Recently I came across some papers from our pre-marital counseling. On the bottom of the page I had practiced writing my soon to be new name, Joan Borton, several different ways. Most young girls engage in this practice with a first crush, a serious boyfriend, and certainly when about to be married. Not every bride wants to change her name. I was happy to be known as Mrs Borton.
But here is my true confession, sometimes I feel invisible.
Is it just me, or does this happen to other spouses married to someone with a disability? Jerry is very recognizable. He is fun and captures people’s hearts with his wit. He is pretty memorable. But me – that’s another story. I guess I should be grateful that they remember Jerry by name rather than referring to him as “that guy in the wheelchair.”
We have lived in this community 19 years, and have attended the same church for 15 years. Still though, if Jerry is not with me and I talk to someone we know casually I will get a funny look or even be asked, “I’m sorry. Who are you?” It does not happen every day or even every week, but often enough to bug me.
I am not the smallest or quietest woman in the world, yet you missed that I hang out with that guy who uses a wheelchair? You have no idea who I am if my husband is not with me? Wow! As soon as I say my name and connect it to being married to Jerry the recall comes.
Why does this bother me so much? The bottom line is pride, I want to be known as me for who I am. I think the other factor is that spouses can be perceived by the public as an attendant rather than a family member. Sadly, that indicts our culture on two fronts – 1) underestimating that a person with a disability is or could be married, and 2) not giving paid attendants the value they are due for the hard and often thankless work they perform.
Anymore, I try to just start out conversations by reintroducing myself. I find it less painful to assume they may not remember me or my name than it is to find out for sure.
I get that this is not the biggest problem we face, but we all know it is the “little irritants” that get under the skin and provoke annoyance. Is this a problem unique to me? Do other spouses find themselves on the losing end of identity? How do you deal with it? If this isn’t your marital pet peeve – what is?