Monday, April 7, 2014

Standing Alone: Going to College with CP

College Orientation was a nightmare.

I arrived on campus in August 2012 full of self-doubt, my stomach doing backflips. I had never been away from home for more than a few days at a time, and sleepovers with my friends didn't really count.

I knew nobody, and yet it seemed like everyone else had found a best friend within ten minutes of arrival.

It was easy to feel inadequate. We had to follow an orientation schedule designed specifically to help us feel more comfortable with our new surroundings, but I couldn't have felt any more alone.

First. Pavement everywhere. A nightmare for someone with CP. I was terrified that I was going to fall.

Second. Going from place to place was like a giant game of "Follow the Leader." Except the leader walked REALLY fast. Really, really fast. I felt like I had to jog to keep up, and yet even though I felt as though I was running, I was still much slower than everyone else.

At one point, I got caught in the middle of the group, and someone behind me piped up, "Why are we going so SLOW?"

I shut my eyes and willed myself to keep it together, but inside I was breaking.

Third. My sense of direction is pretty much non-existent. Despite my best efforts, I was occasionally unable to keep pace with the group, and then I would get lost. Let me tell you, friends...there's nothing quite like being literally lost and metaphorically lost at the same time.

Fourth. Dances. I looked at the Orientation program and saw that a dance was scheduled for 10pm. And next to the time was a word that made my heart sink: MANDATORY. The current-day me would have totally disregarded that damn word. I would have stayed in my room for those two hours and I would have watched a movie and stuffed my face with popcorn, secretly rejoicing over the fact that I was skipping the stupid "mandatory" dance.

Dances are a form of slow torture. My entire body aches and my legs seem to turn into wood planks because I'm deathly afraid of being trampled. And I can hardly hear anything over the earsplitting music. But I went anyway. I shouted a few introductions over the music, clung for dear life to the wall, and prayed to God that it would end.

Eventually I found a group of people who seemed almost as miserable as I was to be there. We looked at each other and it dawned on us that we could just go back to our dorms and nobody would care. So we did. (Best decision of Orientation so far)

The next night was "Group games" -- mandatory AGAIN. They brought us all out into a field and had us all sit down while they discussed the instructions. But I was distracted.

There was girl in the middle of the crowd with forearm crutches literally standing alone. I watched her for a minute as she stood there by herself, and I wondered if anyone would stand with her. No one did.

The metaphor struck me hard.

Rapidly losing faith in humanity, I got to my feet and stumbled my way over to her. I just couldn't let her stand there alone.

"It's too much effort to sit with my crutches," she explained, and I nodded. I understood. I had the very same crutches just a few years earlier.

"Well, I'll stand with you," I said, and together we towered over our classmates.

We were the only two people with visible disabilities, and we were the only people standing up in a crowd of more than 500 students. We stood out, quite literally, but for the first time all week, I didn't feel alone.

xxx

12 comments:

  1. You have been weighed.

    You have been measured.

    And you have been found INCREDIBLE.

    Your compassion and understanding and your ACTION in the face of everyone else's ass-hattery, astound me.

    You are thoroughly and entirely a better person than me, with so much more compassion and wonderful. I have lots to learn from you, K, my dear :)

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    1. LIZZI! It's been so long since your comment that I don't even know if you'll bother to check back for my response...but I feel compelled to write back anyway!

      YOU, my friend, are incredible. The notion that you have lots to learn from me is flattering, but the reality is that YOU have taught me so much already about what it means to be human, what it means to be compassionate and empathetic and resilient and AMAZING. Sending hugs across the oceans!

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  2. What the heck is wrong with people? Seriously I am not one for being all PC but did not one person in the school administration think hey we have kids enrolling that might not be able to or heck even like to dance? Then lets put them on a field and try a college edition of Hunger Games.

    This isn't the 1960's people when persons with disability were seen in public as often we care if the groundhog sees its shadow.

    Ignorance continues to amaze me. Can I say it speaks volumes of your character that you were willing to stand in a crowd not for yourself but for someone else? In the Lifetime movie depicting your life (cause trust me there will be one since you are changing the world) they will have everyone else stand too.

    And that will ruin the moment because the honesty of your standing there, when you could have just sent her a glance that said I feel for you is so freaking important.

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    1. LOL at the college edition of Hunger Games. That might be the best description yet! hahahaha...When they realized that we (myself and the other girl with CP) were having a hard time getting around, they offered us golf carts, which helped some...but YES, the entire experience was still incredibly frustrating!

      Thank you for your words, as always! You always manage to bring a smile to my face.

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  3. Were you also at my college orientation? Because literally almost the exact same thing happened to me (sans finding an awesome friend on crutches).

    I don't know whether colleges have some sort of dedicated "How to Plan College Orientation" guidebook or what, but everything that happened to me, from the concrete to finding my way around to that God-awful dance (which I left anyway), you described to a T. Plus, the beds in the dorms were lofted, which meant I had a really hard time getting up onto them (I actually had to stand on the desk chair and pray I wouldn't fall, which was an even less safe situation).

    You'd think that colleges could maybe plan some alternative activities, or at least give students more information so they'd know what to expect. I'm glad you found a friend, though. Thanks for sharing your experiences-- it's good to know that I wasn't the only one out there with CP who was struggling at orientation!

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    1. Hey Natalie! In some ways it's heartening to know that I wasn't alone in this experience (crazy to think that you went through something so similar! Sorry to hear that...) but it's also kind of discouraging to know that my orientation might have been the norm.

      Luckily my bed wasn't lofted but WOW. That's crazy. Were you ever able to get it un-lofted (is that possible??) or did you have to risk your life nightly for an entire semester?

      YES to the alternative activities thing...I'm all for meeting new people and settling in to a new environment, but some sit-down activities would have been amazing!

      Thanks for stopping by :)

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  4. I really hope you do a follow up post on the rest of your orientation experience!! I'm so glad you were there so she didn't have to stand alone...I wish there was someone like you always standing around when someone needs encouragement! I'm glad she was there so you weren't alone, either. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. CLAIRE! :) I will definitely do a follow-up post sometime, great idea. I wish there were more people like YOU in the world (and I wish you lived closer because I'd love to get lunch and just talk about life with you sometime...)! Thank you for your words! xo

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  5. A mandatory dance? That's beyond stupid and I'd have skipped it. I agree that I'd love a follow-up post. Did you ever say anything to the school about how insensitive it was for them to not offer "mandatory" (still think that's just dumb) activities that were more inclusive?
    xo

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    1. Hahaha I know you would have skipped it, Kristi...I wish I had the sense to do that at the time!! Definitely aspiring to be more like you! And no, but I should have...maybe I'll mention it the next time I swing by the disability offices, for the sake of any future freshmen that might be in a similar situation. Thanks for the idea! xo

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  6. It seems like colleges give responsibility for orientations to the most outdoorsy, athletic, enthusiastic cruise-director types. These are the extroverts who can't imagine anyone who isn't able to or doesn't like hikes and physical games and such. They want to sit in the grass every chance they get and they assume everyone else is like them. They're lovely people, but kind of thoughtless about introverts and certainly about physically disabled young people. In a way, I was lucky that I was sick in the hospital during my orientation week, so I skipped the whole thing. I wasn't glad to be sick, but I didn't feel bad at all about missing orientation! ; ) They should have more of a mix of physical and non-physical activities.

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    1. Andrew, I never thought about it that way but that makes SO much sense! They definitely need to revamp the whole thing to accommodate different types of people! And being sick in the hospital is no fun, but missing orientation is definitely an awesome perk! (:

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