‘The family are pointing and laughing at me – one mimics my spasm’

I’m rather used to hearing people talk about me. But some take it a step further

We all talk about other people. It’s human nature to do so. We think it doesn’t matter. We think they won’t notice. Some people don’t even seem to care when others notice. They take it a step further. That was my experience a couple of weeks ago when I was having dinner with my best friend in a restaurant while on holiday.

It was rather busy in the restaurant and getting to our table had been a bit of a struggle. I knew it was going to be worth it, though, because they serve great pizza.

This is probably where I should take a step back and tell you that I'm hemiplegic. Six years ago, a surgery that was supposed to be rather straightforward, intended to cure me from the epileptic seizures that started six years prior, led to an intraoperative bleed in my brain which rendered me paralysed down my left side. Now, given I wasn't expected to properly walk, work or live independently again and I reached my goal of walking on the Great Wall of China two years to the day after the bleed, I'm not doing too bad. I do walk with a stick and wear a brace, though, and my arm is fully paralysed.

I have a visible disability and navigating a crowded restaurant is a challenge.


About halfway through dinner I notice the people at the table behind my friend talking about me and not making any attempts to hide it. Six years in, I’m rather used to it, but not really. These people, a family of four – two adults, two teenage kids – are also not just talking about me. They are pointing and laughing. Without the laughing, I could have tried to assume positive intent, knowing that in the past people have admired my walking sticks – I have a really fancy collection – or debated my injury.

In this case, though, there’s no doubt about their intention. The female adult is clearly talking about how I’m trying to cut my pizza with one hand, mimicking me, while the others are laughing.

The family can't stop laughing. The male adult mimics my spasm and then points at his head to indicate he thinks there's something mentally wrong with me

I decide not to tell my friend. I know she’d turn around and come to my defence and I don’t want her to feel she has to. She’s done that enough times in the past. I also choose to ignore their behaviour myself. Who are they after all? They are a family of nobodies. Whereas me, I’m a warrior. I walked on the Great Wall of China. I walked the VHI 10km mini marathon. I got hired last June as global vice-president of enablement by one of the big tech companies, when the vocational report after the bleed read that I should accept it was unlikely I’d go back to work full-time, let alone at the level I was used to.

I am a warrior and I will cut this pizza with my one hand.

I’ve got this!

And then something happens behind me; a little girl falls off her chair and plates crash. It’s nothing serious, but my paralysed arm does what it does when I get startled, it spasms. The family can’t stop laughing. The male adult mimics my spasm and then points at his head to indicate he thinks there’s something mentally wrong with me.

I feel my body going into fight, flight and freeze mode all at the same time. Wanting to go over to shout at them while at the same time just wanting to hide and cry my eyes out. Gone is the warrior who was going to conquer her pizza. All I can think of is not showing them I care, not making them feel they matter. They leave shortly after and so do we, half a pizza left.

Outside, I tell my friend what happened. As expected, she’s furious, and I can’t help but cry. How can people not only be so cruel, but how can adults be so comfortable setting such an example in front of children?

Balancing universe

When we get back to the hotel, the manager is standing outside. He greets me with his usual smile and then tells me how amazing he thinks I am and how the hotel should work on better accessibility as the pavement is rather uneven. It’s as if the universe is trying to balance out my experience and it works.

I feel better.

We all talk about other people. We think they don’t notice.

Maybe it’s time we stop doing that, because most of the time, they actually do.