We All Have Our Limits

And my disability makes shopping for pants one of mine

Photo: /

HHaving recently hurtled past another birthday at what feels like breakneck speed, I continue on my path of becoming firmly set in my ways. I know what I like (eating), as well as what I don’t like (people). I’ve grown increasingly content with my lot and exceedingly comfortable with my habits.

Up until a few days ago, I’d assumed that, as someone rooted firmly in my mid-thirties, I had a pretty firm grasp on both my abilities and my limitations. I’m not talking about skills I’ve yet to acquire, there are millions of those — learning Swahili, flying an aircraft, being able to iron, to name just a few.

I’m talking instead about things that my particular impairment makes it impossible, or at least impractical, to do. At this point, I should clarify that I’ve never been one of those people who subscribes to that whole “You can achieve anything if you want to!” hogwash, primarily because it just isn’t true. Because I have neither hands nor feet, there will always be things I can’t do that require those particular body parts. I will never be a classical harpist, for example, nor will I ever perfect the subtle art of shadow puppetry. But I am at peace with this, because, on the other hand, I can easily fit into overhead storage bins, and also use my prosthetics to kick through plate glass should I ever find myself locked inside a greenhouse, conservatory, or department store window. “” as the British say, ironically both things I also can’t use.

I was an obnoxious, independent little git, who refused to accept that there might be something I couldn’t do.

Of course, as a child, my attitude about such things was completely different. I was an obnoxious, independent little git, who refused to accept that there might be something I couldn’t do. Until I tried and couldn’t do it, that is. This is how we learn. Before I start getting letters accusing me of being negative and defeatist, let me point out that there are plenty of things I can do that people said I wouldn’t be able to — typing, driving, and countless others that would surely surprise you.

On the whole, people with disabilities generally understand our capacities better than anybody else possibly could, and have learned to accept what we can and can’t do. Having said that, I only recently got the shock of my life when I discovered I am unable to do something I thought would be one of the most straightforward things on the planet: Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t buy trousers.

As it turns out, not only are they extremely complicated (more on that in a minute) but they’re also totally inaccessible, at least if you’re someone like me. My epiphany started when I learned that the way in which I put on trousers doesn’t translate very well into dressing rooms, which are seemingly designed to be either anti-shoplifter or pro-pervert. To begin with, there’s usually nowhere to sit except the floor, and the curtains rarely reach down that far. In addition, waist sizes seem to bear little relation to real life once you factor in how to get them over prosthetics and a somewhat oversized arse.

Yet none of this even begins to factor in the extraordinary general ineptitude that stems from me somehow not understanding the basic principles of shopping. I truly have no idea how it is supposed to work. What does the person who stands outside the dressing rooms do? Are you supposed to give them the hangers? The answers to these questions escape me. Also, what are all these specialized terms: skinny, spray-on, stone-washed — sometimes I’m not sure if I’m buying clothes or going on a spa getaway for the weekend.

It’s also terrifying to suddenly realize that I’ve managed to make it this far in my adult life without ever buying leg coverings on my own. In fact, I was so intimidated by both the entire process and my own mind-blowing lack of awareness that I finally decided to just buy all of the trousers I’d picked off the shelf to try on. Literally all of them, solely on the offhand chance that they “might be different when I got them home.” Surprise! They weren’t. Now I’m the proud owner of three pairs of jeans that show off my backside to the world, and a pair of shorts in which bending would definitely not be advised.

Retreating from this experience with my tail between my legs, I’ve come to accept the reality of letting others sort these things out for me. With my equilibrium thoroughly rocked, I’ve returned to a comfortable little world where my limits are known and acknowledged. After all, there can’t be anything else I have yet to learn. Can there?

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