Disabilities: the other side

When we see someone who has a highly visible impairment, all we tend to see is the impairment. I used to be like that too.

Disabled people are people like anyone else, though. Some are kind, some aren’t, some carry grudges, others have a wealth of wisdom.

I’ve recently made the acquaintance of a man who had polio as a child. He is in his 70s now.

He’s trouble. But why?

I’ve done some thinking about this. He’s manipulative and controlling, but somehow, I don’t think that he actually has a personality disorder.

I think that he has used his impairment both as a crutch and a stick to beat people with, throughout his life. He’s never had the chance to develop into a adult without impairment and I am sure he has plenty of battles behind him, so that makes sense.

However, he’s always had a clear identity apart from that impairment. And he’s recently lost his identity. I know what that feels like, to stop being a valuable person and become an empty thing.

The first thing he said about me, apparently, when asked if I could have the use of his cottage is that I could join him in his bed. Was that really a joke? He’d never met me at that point.

When I met him, he said that he was looking for a woman with green fingers. He’s an avid gardener.

He also asked about my relationships.

On that occasion, he suddenly asked me to estimate his age and when I said “70?”, he looked very badly disappointed. (So badly that it worried me, actually.) I don’t think of people in terms of age, but he asked the question and I answered it. So in view of his disappointment, apparently, he is a lot younger than I thought, I figured?

No, he’s from 1950, as it turns out.

He kept referring to me moving into his home. (He has a second home, of which he has not said a word to me, one that he owns and that has been empty for many years.)

Instead, I moved into his garden cottage. It’s primitive, but it’s how many people in England live so it’s nothing new for me. I have lived like this so often in the past decade.

He gave off the impression that he expected me to find it so horrible that I would move in with him soon. Was he hoping I might become his live-in carer, perhaps? What?

He’s divorced, with children. He’s recently lost his second wife – two years ago or so – and he was her carer.

That is the most recent identity that he has lost. That of the carer.

He kept coming over to the cottage, with little respect for my privacy, whereas he normally only stops by occasionally, stands looking around for a little while, and then leaves again.

I spent about a week making the cottage doable as a temporary residence. I cleaned, got various household items and supplies.

Not used to Dutch cold viruses, I promptly picked one up in public transport.

One evening, while he was at the cottage and I was still coughing, he asked me who he should call if I became severely ill. A reasonable question. However, the next thing he did was step outside, pull out his phone in front of the full-width window and call the person who introduced us, to ask him who he should call in that case.

As if I was not there and if he were a doctor and I in a coma.

I thought: “WTF?!”

It certainly was not Amsterdam humor, that’s for sure.

(I got angry with my acquaintance at oen point because the little man kept conveying that he seemed to think that I was a combination of a psychotic drug addict or alcoholic and a schizophrenic, completely incapable of anything. I figured that he had gotten that impression from our mutual acquaintance. That turned out not to be the case at all, however.)

He also kept criticizing me, for example, about me wanting to keep my power banks charged. I’ve meanwhile realized that he does not seem to know what a power bank is. (He does not know what mobile phones are capable of these days either, in fact.) But when I said that I could not use the Dutch banks’ Ideal system to pay on some sites through which I might get good-quality places to live, he accused me of lying again and said that he had made payments abroad from his Dutch bank account without any problems. (Argh! I feel so stupid for having tried to keep him updated on what I was doing, to reassure him.)

A few days later, he suddenly declared “hug!” one evening and pulled me toward him. I should have told him off in stern words, but what happened surprised me and happened too rapidly for me to be able to process it instantly.

He made me feel so powerless.

He left shortly after, texted me at 8 or 9pm, asking me if I was cold (it often gets very cold in the cottage, particularly overnight) and called me at 10pm. By then, my Dutch phone credit had run out and I had trouble getting into the KPN site to top up.

He texted me again the following morning, while I was on the tram – about but I couldn’t text back so I used my English phone credit to e-mail our mutual contact and ask him to let the little man know that I was not at the cottage and that my phone credit had run out.

Should I mention that he had also rummaged through the rubbish bin very visibly and repeatedly to see what I was throwing out? Lots of mucus-laden tissues, among other things.

There were barbs about my age, too, and he was constantly suggesting that I was lying and also making statements such as “(like) you just said” when I had done nothing of the sort. (Keep in mind that this guy is Dutch, not English. In England, at least among the traditional establishment in Portsmouth, this would not be out of the ordinary.)

It was clear that I needed to start signalling boundaries, so that is what I did as soon as I had phone credit again. I asked him if he could please let me know when he arrives at the cottage because he used to just barge in. I could be in the middle of changing my clothes. I also asked him not to leave food out in the open for me, which he did once (apple and banana) as it might attract animals.

He was furious.

So the next thing that happened is that he apparently decided that I needed to leave. I’d only been there about a week. I found him in the middle of a meeting with other cottage owners one day, about me, and he clearly had told them a lot of rubbish because some threw me weird looks.

At the same time, our mutual contact had just received a panicky or upset call from his ex who claimed to be a co-owner of the cottage so he instantly texted me; we both interpreted the call as a signal that I would need to leave so that immediate action was needed.

(That, btw, the litte man decided, was my fault, too. He told me off, seemed to suggest that I was making stuff up about his ex. Wtf?!)

On that occasion, he also stated very loudly: “You have no empathy. You have no empathy!”.

I thought “what kind of bullshit is this?” and said nothing.

“If you had any empathy, you would regularly invite me over for a cup of tea.”

This is an example of how he uses his impairment as a stick. I am supposed to feel sorry for him.

He is not a sad wallflower at all. He has carers over all the time, goes out for dinner with others (women) several times a week, has physio, goes to concerts and what not.

He then said that he had seen plenty of naked women, threw a very deliberate “delighted”(ogling) look at my breasts and said that he was not going to respect my privacy, period.

I noticed his surprise or disappointment when I did not respond with, eh, what? Gratitude?

Btw, he also expected me to spend all my time on the garden around the cottage. “When you get up in the morning, you can get to work in the garden right away.”

I don’t even drink tea. I’ve always been a coffee junkie.

And I am already spending plenty of time with this man, including drinking tea at times.

I am in the middle of rebuilding my life after nearly two decades in England and had not even gotten around to registering with the Dutch authorities yet, for which I was still a Dutch citizen living abroad. So the British government still had duties toward me, whereas the Dutch had none.

There are so many things to find out and to arrange. So many things have changed here after I left in 2004. Finding out what is what – on zero income and with zero cash with no electricity and no own means of transport except expensive public transport and rides from my very helpful mutual contact – is fully up to me.

He also decided that from that point on, he would not even text me any longer that he might show up that day. I would often come “home” and just find him here.

I started dreading going “home” and found myself hanging around at a public library one day because I didn’t want to go back to the cottage. Each time, I entered the garden with trepidation.

One evening, he said that the cottage was quite expensive. After some silence, this was followed by the statement that there is a leasehold of 1000 euro per year. Why did he say this?

He’d earlier also seemed to be suggesting – am not clear about this, however; I am still used to the convoluted ways of many of the English – that I was out to disadvantage our mutual contact.

About a week after his ex called our mutual contact, he texted me that I would have to leave. No details. I called him the next day. He answered the phone as if he was at an office! Nuts. Twice.

The first time, he asked me to call him back later, as he had only just gotten up. (He generally becomes available at noon.)

When I asked him if the leasehold was the problem and suggested that I could reimburse him later, he barked at me, twice, “I am not going to enter into a business contract with you”. Business contract? WTF!?

He hung up on me without a word. At one point during our very brief conversation, I asked “are you still there?’’ after which he replied “yes” and then he turned out to have hung up after all. (That is manipulative because I of course still said something after that.)

Here we have the second identity that he has lost.

He used to have a job, as some kind of building mechanic. One day, he was let go, but was told that they would happily deploy him if he set up his own business. So that is what he did. He had some kind of shop but he also did assignments for businesses. He did well.

He had staff and he had a sailboat that he had shipped between countries at times so that he could sail locally, or something along those lines.

He stopped running the business 12 years ago, because he could no longer handle it physically. (He became too slow walking around while assessing other companies’ buildings.) But he is still keeping it formally active. Why?

He also is quite literally clinging to a very dirty toilet brush that simply should be thrown out and replaced. He keeps a lot of very old rubbish such as completely unusable pots of paint, too.

He is not pitiful at all and is still quite strong physically, but I wondered if something has made him very angry and if he is redirecting that anger toward me. From time to time, he seems to be rubbing it in that I too had a business…

Is this displaced aggression? Was he, at some point, snubbed badly by an educated woman with a business of her own? What?

Is he just a very negative and bitter person?


My first priority has to be getting my life back on its feet asap.

He’s been gobbling up so much of my time, attention and energy.

I’ve barely been at the cottage for two weeks, spent the first week on making it liveable. I have since been told to leave twice already?

That’s an extremely manipulative abuse of power in a situation in which one person holds all the power.

He forces my life to revolve around him. No can do.

Everyone else is friendly and/or helpful or pays no attention to me. Nobody is entertaining any unhealthy obsessions with me (unlike in crazy, extremely insular Portsmouth). So refreshing.

But this guy seems to spell trouble… I’ve seen him do something else that also suggests that he is using his impairment as a means to violate people’s boundaries and manipulate them. (Namely, asking me to leave one of the three cottage doors easy to open from the inside because otherwise he supposedly would not be able to carry a chair out in which he wants to sit outside, which he later turned out to be able to carry outside pretty easily after all.) I hope I am wrong about that because if not, then this would be really bad news.

He also seems to be nowhere near as weak as he often pretends to be. His legs may be weak, but his arms certainly are not and he still is, for example, able to use a very big hammer with a lot of force.

People with impairments are human beings just like anyone else. Their impairments do not make them kinder or sweeter or by definition powerless. Some are as manipulative and nasty as manipulative and nasty able-bodied people.

The cottage is in a small bird reserve. Loads of birds. I have heard a cuckoo, have seen robins and ducks and others, been told there are kingfishers and a hawk. A pair of blue tits is nesting against one of the walls of the cottage and there is an owl nesting nearby. I have heard that too. There were several animal nests inside the cottage when I moved in. Arvicola amphibius had made its home there too. I smell of molds and high humidity. There had been a leak and the place was a mess. In the little man’s favor was that he did help me get the use of gas hobs. Coffee in the morning! We replaced the tubing together. That was good teamwork. Then things turned sour.

20 May: I heard nothing further for days. Today, on Saturday, he stopped by as our mutual acquaintance and I were at work at the cottage, tackling a huge compost heap, while I should have been working on my CV, frankly, or begging friends and acquaintances for a place to live or a bicycle so that I can save on PT (up to 10 euro per day on average). Not a word of appreciation from him. Lots of sneers after he told me that I need to be out of here by Monday evening.

I addressed the hug thing.

He tried to deny it, then thought the better of it.

(It was after this that things turned sour.)

Here, we have an example of a man who is simply mean and manipulative and does not need anyone to feel sorry for him because of his impairment. He would have been mean and manipulative without the impairment too, but I acknowledge that the impairment has likely made it worse. At a very young age, he became used to people being at his beck and call all and he has had that convenience throughout his life, of everyone catering to his whims, wishes and needs.

He simply is not a nice man. Initially, I made excuses for him, because of his impairment, but his impairment does not entitle him to being mean, manipulative and calculating.

He is being very deliberately manipulative, and he knows this very well.

Everyone else I talk with asks me when I returned from England and is astonished how recent that was.

This ogre does not even want to know and tries to make me feel like I have been here for years, and have been taking advantage of him. I am not. It’s the other way around. He is not even using the cottage. He is merely being a mean manipulative ogre.

Everyone else is acting normal. Friendly, helpful, kind, grateful, nice, pleasant. WONDERFUL.

I should focus on that.

Mean ogres get no headspace.

I may be a rights advocate but I am not a boxing ball or a football, to be punched and kicked around mercilessly. I have nearly 15 years of abuse in Portsmouth behind me. No more.

I feel sad, embarrassed or unhappy for our mutual contact, though. The little man is making things very difficult for him too. It has gotta be unpleasant for him too.

The little man cares about nothing but himself. If the world does not revolve around him, his fury knows no bounds, apparently.

Today, he actually called me very smart or intelligent, however. Whoa. He’s certainly changed his mind about me. Now that he has decided that I am no meek doormat, he has no more use for me.

Smile, folks. It’s actually all pretty hilarious, isn’t it…

But I’m ANGRY.

Did I already mention that he refused to call me by my proper name, too, but insisted into turning it into something weird that sounds really ugly?

Actually… the little man does have a personality disorder, come to think of it. He’s very deliberately hurtful and manipulative, kicking at someone who is down, for starters. However, he also said something really weird this afternoon, namely that I should contact my family and he kept insisting that I have family. (People who are deceased or strangers who you haven’t seen, spoken with or heard from in 20 to 50 years, that’s not family. And he knows this.) That’s typically something that only someone with a narcissistic personality disorder would do, this deliberate twisting of the knife.

(I accept that from anyone who is a good friend and happens to have that personality disorder; people do not choose to have it. Abuse from strangers is a different story.)

It would be just as mean for me to tell him to contact his dear departed wife, or his dead dad or a mother with advanced Alzheimers, or his deceased neighbor and ask them for their opinion or invite them over for dinner.


He also keeps “helpfully” sending links, for example for help for refugees whose applications have been rejected, all sorts of things for which I don’t qualify.

My American friend with NPD sometimes did things like that, too. Trying to make me feel rotten and powerless or stupid, in order to feel better herself, I suppose. I humored her. I was aware of it, said nothing about it. It was a mere symptom, just like a flare-up of a rash or a fever spike. It passes. But unlike the abovementioned man, she was a good friend for a very long time. I started liking her more, the better I got to know her and I like her a lot. She was my sister for a long time. I saw who she was without the disorder. Also, she has insight into herself. She is very intelligent and is highly inquisitive. She took psychology courses and ended up in a professional setting in which she thrives. She works at an Ivy League university. And not only that, she has a delightful sense of humor too and simply has a lot to offer. The abovementioned man does not even have a detectable sense of humor.

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