An aspect that is confusing for friends and loved ones is what seems to be my inconsistent level of tolerance to sun exposure. I understand this, as it is a little bit more complicated than it seems.
One of my greatest considerations is the intensity and length of my previous exposure over the course of the day or week. If I went out yesterday or even two or three days ago in my gear for several hours then I should stay inside today, especially if it was very sunny; if in the same situation it was mostly cloudy or I was in a shaded area without much reflection, then perhaps I may take a risk today instead.
Although I can be outside while it is cloudy, there are caveats that I must consider. If the daytime sky is very dark and cloudy, then I am generally safe to be outside without my sun gear for a limited time. But if it is partially cloudy or misty then I need to wear my sun gear.
Another thing to consider is the final location where I will spend most of my time outdoors. If there is solid shade nearby, such as from the side of a building, then, depending on other nearby factors, I may be fine for many hours. The shade of trees and tent roofs are almost never enough for me to be 100% safe, and I still need to wear my gear.
These are just a few of the variable physical factors I calculate when determining whether or not I should push my limit. As you can see, it’s not as straight forward as it might appear at first. To avoid lengthy, drawn out conversations with those who are only politely curious, I usually say, “If the sun casts a shadow, then I need to wear my gear.” This is not really accurate, but it gets me out of watching someone stifle their yawns when listening to me prattle on about shadiness, clouds, opacity, reflection, etc..
That is not to say that everyone I speak with is only asking for details out of politeness rather than interest. After all, I have started this blog as an effort to explain and consolidate my experiences and perceptions for those who are interested. But perhaps you have noticed this when you’re talking with an acquaintance:
“Oh, hi! How are you? How is your daughter…Jennifer, wasn’t it?”
“Hello, hello, thanks for asking about my daughter, Susie! Yes, that’s ok, she started her first semester in college this year, and she’s really loving it! We got her all set up in her dorms for the first time, and she started classes just two weeks ago! She seems to be doing really well…” Before you know it, the person you’re speaking to is trying their darnedest not to give away the fact that they regretted ever asking you about whatever-her-name-was. Soon their eyes glaze over as they shift their weight back and forth between their feet, making deep contributions to the conversation in the form of a well placed “Uh-huh!” and maybe a “Yeah, yeah, right, right.” Perhaps they laugh on cue, and then your turn is done and it’s their turn.
The same thing happens in disabled land (and don’t think we don’t notice). So unless someone shows me genuine interest, I try to keep it short and simple when people ask questions like, “How do you know if it’s too sunny?” I think it is safe to assume we all deeply appreciate the genuine interest of our friends and loved ones.
Discovering my physical limits to sun exposure has been a decades-long, painful process of trial and error filled with anxiety and frustration. I still misjudge every now and then, but I now err more on the side of caution.
I deal with the confusion and even frustration of loved ones who want me to enjoy the outdoors with them. It is a very difficult thing to explain what appears to them to be this inconsistency. I have often had to justify myself in response to comments such as, “But you were fine when you did this yesterday,” or “It’s not really that sunny, you can handle this,” or even “Hurray! It’s cloudy outside!” when it really isn’t cloudy enough. I understand how my responses confuse and frustrate my loved ones. I feel the same frustration and I felt the same confusion as I discovered my limits.
Sometimes I decide give in to the hope that they are right; sometimes I later regret pushing my limit and sometimes I don’t. But through it all, I have learned the valuable lesson to trust myself even in the face of hopeful pressure from friends and family. I have learned to give them the same trust in the face of their struggles as well.
For we all are strangers to the minds of those around us.