Monday, February 24, 2014

Deafening Whispers: The Moments that Stay

"You can't play with us," they said, "because you can't jump. Only people who can jump can play hopscotch."

"Cripple," she murmured under her breath, her voice dripping with malice.

"WHY. ARE. YOU. SO. SLOW?" she screamed in my face, each measured syllable like a knife.

"What's wrong with you?"

"You walk like a drunk person."

"Maybe God is punishing you for something."

"If you went to the gym more often, you'd be just like everyone else."
 
"Such a shame, such a shame..."

I never knew that whispers could be so loud, never knew that single moments could stick with us for a lifetime.  

But for every comment and action that sent me to my knees, there were many others that helped me up again...

The students in my fourth-grade class who took my hand and showed me that even if I can't jump, I can still jump rope. 

The boys and girls in my karate class who rooted for me as I stumbled through the obstacle course.

My entire fifth-grade class, whose cheers and congratulations filled my ears when I scored a point in our Friday afternoon kickball game. 

My best friend in elementary school, who helped me up and walked me to the nurse each time I fell, and who accompanied me outside of gym class whenever I couldn't participate. 

My middle-school friends, who threw me a surprise party for my fourteenth birthday when I was home-bound after my accident.

My five-year-old, soft-spoken brother, who hurried to my side and stood up for me when he heard the piercing words directed towards me in the kindergarten bus line. 

My amazing girlfriends, who waited for me as we waded through a thunderstorm. 

One of my college friends, who wrote on my whiteboard:
"You are an amazing person in every way."
and another, who wrote me a letter that said at the bottom:
"You are perfect just as you are, so don't ever stop being you... ever!"

If you're reading this post, I only ask that you take a few extra moments to consider your words and actions. Because those that hurt can create permanent scars...and those that help can give us strength that sustains us for decades.

If it hadn't been for the others, then perhaps I would have gone through my life thinking that that we live in a world where only those who can jump can play hopscotch. Perhaps I would have believed that we live in a world where I was defective and worthless and broken, and worse still, that I was being punished by God ever since I was a baby for a deed that I couldn't remember committing. Perhaps I would have viewed my disability as something that was my own fault, as something that I could wipe away if only I was a little more driven and a little more worthy. Perhaps I would have considered my own life to be something to be ashamed of, a mistake, a burden.

Thank God for the others.

I never knew that whispers could be so loud, never knew that single moments could stick with us for a lifetime. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ignorance that Leaves Me Speechless

The other day, one of my college "friends" asked me if I could come to one of her events. We just had a snowstorm, so I mentioned that while I would like to go, I was nervous about safely walking through the snow and ice.

"Well," she said, "I think you need to stop being so worried about snow and ice. I walk in the snow and ice all the time and I'm fine, and I walk a lot farther than you do."

Um. WTF?!

I took a few moments of silence to recover, and then I said, "I don't think you understand."

I explained, briefly, about how if I fall and get hurt, it's not like I can just use crutches for a few weeks and then be all better. A bad fall could set me back for a lifetime. I told her that, years ago, I fell and broke my leg in a bad spot and I had to get emergency surgery and withdraw from school. I explained that my surgeon didn't think I'd ever be able to get rid of my crutches after that, and that six years later, I'm still recovering from that injury.

And then she looked at me and she saidI kid you not"Yeah, it was tough when I broke my foot. Sometimes I can't run as fast because of it. But you won't fall again. You should come to my event!"

I can't make this stuff up. She fractured her foot in October of 2012a year and a half agoand our situations are nowhere near the same. Sure, she wore a cast for a few weeks and I bet it was annoying. She couldn't run on the cross-country team while it healed. But there was never any doubt that it would heal, never any doubt that she would walk again. She didn't have to get emergency surgery and she could still go to school without worrying about her leg imploding. And it's hard for me to sympathize with the fact that "sometimes she can't run as fast," because I can't run AT ALL.

Sometimes I just want to shut my eyes and bury my head in a pillow and try to forget about all of the ignorance in the world. It's almost as if she's trying to make me feel bad for having a disability, and it seems that she's always trying to equate her own experiences with mine. I love when people can really and truly empathize, but having a broken foot for a few weeks is NOTHING like having a lifelong disability, and yet it seems as though she always tries to make it seem as though I'm being melodramatic.

As I'm writing this post, I'm trying not to let myself get upset, but for the love of all that's good in the world, sometimes it's so freaking hard NOT to get upset. Sometimes I want to sit in the corner of my room and put my head in between my knees and cry until I'm all out of tears. Because sometimes life's just hard. And I know that struggle is part of being human. I know that even the girl I'm discussing here has experienced that.

But somehow everything seems so much harder when someone dismisses your struggles. She thinks she knows what it's like to walk in my shoes, and yet she's never been told that she'll never walk again. She's never listened to her brother break down and sob next to her hospital bed as she wished with all her might that she could take the hurt away. She's never laid in an emergency room and seen the panic on a surgeon's face as he realized that immediate surgery was needed. She thinks she understands, but she doesn't. Not at all.

She always seems to be trying to convince me that her fractured foot was so much worse than anything I've ever been through. The more I think about this, the less sense it makes.

There is no way she could walk a mile in my shoes . . . especially if it was icy outside.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

ANOTHER Friday Night in the ER

I swear this isn't how I like to spend my Friday nights, but it happened AGAIN last night. This post is kind of stream-of-consciousness, so apologies if my writing isn't up to par! I'm sorry if you're sick of reading about my breathing stuff -- I'm sick of it too, but it's just been such a major part of my life for the past few months...feel free to skip right over this post if you wish!

Anyway, right before dinner on Friday evening, I started coughing and it wasn't bad enough to use my inhaler, but my neighbor was worried because it was like 25 minutes of straight coughing.

It seemed to sort of resolve itself a little on its own, but halfway through dinner, it got worse again and I was wheezing, coughing, and feeling kind of dizzy. I don't like to cause a scene, so I just sort of withdrew from conversation and put my head between my knees in the hopes that it would resolve itself until I could get back to my room to use my inhaler.

I wasn't really listening to the conversations going on around me, just trying to focus on breathing, but apparently my friends were getting worried, and one of them grabbed my key and went to my room to look for my inhaler. She couldn't find it since it turns out I had put it in my coat pocket (I usually put it in my backpack). At this point, a couple of my friends wanted to call campus safety for me because my breathing just sounded whistly and choked up and just...not so good, but I ended up going back to my room and using my inhaler.

It seemed to work for a little while, but then the wheezing and the coughing came back with a vengeance! My chest was tight and painful, and I could inhale fairly well, but exhaling took a crazy amount of effort. I just felt like I couldn't get the air out.

I went to sit in the lobby outside my dorm because sometimes that seems to help (a lot of times, the hallway outside my room is full of smoke or perfume and that always exacerbates things!). A friend sat with me and we talked for a while and I used my inhaler over and over and over again...eventually things seemed to get a little better again -- not 100 percent, but I felt as though I could breathe okay.

I went back to my room to study for my chemistry exam (which is on Monday) and after about twenty minutes or so, I felt as though I was suffocating again. It was such an awful feeling, like drowning without water, and the inhaler wasn't helping as much as it usually does; it definitely helped, but breathing still felt like work.

I wanted to see if it could get better on its own, so I went back to the hallway to sit for a while. After about an hour, things still weren't improving, and two of my friends happened to pass by. They sat with me for a while while I tried to breathe and eventually we decided that maybe it was time to call campus safety.

An officer came, and he happened to have asthma, so he took one look at me and said that I needed to go to the ER because my wheezing was awful and it was clear that breathing was taking more and more effort as time went by.

It was MIDNIGHT at this point...and I just want to take a moment to be grateful for my amazing friends; they both came with me even though I said that I didn't mind going alone, and they sat with me in that emergency room for THREE HOURS. We didn't get back until after 3 AM. The ER trip wasn't fun by any stretch of the imagination, but they made it not so bad by cracking jokes to make me laugh and discussing life and taking my mind off the fact that I couldn't breathe very well.

Anyway, it was a lot of waiting around (I spent about an hour just lying there while my symptoms got worse!), but eventually the doctor listened to my lungs and gave me a nebulizer treatment because it sounded like an asthma attack. The nebulizer worked like a charm. He explained that sometimes with asthma attacks, the inhaler seems to work at first to a limited extent, and then things get worse again, which is what happened to me. Being able to breathe smoothly again felt like the best feeling in the world!

I got some MORE medicine to take on a daily basis because he said that the medicine I'm on now isn't strong enough to combat all of the triggers I'm encountering at school (cold air, secondhand smoke, etc.), and he listened to my lungs after the treatment and said that they sounded much better, so I was free to go.

It wasn't exactly how I envisioned spending a Friday night, and I'm hoping that I never have to visit the ER for this kind of emergency again (isn't twice enough?). The doctor said that the stronger medicine in combination with the Singulair should get rid of my symptoms to a point where my asthma (or, I guess it's still "suspected asthma" at this point, but he called it asthma) is under control. Fingers crossed that he's right because my chemistry exam is enough to deal with at this point without adding in breathing issues! (And yes, for those of you who were wondering: I did tell my mom! ;-) )

Monday, February 3, 2014

Calm Down...This is my Normal!

"WOW," she said. "VERY GOOD JOB."

I stared for a second, dumbfounded, and then smiled a little to try to cover my confused expression.
"Thank you," I said, "but good job with what?"

"You did a VERY GOOD JOB walking down those stairs!" she crooned, her voice slightly sing-song.

"Oh!" I said. "Thank you! I try!"

I come across these types of people all the time and sometimes it's hard to know how to handle them. I know they mean well, but sometimes the patronizing tone gets to me.

There was one day earlier in the year where I didn't see one of the steps as I was walking down to the dining hall, thanks to my depth perception problems, and I almost fell but I caught myself just in time. Since then, I have felt this woman's eyes on me as I walk down the stairs, carefully watching my steps. Oftentimes, she comments afterwards...it's not always "WOW, VERY GOOD JOB" -- sometimes it's, "You almost missed a step there again!" or "I don't know how in the world you do that every day," or "You walk down those stairs better than I do!" and to be honest, it's kind of awkward. I'm just trying to live my life...again, I know she means well, but sometimes I feel like I'm on Dancing With the Stars or something....



 And then there's the overly-helpful types; there's another staff member who, once again, means well -- but every. single. time. she sees me carrying my plate of food, her eyes get wide and she rushes over in a complete panic to ask if I'm okay.

"Miss, miss, do you need a tray? Are you okay? Do you need help? Are you SURE?"

It's gotten to the point where if I see her, I run in the other direction because YES, for the love of all that's good in the world, I'm okay. I do this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I'm all for recognizing good intentions, and I appreciate that they're trying to be nice, but it gets old really fast! Can't I just go about my life without an audience for everything I do? Must I be applauded for walking down the stairs and for managing my own plate of food? There are some days when I just want to hold up a sign that says, "CALM DOWN...I GOT THIS, PEOPLE."