Handling questions

Most people with a visible difference have been asked questions about their situation. This can be okay some of the time, but at other times, it might feel annoying or you may not feel like answering. Either way, preparing for questions may help you to feel more in control. You might want to prepare some responses beforehand and then choose the one that matches your mood at the time. Here are some things you might want to consider

  • How much do you want to say about your visible difference and what happened to you? You can choose how much detail suits you.
  • Who are you talking to? You might have different responses for different people depending how close you feel to them. You might decide you want to give more information to close friends than to people you have just met.
  • How are you feeling? What you say can depend on how you are feeling at that time. If you are feeling nervous, or upset or just not like talking about your visible difference, you might decide you don’t want to give much information.
  • What is the situation? If you are in the street or supermarket you may feel it is not appropriate to go into much detail. However, if you are sat talking to a friend privately you may feel more comfortable to share more about yourself
  • How do you feel when talking about your visible difference? You might find it difficult to talk about it, particularly if it was a result of a traumatic accident, or you have been struggling or feeling low and anxious. In this case, only share what you are comfortable with.

I don’t talk about my disfigurement apart from a short sentence explaining what it is if anyone asks – I’ve had it all my life and there are far more interesting things to talk about. I know I find it boring after the initial concern if a person just talks about various hospital stays, treatment etc.

Alison

There are a number of ways to respond:

Say you do not want to discuss it

A short, clear response, answering but also saying this is the end of the subject:

  • “I’d rather not talk about it. I’m sure you can understand.”
  • “I was burned when I was younger. It was a long time ago and I don’t talk about it much now.”

Provide some details

You might want to give more information about your visible difference – this may encourage more questions or discussion

  • “I was burned when I was younger, and I am going in again soon for more plastic surgery. It’s very interesting. They are going to take a graft from my leg…”
  • “I have a condition called vitiligo. It affects the amount of pigment in the skin. I’ve had it for about five years now. It is quite unpredictable and sometimes new patches appear.”

I am proud of the person I am… I normally am quite able to cope with reactions and stares. When I did my photography course the tutor showed us how to hold the camera correctly, with the left hand, which for me is very difficult, as I have arthritis in both hands and am also missing the middle three fingers on my left hand from the first joint. When I explained and showed her my hand, she recoiled in horror. To be honest, it was very ‘over the top’, and it took her a good few minutes to ‘recover her composure’. I carry a photograph on my phone of me on the day I was born… I was born with many conditions including a bilateral cleft lip and palate, the hand issue, missing my left big toe, hydrocephalus, a heart murmur, to name but a few! I plucked up the courage to show her. Her reaction was hellish. Her comment was, ‘WHAT IS THAT? Oh my God, why would you have a photo of THAT?’

I replied quite casually, ‘Because it’s me!’

She then realised why my face was as it was and said, ‘Is it because of a cleft thing?’ I gave a VERY brief explanation of why I looked as I did in it and then changed the subject. The other two people in the class were totally the opposite – they were really lovely about it. I was amazed really that a photographer would show such ‘horror’ to me, as yes, I do look different, but I am proud of the person I am, and how I’ve dealt with the health problems I have. Had it not been for my family and friends support, I may not have been so lucky.

Lindsay

Move the conversation on

  • Offer a brief response and move onto another subject or a more general discussion:
    “It’s just burn scarring from an accident I had a long time ago. I love it here, don’t you? It’s such a nice place.”
  • “I was burned when I was younger, but fortunately smoke alarms have greatly reduced the number of injuries like mine.”

Introduce the subject yourself

If people do not ask you straight away, you may choose to bring up the subject yourself. This can give you more control over the situation – and may relieve any worry you may have about being asked. Again, you can choose how much you want to say.

You may like to give a small amount of information to indicate it is okay to discuss your condition:

  • “You have a wonderful tan! One of the problems with my condition is that you have to stay out of the sun.”

If you are feeling confident, you may like to be light-hearted, inviting the other person to ask about you:

  • “I see I’m getting the usual interested looks from the people at the bar. Do you think they’re admiring my style?”

A particularly good strategy if you are likely to meet people again is to give more personal information, whilst also complimenting other people:

  • “I’m having a good time tonight. Often, I find these events difficult because my appearance can attract unwanted attention, but everyone here seems very nice and friendly …”

Remember, on the whole, people are simply curious or interested, exactly as you would be yourself. Most people will be happy with a very brief explanation and will take their lead from you. Also, people may be unsure whether to ask or not – and not want to seem as though they have ignored your condition or avoided talking about it.

You can adapt the above into your own words and find the statements that work for you. You could try some of these out using the examples below – to help you practise for different situations

Preparing responses

Some people find that preparing answers in advance helps them feel less anxious and more in control.

As practice, try the exercises below and write your responses down or make a note in your phone/tablet/laptop.

After work, four of you go to the pub – one person is new. The two others go to get drinks. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, the new person changes the subject and asks you about your visible difference. What would you say? Note down four different types of responses you might give, depending on how much you feel like sharing at the time:

Say something to indicate you don’t want to talk about it and introduce another topic

Give a small amount of information and then change the subject

Give some information about yourself and introduce a more general topic relating to your visible difference

Give more information about your visible difference and show that you are happy to discuss it

Now rethink the scenario as if you were to introduce the topic yourself. What might you say? Give a few examples.

It can take a bit of practice, but preparing for questions in advance may help you to feel more in control of your situation and ready when people do ask you.

Handling comments

Read

Handling staring

Read

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