A woman floating in a pool of blue water made of eyes pointed at her.

Getting Used to the Stares Again

I haven’t been out much in the last few months. (Understatement of the year, right?!) So, I actually am not used to being around people. Other than living with my husband Richard and some road trips to visit my parents, I haven’t been around many other people in person.

Thankfully, I have been busy with work (from home) and keeping up with people over phone and video chat. But being around strangers or unfamiliar people has been fleeting and rare.

Returning to the outdoor pool after many months

In mid-July, our community re-opened the outdoor pool with masks (on the pool deck), social distancing, copious cleaning, and restricted numbers requiring advance sign-ups. It has been incredibly terrific to get back in the pool again and resume my aquatic therapy.

While I had been doing other exercises at home, the pool therapy is the most effective exercise I have found for my rheumatoid arthritis. After just one week of using the pool, my RA felt better and I started re-gaining strength. While the indoor exercises helped with RA maintenance, there is just nothing better for me than exercising in the water.

Challenges with restarting my water exercises

I knew restarting my water exercises would be challenging. I had to work my way up and gradually increase the length of time and difficulty. At first, I was so sore and exhausted. But I improved and have experienced the improvement in my health — less daily pain and stiffness, improvement in fatigue and endurance, and fewer overall RA flares.

Increased sun sensitivity

On the first day, I also learned I had to be careful of the sun! Four months of being a mole-person inside meant my usual sun sensitivity was cranked up to 11. The first time in the pool we forgot to use sunscreen and my back turned red as a lobster. Lesson learned—and quick!

Now we apply the 50 SPF and I can go do my thing unscathed. Actually, I have been in so regularly (just about every day), that it seems I may have developed a mild suntan for the first time in my life! Mole-person no more!

Unwanted stares at the pool

But one unexpected surprise for me in returning to the pool were the stares. The watching of other people. Let me explain: I have a very visible case of RA (really, juvenile-onset RA). I use a red, motorized wheelchair. I have lots of contractions and funky looking joints. And I need my husband’s help getting into the pool so I can do my exercises. Let’s just say I draw a lot of attention when I am out in public.

People are naturally curious

All of my life (or as long as I can remember), I have been stared at. People are naturally curious. I can almost hear the thought bubbles: What happened to her? Why does she use the wheelchair? Can she walk? Is she sick? Why is she here?

It took some time for me to get used to the stares, to handle the questions. And I am happy to talk to people (within reason and when others are respectful). So after so many decades, I just pretty much don’t notice anymore or ignore it.

Later realizing that people were staring at me

But the first time back at the pool, I rolled in and felt something tingle at the back of my neck. What was that? I couldn’t figure it out. Richard helped me into the pool, I did my exercises, got out, dried off and we went home. That night, it finally occurred to me: people were staring and I felt it. My immunity had worn off!

Readjusting to the stares when out in public

I looked back at my memory of the pool visit and saw how people were watching, staring, and following my movements. And I know it is sort of a fascination, but it felt uncomfortable because it had been so long. I had been inadvertently sequestered and was no longer used to the attention.

Once I realized what was happening, I quickly adjusted. We visited (at a distance) with neighbor friends at the pool and have even made more new friendships with other regulars. People became comfortable with seeing me and I feel the balance has been restored. Sometimes we just have to get used to other people, again.

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