When is a Problem Not a Problem? When It’s An Opportunity.

by Erin on February 26, 2009

taped ankle

Reader of the blog Melissa recently sent me this question:

I tore a ligament in my ankle a few months ago and have been sporting white, ever-so-lovely athletic tape on a daily basis since. This hasn't been an issue during winter, the season for multiple layers of opaque tights, but the season for wearing dresses and skirts without attracting weird looks is coming up soon. Not only that, but I have a few occasions coming up very quickly where I need to wear a dress in slightly fancier circumstances (where neither heavy winter tights nor knee-high boots, my winter solutions, are appropriate).

On a daily basis, I have white tape reaching in a semi-spiral half-way up my shin. It wouldn't be as much of an issue, but I'm a 23-year-old student and have to worry about things like making good impressions at job interviews and as I try to get into grad school. Unfortunately, just leaving the tape off isn't one of the available solutions! And, as I mentioned before, there are occasions where I will be expected to wear skirts or dresses.

Do you or your readers have any suggestions about how best to rise to the challenge?

I let this sit in my inbox for a while because I didn't know how to answer it. It's not that I didn't have any suggestions for covering the tape; it's that I didn't have good suggestions for getting Melissa to stop WANTING to cover the tape, and I think that's the real problem. It's totally natural to want to hide anything that might stand out, or call unwanted attention to yourself, or that seems like a flaw. However … NOT covering things up is, long-term, the better solution.

I don't want to be all "Disabilities give you strength!" because, frankly, that is the kind of bullshit able-bodied people tell themselves to feel better. It sucks not to have full use of your body. That's just true. (With the possible exception of being Deaf, which if you are raised in a Deaf community, doesn't seem to be as bad — but then again, I'm not Deaf, so what do I know?)

However, any kind of difference gives you the opportunity to learn how to deal graciously with weird looks and clueless people, and THAT is a life skill whose importance cannot be overestimated. And luckily for Melissa, her White Tape of Difference is purely temporary — she doesn't face the grinding prospect of a lifetime of people asking "How'd you do THAT?" or saying "Wow, that looks like it hurt," and so on. So you practice your "Oh, thanks for asking!" response (the one that doesn't actually answer anyone's question) and remind yourself that just because someone asks you a question, You Don't Actually Owe Anyone An Answer.

It also helps you realize that Really, Honestly, Nobody is Looking That Hard. When you go out of the house with white tape, or a honking big zit, or a birthmark, or so on, you soon realize that for every person giving you the double-take look, there are four, or five, or ten who casually glance your way and never think of you again. Ever.

So, my advice to Melissa is not to worry about how the taped ankle looks. It looks fine. (Remember, you don't owe anyone pretty, either.) And if I were interviewing someone for a job (something I've done a fair bit of) or grad school (something I've never done), I'd be perfectly fine with it, and I'd probably give extra points to someone who dealt with it in a natural and matter-of-fact way, instead of apologizing for it: e.g., "I recently injured my ankle (or use a cane, or have a service animal, or whatever); are there elevators at the interview site? Could you please arrange for me to have extra time between interviews? Thank you for your consideration in this matter."

(Melissa, you can also use this as a way to screen OTHER PEOPLE: anybody who is a jerk or dismissive about your injury or disability is a person you do not want to work for or go be a student of. Believe me. Life's too short.)

So, this may not be the answer you wanted, Melissa, but it's the only one I've got. Good luck!

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