How to Get Rid of Intruders
Recently I was cornered in the hallway of the new condo building I live in by an overly intrusive lady. Perhaps it’s partly my fault because I have this new rule that I say hello to everyone I meet in the community so that we can start getting to know the neighbors.
Little did I know that I would be pulled into an uncomfortable conversation. All I said was hi, then this woman starts asking me: “what’s wrong with you?” She points at my knee replacement scars and asks: “were you in a car accident?”
My spidey senses started tingling with the feeling that I wasn’t comfortable where this conversation was heading. But, I explained that I’d had joint replacement surgeries due to rheumatoid arthritis, and backed myself a little away because she was encroaching on my personal space.
“I never heard of such a thing,” she said. She stepped close again, intruding on my space and reaching out like she was going to touch me without asking. I could tell that she was about to ask me more questions, and so said I had to leave and went on my way.
I know that my tone grew cold, that my body language screamed: “you are getting too intrusive!” but this woman was not noticing or didn’t care. I’ve seen her again in the hallway and don’t say hello anymore. I don’t want to get to know someone so disrespectful, even if she is a neighbor. Just seeing her gives me the creeps, like she is spying on me.
It wasn’t the first time I had an intruder into my business, and I am sure it will not be the last. I can’t say that I have a perfect response, but I definitely hold my ground on setting boundaries.
While I am open about having rheumatoid arthritis, going through joint replacements, using a wheelchair, and living with disabilities—that does not entitle perfect strangers to ask intrusive questions or make judgments about me. I generally will answer questions and don’t feel troubled by genuine curiosity. I usually don’t mind explaining to children (within limits). But this interest must be genuine, by someone who knows me or wants to know me better. I will not feed creepy fixations or satisfy gossips.
Often I just find a way to exit the situation as politely as possible. But I also think it’s perfectly fine to say: “I don’t want to discuss that.” Or: “I don’t know you well enough to share personal information.” Or even: “It’s none of your beeswax.”
Just because I stand out, doesn’t mean that I’m on public display or can be interrogated like I should not have any privacy. These incidents are very likely because I use a fire-engine red wheelchair and have observable joint deformities. People notice and have questions. But I don’t want to be made to feel like a curiosity or zoo animal. I am not a rolling freak show providing entertainment.
No, I am a person and expect to be treated that way. I demand courtesy. Maybe my health story is fascinating and complex (indeed, it is!), but it is my personal story and I won’t tell it to everybody. My struggles are not for entertainment value, but have helped to define the contours of my life.
I’m of the age when I can tell very quickly if people are uncomfortable with my disabilities, fascinated, or creepily interested. There’s a wide spectrum of emotion and response, but I can feel it. My hope is to always be treated as a person first, and maybe never as an interesting specimen. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. For the people who need time to get comfortable, I am OK with that. But the people who think they can get all up into my business before we have barely spoken, need to learn that is the fastest ticket to trouble.
Quiz: Which is NOT a common risk factor for osteoporosis?