How do others see me?
An unflinching and sometimes funny account of living with a disability, told through the recordings of Louise Halling’s everyday life. Today she asks, “How do people see me?”
My name is Louise. I’m a mum to Jacob, wife to Mark, and therapist and friend to many. I also live with a degenerative, muscle wasting disease - a type of Muscular Dystrophy.
A few years ago, my hospital consultant asked a medical student to describe my condition. “Well,” he said, “she walks like a duck.” After a stunned pause, my husband and I howled with laughter. While I doubt the hapless student received the same reaction from the horrified neurologist, his clumsy response provided the perfect title for this documentary series.
The premise is clear. I don’t see myself as a person with a disability, yet that’s what I am. I don’t spend much of my life thinking about disability, yet my mind is filled with it 24/7. I wouldn’t choose to listen to a programme about disability, yet that’s what I was desperate to make!
It’s because living a life full of dependency and loss, my voice - and the voices of others like me - are so often silenced, so feared is the mirror of human weakness that others see reflected in our bodies.
A year in the making, the audio recordings in this series skip from the micro - the exhaustion caused by picking up a box of dropped crackers (when my day’s energy must be meticulously budgeted) - to the macro, such as asking questions about our collective, fearful disregard towards the chronically ill.
Amid all of this, are the real, raw and sometimes amusing sounds of my daily routine - I do live with an 8 year old, after all! - and some personal reflections on the acute emotional and physical pain caused by my diagnosis. I've tried to be absolutely honest in a way that has occasionally been exposing for me, to tell you what my life is like living with a disability.
Episode 3: How Do Others See Me?
I haven’t always used a wheelchair, and I used to dance. In my student days, I lived on the fourth floor and backpacked round India. I wonder – now that my body is so much weaker and people watch me becoming increasingly dependent – how do I seem to them? I know how I feel when I see other people struggle. It’s hard to watch. At the time, it was a huge deal for me -using a stick, then a crutch, then a wheelchair, walker and scooter, feeling my identity in the eyes of others change and morph. In this episode I ask people who have known me the longest, and those I have only known for a little while, to be honest about how they see me.
Presented by Louise Halling, with thanks to her husband Mark and her son Jacob
Produced by Catherine Carr and Jo Rowntree
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4
Photo © Muscular Dystrophy UK/Chris O’Donovan
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Walks Like A Duck - How Do others See me? Episode 3 Transcript
Oh come on. Ahhh, I hate dropping things. Jacob can you come help me please. Just dropped all the crackers and stupid packed lunch……Sorry. I’m getting annoyed. Thank you so much…..pick that one up as well.
what is it again? That people say, don’t say the actual f word
(laughs) …Oh, the Irish thing
as the Irish would say, ah feck.
(laughs) I don’t think we’re allowed to say that on radio four actually.
Ahhhh…it's a small thing but somehow it just feels like it, maybe hit a bit of overwhelm with that happens, because it just is such hard work. Anyway, better get the radio on and get ready for cubs.
Fx – Radio
Catherine Carr (producer) 1:11
This is Walks Like a Duck. Eposide 3 – How People See Me.
Okay, I'm just gonna explain what we're doing. Jacob and I are sitting, making things. you're gonna show me how to do it aren’t you because you’ve been learning to make lizards at school haven’t you?
Yeah, card lizards yeah
So I was thinking about asking you a couple of questions. So one was about like, what you think mommy's strengths are and one was about what you think my weaknesses are like, like what things you get annoyed about or whatever…..
Everyone's gonna laugh at this bit, but one of the things that annoy me is when you drop things, and it wastes my TV time.
(laughs) What things do you erm love about your mummy?
That you always respect other people. And you're very kind loving person.
A kind and loving person? That's really lovely.
And you love reading books
I love reading books. Yeah.
Erm, what thigns do you like to do with mummy?
Play games, do arts and crafts. So amny things.
So what things do you find difficult or about mommy like weaknesses? Struggles, frustrations?
I get annoyed when you don't cope with me when I'm getting annoyed. Like…and one things is……Can I say one thing I like?
You could say Sam likes, the stairlift.
Sam is one of Jacobs best friends. What else about my disability, makes you feel maybe more painful emotions like sadness or anger or frustration do you think?
I get sad when you can't do stuff with me, like when you couldn’t go to the new police show it made me really sad.
Yeah, because of my mobility scooter was in for a service and it was a bit of a rainy day.
Yeah I was quite sad about that
Thank you. Thanks right you better get on and show me how to make a lizard…..
Fx – radio playing, stairlift noise.
Oh, I'm just having a really bad moment, I’ve just come upstairs on the stair lift into Jacobs room, which, honestly a little while ago was like really, really tidy. And then Jacob bless his heart. He's an eight year old boy. And I'm also really delighted that he was desperately looking for a particular book. But I’ve just walked into the room and there are books all over at the bedroom floor, so much so that there isn't even a proper alleyway for me to walk through. Of course I will ask him to come and tidy them up. But it's just you know, if I was able bodied, it would take me like two minutes. It would be done. Mild frustration over, but no, I'm looking at this pile and it's too hard and the mess is there and I cant actually get past the pile. So I mean it’s not going weel, it’s too well tonight… I came up here to do a few things, some of which I am prevented from doing. (sighs)
I remember once reading a book that was describing anger as a blocked goal- you get angry because your goal is blocked. Well my goal is blocked, okay? And I'm angry, and it's not anybody's fault. Well, it's not it's not fair either to take it out on Jacob, which I sometimes do because I'm human. And you see, this is the thing I have these people in my life who have got the hero factor, you know, that because you've got a disability and you're out there in the world and you’re doing all this stuff and you're coping so well with your terrible circumstances that you're such a hero. You're So Amazing.
I have a friend that thinks I'm so amazing. And I'm not amazing. Well, I am amazing actually. I am amazing sometimes, but I'm never Ahh-mazinggg. And right now I definitely don't feel amazing. I feel tense, and I'm cross and it's one of those nights I'm just I feel low, I feel angry, I feel aghhhhh. But I'm really hoping to bring some inner calm from somewhere – and this is about being raw and real. This is not about me being this incredible human being that many people see me as, I'm not incredible. Breath…
MUSIC – Louise playing ‘you are my sunshine’ on the ukulele and humming
I just had to record this because it was a classic life with a disability moment. We're having a few days away down on the south coast. Mark and Jacob have gone to play crazy golf, so I thought I'll go and find a café. This is always a bit difficult when I've got the scooter it means that I don't have any crutches so if I park outside somewhere I have to walk on my feet. But the floor is really sandy because it's right beside the beach, and that makes me terrified because it's so slippery, so I'm already feeling wobbly, and then I realised that it wasn't table service, so I had to stand in a queue – but as I'm standing there I just look a fit and healthy able bodied adult woman, and so no one would have any idea that I'm just standing there with no aid trying not to fall over.
And the guy was just really not very friendly and, I had to pluck up all the courage that I had to say to him when he got, he got me a piece of cake and a coffee on a tray, but the thing that's weird is that a lot of people haven't really heard of muscular dystrophy really, I don't think, and I just said, I'm sorry, I've got MS, and I don't trust my legs not to give way with the tray so would you mind lifting it over for me, which he did and actually he became much more friendly at that point, and it really makes me reflect a lot on hidden disabilities because actually in some ways I'm quite lucky that 99% of the time my disability is not hidden. As in you can see it, either if you pay close attention to the way that I waddle, or ‘walk like a duck’ or if you usually see my walking aids, or my wheelchair, and people do work around that. If your disability is hidden, for example, if you have a stoma or something and you have to use a disabled toilet, no one sees that, or like autism where you might be really struggling in a loud crowded place like the one I'm in now, and nobody understands that - it must be so difficult to navigate that, to negotiate that to feel like, you know, sense that other people might think you're a bit of a fraud or that you're making a fuss, anyway…Yeah, I'm now going to sit and enjoy my coffee and my cake and read my book whilst the boys play golf. And I've texted Mark to tell him exactly where I am and I said I'm actually too terrified to get back up.
FX - café noise, chatting, background music
FX – cutlery clinking, setting the table
You’re not gonna put us on Radio 4 are you?
So I might, you might have to hold it like that if you're going to speak
Are you already recording?
Yeah im recording it now. Well I'm interested in is, Ohhhh mark.
Stop talking Mark, stop talking!
so basically the people that I'm here with, I've known me for about, well obviously marks here, he's known me for a long time, but how long three years?
Three and a half years, four years. These guys have known me only with a disability and I am the school mum that arrives with my granny walker to pick Jacob up. And they've also seen me at a festival with a mobility scooter, to which we attached trolleys to take the children in a train like fashion through the festival ground, and I may have had a little too much to drink, I was baisclaly drunk driving but anyway, I’d just love to know any thoughts that you have about how you see me. How you see me live with my disability. That kind of thing. There's a lot of giggling going on…
Friend 1 10:46
I worry that I don't understand enough about your disability if I'm honest, because I see you defined by your kindness, your generosity, your immense sense of fun, then it clearly has a huge impact on all aspects of your life, but I'm not sure I've ever paid it probably the due time I possibly should have done, to properly understand it and then better be able to, support you as a friend through it, there’s a bit of an apology for never really talking about it, it always seems like the secondary conversation we never need to have.
Your quite articulate
Friend 2 11:17
You are very articulate
Friend 3 11:19
Yeah you’re too good with your words, no pressure!
Good radio voice (laughs)
Friend 1. 11:22
I've always felt like I've always wanted to say that….
You’re one of the most aware friends I have actually, to be fair.
Friend 1 . 11:31
That means a lot to hear back, I always think at some point, I'd love to talk to Louise about how I can support you more or be more understanding of some of the the frustrations or worries or concerns but there's so many other things we’ve got to talk about! That we never get there
Plus its really boring for me to talk about that. I want to talk about other things
Friend 1 11:52
Are you going to say something Becky?
Friend 2 11:55
I don’t know. I never treated you any differenetly, I’m just sitting here now and I donlt feel like I need to ask you abot your disability - maybe that is because, not even because I am shy, but I’m just having a laugh with you and I am having fun and I don’t feel like it is a topic of converstion….
Friend 1 12:15
the moment which I found, im going for it now right, it’s like the honesty card. But I felt really ashamed I hadn't talk more about it when we went to WOMAD and when you said how special it was that they actually allowed you to camp with friends. And that was a quite an interesting experience, for that whole weekend in the disabled area. The idea that in other festivals, disabled people wouldn't be able to be with their friends camping. It was a tiny little snapshot into some of the things you don’t even think about being difficult can be difficult, be that to put your hand up and constantly have an exception comes to bear and even the most casual and, what should be straightforward and happy moments in time, that was a bit of an eye opener for me.
It was great the disabled area there, wasn't it?
Yeah, we got to be really close….
there are advantages and disadvantages…
MUSIC – You are my sunshine played by Louise
FX – TV
So I'm not sure if you can hear in the background but we've just put the TV on for Jacob, and Mark and I are just going out to our garden to have a sneaky hot tub. This amazing portable hot tub has been lent to us by some really kind friends. We've had it for a few weeks now, and it’s so good for my muscles cos they're so warm but also it's such a great time for Mark and I to chat to each other and, so going down the ramp on my walker which just sits out in the rain most of the time, towards the hot tub where we're going to get in…..ok…. just getting my plastic shoes off. Okay, good thing about this is I don't even need to use the steps because it's basically a bit like getting into a bath. I was about to say I can just put my leg over but (laughs) oh my the inuendo’s hey, they're endless. There we go.
Mark’s just eating a biscuit. Oh that’s so nice. So…Oh, look at that moon……I can hear the birds still, which is nice.
Right. I'm handing Mark the recording, but I just need to get closer to the microphone.
Any excuse to get close to me
Do you want me to sing for you?
No, I don’t think the nation needs to hear that…
*SINGING* when they get to the bottom you go back to the top of the slide and they stop….No?
They might put this on you know, whatever you say, its possible. And so yes, I just..
*SINGING* wanna love you, wanna hold you tight and get teenage kicks right through the night.
(laughs) This is what happens all the time in my life…anyone that knows mark will know this as well. One of Mark's friends once described him as a walking iPod Shuffle. And basically you'll ask him a question about anything and he’ll answer with the song, or he'll have to sing a song related to the question first, before you get the answer, and some people think it's, you know, quite endearing. But quite honestly, it's totally infuriating when you have to live with it all the time. But anyway, erm, as I was gonna say…
It would be considerably better if I could actually sing. That is a minor technical problem.
That is an inconvenience to the listener. Certainly. (laughs). Okay, so as you know…
this could end in divorce.
(sighs) Right, as you know…
or at least separation.
(laughs) Right erm…As you know, I have been asking other people, how they see me, but I guess it's really interesting for me to ask you the question, and it's quite sort of vunerable as well, I guess for both of us, but how you see me in terms of my disability really, and how it affects you, as well really as a carer, as well as my husband.
I was thinking about this actually while I was driving along today, (bird sings) that was a very loud bird. And I was thinking, it's hard. It's hard to watch you struggle. And it's really hard when I you see you, maybe do something that you used to be able to do, and now it's tough, now it's much harder to do than it used to be. I think they're the kind of the most disarming moments, those moments where the weakness is quite stark or the weaknesses is quite in your face. I think it's confusing too like it's hard to know, what's just life, and is true for everybody, and what's the experience of living with disability?
It's hard to know what normal is, And what, what is tough about disability or is it just tough about having an eight year old? And all the kind of challenges that that comes with?
I was just thinking about how when we first got married, which is coming up 17 years, makes me feel very old. But it's actually just that we were really young when we got married. Well, 25….
(laughs) obviously, you knew when you married me that I had Muscular Dystrophy and that it is a degenerative disease. We both knew that, and I was affected to some degree at that point, but not significantly. We knew it would get worse, but obviously, nobody really knows what that looks like, and, and I just wonder if like you ever wonder if you'd made a different choice and I don't mean that In a kind of ‘woe is me’ cos I know you adore me, and obviously would never want to be with anyone else. I know we have a lot to give each other but, I do wonder if you sometimes think what if I’d chosen a different life and I didn't have disability in the mix of it all I suppose…..Yeah I suppose what I'm saying is do you ever think, I wish I didn’t marry you? With all the pain you’ve brought me.
Well let’s just go for the light hearted easy question shall we? Rather talk about, well how do you find pushing a wheelchair? We'll talk about do you wish you’d never married me? Thanks Louise.
Might as well go for it….I am a therapist!
Nobody told me I was getting a therapy session in the hot tub. I thought I was getting asked a few questions.
(pause) Bloody Nora.
I think I resent disability. I feel angry about your disability. Sometimes I feel angry that it limits us, I feel angry that you suffer. I feel angry at the impact it has on our family life. And yeah, I feel angry at the impact it has on my life as well. And I feel sad too.
I think, I knew…I knew when I asked you if you'd marry me that we just worked together. We were a good fit, and you seemed to kind of understand me and get me and so yes, sometimes a lot of the time, all the time, I wish that you didn't have to live with disability. I wish that we didn't have to live with disability, but I don't regret marrying you.
Well that’s very reassuring (laughs)
Fx - Water
I do think about a cure. I do think: I wonder what life would be like if there was a cure to muscular dystrophy, or even just something that made it a bit better and made you a bit stronger, and what impact that would have? I think I wish for it really.
You wish for it to be different.
Yeah. Yeah, I do. I worry, I worry about what life will be like, and I think about how your muscles have weakened in the last 20 years, and what on earth your muscles will be like in another 20 years, and I worry about how much that will limit our life, and how our life will be affected. I worry that our life will be very small, as a result. That scares me actually. The thought of, yeah, being incredibly limited scares me and I guess we already limited, and I struggle with that…I struggle with the lack of spontaneity. I struggle with that constant thought when you try to go somewhere of, will it be accessible, will we be able to get through gates or find a place to park? Or whether it's knowing that actually, energy levels probably won't last as long as we'd like the day to last. I struggle with… I guess there is just that underlying sense of disability being there…
I think what's also sort of interesting in that is like two things. One is that personality wise you're really spontaneous. So, you know, you love just saying oh, let's go and do this. So, you know, that's extra tough for you, but I guess I wonder like within that, if you would say in your experience, there's been anything about Muscular Dystrophy or disability that has been, I suppose what you might call, a gift - and I don't mean that in a cliched sort of way, but do you think there's anything about it that's made your life and our lives richer?
Nah it’s shit.
(laughs) can you be a little bit more articulate
Come on, I thought I’ve been doing quite well.
You have you been doing brilliantly
I guess Muscular Dystrophy has made us get on with things sometimes. We had to plan to do a trip a few years ago, like a six month trip, and realised that it would just be too much. But instead we did a couple of one month trips instead and thought, let's just make the most of doing these trips to crazy places, that might not be possible as you get weaker,
Like to rural Africa is what he means.
Yeah - I think maybe our retirement plan isn't necessarily what it should be, because there is, well, for me, at least a part of me that thinks Screw it. Who knows what life will look like? Who knows how life will be in 20 years time? So let's get on and live life now….
Yeah, and we have done that quite a lot, haven't we?
FX - Jacob on trampoline
Oh…right, that might be the time to call it…
Now we've got about a trampoline in the background.
I think we get by alright though. Like we do have moments…. we do, we do manage well as a family. I think we kind of work out how we can do things and try not to get beaten by disability. But sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it does beat us, but a lot of the time, we have a lot of fun.
Yeah. I think it’s true.
Fx – water splashing
(laughs) Now Mark is doing farting noises on his eye and under his arm….oh my word…
Catherine Carr (producer) 26:29
‘Walks Like a Duck’ was record by Louise halling, mark and Jacob. The prodcuers we’re Jo Rowntree and Catherine Carr. It was a Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4.
And here we go. We're taking off….
Fx Hot tub bubbles
All of the music and the singing was also by louise.
Okay, it's now dark and the moon is very bright and im starting to overheat…
Another fart noise. Marks trying to make me giggle (laughing) stop tickling my foot. Seriously my family
- Mon 20 Jul 2020 11:00
- Tue 8 Dec 2020 16:00