The Locked-In Traveler: Thick Skin


The Locked-In Traveler

(Kati’s Wheelchair Traveling Journals)

Thick Skin

(Click here for audio version)

To survive this world, you need to grow a thick skin. Everybody should know that, especially if you are part of a minority group.

To be a good model, you should get people to look at you and keep their eyes on you. You must be your best when all eyes are on you. I loved that, and I will not be apologetic about it.

Things changed though after the stroke. The first time I went out after becoming paralyzed was six months after the stroke. I was in rehab at the time. It was a beautiful warm summer day, and my mother took me out to the park.

My first reaction was from happiness. I loved the warmth of the sun on my face. It was energizing; I felt like an average person. However, that feeling did not last long. I started noticing the people. Principally, their eyes, the way they looked at me. I could not stand the looks. The one thing I used to love turned into the one thing that I hated the most.

As time passed by, I realized that I must deal with it, get used to it, and get over it. I do not know exactly how I did it. Perseverance, humor, and courage were essential factors. You could say that the “Sisu (a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, the tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness) in me that did the trick. The one thing that I know is; that it did not happen overnight. It took me almost three years to get so far.

One experience that certainly helped me to get my self-esteem and self-confidence back was in Florida on my first trip abroad. I was already used to people patronizing behavior towards me. Or to have people talking to my mother if I were not even there. I grew a thick skin as I was being treated like a child or a vegetable.

Get Kati’s autobiography; “Living Underwater

In the USA, it was different. There they would talk to me by relating things in a way that I could blink; “yes or no.” For example, we would go to a restaurant, and the waiter would read the menu and ask me what I want. They made me feel like an average person again.

The first time I met my husband Henning in person was at the airport in Amsterdam. He took me for a walk around the airport and he was overwhelmed by the stares that I got (and still get.) However, what amazed him the most was my indifference towards the glares. In his words, “it was like I was looking through them.” In addition, if by any chance I would notice someone looking at me, I would just smile at them, and they would smile back.

Later that night, we went to a fancy five-star restaurant. The nicely dressed maître d was very cordial in the beginning but started to have a condescending behavior towards me. Each time he passed by as I was taking a bite he would say; “good girl, good girl.”

Mom and I are used to such behavior, so we did not make much of it. We even found it a bit funny. The man’s conduct, on the other hand, was upsetting Henning. Nevertheless, he did not say anything because he was surprised by our reaction towards the situation.

The experience was a good one for Henning. He got the chance to see how life would be like if he would be with a disabled partner. Nowadays he also laughs at people behaving in a patronizing way towards me.

The phrase: “good girl!” has become an inside joke in our household. It is a sure way to put a smile on my face.


Get Kati’s autobiography; “Living Underwater

(Kati & Henning van der Hoeven)

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