do other people think when they see me?

I think my close friends hardly notice me as being different from anyone else now, but what do they think when they do notice? I feel like my classmates also stopped thinking I am different. Or maybe it’s just me: maybe I stopped thinking I am different so I just think they have. I mean, I know I’m different, but I don’t let it bother me. But what do they think?

Most importantly, what do people who meet me for the first time think? This is what I was always self conscious about.

People who are taller tend to get more respect. Just like animals in the wild, they tend to be seen as the alpha males who can more easily control a room, influence others, and dominate an argument. Now that I’m sitting in a chair all the time, it is as if I am as tall as a child. I’m sure this makes people inadvertently think they can overpower me. This should be frustrating, but there really isn’t much I can do.

If I’m half as tall, sometimes I think I have to work twice as hard to prove myself. And then sometimes I think I don’t have to prove myself.

I was again having a conversation the other day with a friend about “people with disabilities” versus “disabled people”. My speech therapist corrected me once when I said something about “disabled people” and she told me how I should say “people with disabilities” instead. Think about it.

People from countries outside the United States seem to have a harder time seeing past a handicap. Because for them, people back in the home country just stayed at home and did nothing once they had a debilitating accident or illness.

Although I see myself as a “person with a disability”, I know that people who see me for the first time, some parents, and perhaps some people who have known me for a while (but not comfortably) see me as a “disabled person”.

Everyone has a disability; mine’s just visible.


  1. Hammad, you're so respected among anyone who meets you. I just wrote a paper right now on how media is aiding in the principle of "normalization" by showing that individuals with disabilities are portrayed in a positive light. I mentioned Artie, from Glee, who's sits in a wheelchair but stands confidently, aware of his good looks and talented voice. You may not physically be that "alpha male" but you most certainly present yourself as one. Your words like from this blog show that by speaking your mind, you're someone with invincibility, not a disability.

  2. I don't know you. I'm justing reading your blogs and from what I'm reading...the way you handle your life... You are more "able" than 80% of the people I know. I wish I had what you have...the alpha attitude.
    Keep writing. You're really helping me. Thank you.

  3. Samina - I know I already responded to you in a conversation, but I must say once again, thank you so much for the input.

    Zee - no, you are helping me, so thank you :)

  4. Of course your speech therapist told you that :) People-first terminology. Remember that when you're a great doctor. I'm sure you're well aware of how much of a difference it makes.

  5. People will always look at you twice. Once you start talking, they forget you have a disability. Don't let negative comments or curiosity questions stop you. They will never stop! People will respect you for who you are as a person. Someone once told me, "at one time or another, we all have some sort of disability - wearing glasses, getting injured or being genetically different." Also, I keep surprising myself with what I can do. Just be ready for challenges and look at them with every angle, you will find a way to do it!

  6. Liz - haha, indeed! I'm glad you were able to recognize that. I will remember that, thanks.

    Med student in Qatar - thank you for your advice and input! Indeed, I hope so.

  7. Hey, I just needed a break from studying and your blog is very fun to read, so yeah don't judge :P...Anyways, I really wanted to ask why you always refer to the United States as the only country where people with disabilities are treated with respect? There are other developed countries in the world too! Haha, you Americans! :P