When Someone Asks Me, ‘What Happened To You?’

What happened to you?”

It’s a question I get asked frequently. I use a power chair and have used mobility aids all my life. My response is always “I was born early.” However, this response never sits well with me.

Recently, when I was at Target, this conversation played out with a stranger. He added, “Oh I see, so that’s why you use a chair… you’re still as beautiful as ever though. God Bless.” I then said, “Well, thank you. God bless you too. Have a nice day.”

Don’t Focus on the Negative

I know the person meant well when he said, “You’re still as beautiful as ever,” but when people make comments like this, I wish they understood that mobility devices do not change someone’s appearance. Also, I’ve come to realize that the question of “What happened?” does not deserve an answer focused on the negative. So when I only respond with, “I was born early,” I wish time and courage allowed me to respond with the full truth. I miraculously survived a complicated delivery, where almost every doctor doubted my survival, but my determined, faithful and hopeful mom refused to give up on me.

With that being said, I’ve also come to realize this question doesn’t even require an answer relating to my disability. Therefore, instead of putting the focus on it right away, I could first tell those who abruptly ask, “What happened?” that I recently started graduate school — and I’m working towards getting my degree in school counseling to help students realize their potential. Another answer could be, more simply, “I’ve had a tiring, but fulfilling day at work today, and I too am just shopping for things that I probably don’t need.”

Creating Positive Changes in Perceptions and Attitudes

It can sometimes seem as though the only thing people want to know about me is why I use a power wheelchair. Curiosity is natural, and my chair can be something to notice, but it is just the way I’m used to living. I do not wish to deny my disability. However, I do wish for society to see me, and not just my power chair. There is so much more to a person than the way that they navigate their surroundings. To me this is my normal, so please treat it that way.

I know positive changes in perceptions and attitudes can begin to take place with even the smallest interactions. So I hope the next time I am abruptly asked: “What happened to you?” I remember to take my own advice — even when I’m just shopping at my favorite store.

Photo by Xan Griffin on Unsplash

Previously published on The Mighty and YooCanFind


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