A Field Guide to Embarrassment

When I was a kid, my mom liked to remind my brothers and me that as our mother, it was her job to embarrass us. She excelled at this self-appointed vocation.

I’m pretty good at embarrassing myself now. Beyond seizure-related incidents, even. I have a tendency to fall in public in a dramatic, banana-peel fashion; I occasionally snort coffee out of my nostrils; I spill ketchup on light-coloured pants. I say things I later realize I shouldn’t have shared but blurted out anyway because I am a shameless, horrible human being. Still trying to learn the difference between inside and outside thoughts.

Though I think I’m justified in feeling a certain degree of mortification about situations such as these, things that should objectively not embarrass me inevitably do. The other day, for instance, the cashier at the grocery store—incidentally a very attractive male, not that that’s relevant—glanced at the Medic Alert bracelet that so elegantly adorns my wrist. “What’s that about,” he asked. I panicked. “Allergies.”

Things are complicated between me and my bracelet.
Things are complicated between me and my bracelet.

I was almost immediately angry with myself. The ideal response probably would’ve been “none of your goddamn business.” Second best would’ve been the truth. I wonder what it says about my relationship with my illness that my instinct was to straight out lie. Maybe it was a desire to avoid an uncomfortable conversation with a Loblaws employee—allergies are, after all, more commonly understood than epilepsy is. Or maybe it was the fact that at the core of it I’m still a little embarrassed by my seizure disorder. And yes, I’m ashamed to admit that.

My initial reluctance to purchase my Medic Alert bracelet is indicative of this unease. Even when my husband tried to woo me by suggesting that I buy an expensive, undeniably attractive model, I resisted for several months before finally agreeing to get it. I’m normally completely unopposed to online shopping, but I don’t like the idea of sporting an external symbol of the fact that I’m epileptic. I don’t want to be “sick,” and a part of me considers the bracelet to be a public announcement of my alterity. Even if I know it’s a safety thing, I sometimes take it off for a few days before coming to my senses and putting it back on.

But put it back on I eventually do. Better to wear an extra piece of jewelry, I suppose, than to walk around with my skirt tucked into my underwear, an image to which I often return in my more humiliating moments.

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3 thoughts on “A Field Guide to Embarrassment

  1. Maybe he just thought you were a hipster try-hard? (hahaha do people say that?!? just sounded funny as I typed it! lol hipster wannabe… meh) Is this the attractive model? How did the unattractive one look like? 🙂

    I think many people can relate. For instance, I like to drink hot water, just hot water and I put it in my thermos. My classmate asked me yesterday, “Is that hot water?” and I said yes. Then she goes, “but it’s usually tea, right?” as if it’s incredulous to drink hot water on its own without any kind of diffused tea leaves. Then to avoid being a walking Asian stereotype I responded with, “what this! Nah, yeah, I totally usually have tea, but I ran out of my favourite tea. *smiles convincingly* “. After that interaction I immediately felt ashamed of myself. Was it so bad to have Asian stereotype habits of drinking only hot water, was I ashamed of being Asian? etc. etc. I feel you, girl. I totally get moments where I’m like ugh…. I should have just said x or y, who cares? Le sigh. Things like these are such time wasters, eh? Anyhow, no worries about the bracelet. For all you know, he could have thought you bought it from a vintage/thrift store! 🙂 Or etsy, some one was trying to make a medic alert knock off bracelet. But I doubt he knows about etsy.

    1. Steph, I like the hipster interpretation! I also like the analogy with your tea/hot water experience. I’m always amazed by what I’ll do to avoid a situation in which there’s a chance of making someone else/myself uncomfortable, even if it means making myself uncomfortable after the fact!

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