Monday, July 28, 2014

MY CHALLENGE

Today I was given the privilege of guest-posting for Kerri over at Undiagnosed But Okay.

When I started my blog nearly two years ago, Kerri was the first person to leave a comment. I didn't see it until days later, though, because the Blogger filter interpreted it as spam. I guess that Blogger assumed that my blog wouldn't get any comments, and I was equally surprised to find that someone had taken the time to readand comment on (!!!)my words.

Needless to say, it made my day. Kerri and her words have always been there for me when I needed them the most.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading her blog yet, you've been missing out! She and her family are beyond amazing. In March, she started an incredible program at her older daughter's school to foster understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. And then—just when you thought that a person couldn't possibly be any more awesomeshe started "What's Your Challenge?", a series of guest posts that show us that, disability or not, we all have struggles in life.

Anyway, my words could never do her justice, so head on over to her blog and see for yourself! You can read my guest post here, and don't forget to check out the rest of her posts as well!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pennies and Cups, Highways, Pride, and Asking for Help


I'll admit: sometimes I relish those few moments when I first meet someone new. If I'm sitting, they can't tell that I have CP. Every now and then, they'll ask me if I'm on any sports teams, which catches me completely off guard because anyone who knows me would know not to ask that question, but to be honest? It feels good. Normal. 

"Nope," I say. "Sports aren't really my thing!" 
               
And then—when I stand, their eyes flash to my stiff legs and I can tell they regret asking that question. I've always kind of wondered why they had that "deer in headlights" look in their eyes, but even I'm uncomfortable with my disability sometimes...and if I'm not comfortable with it, how can I expect them to feel at ease?

I've been trying to rid myself of the embarrassment, but it often creeps up when I least expect it. 

At the beginning of last semester, for example, I had to schedule a last-minute meeting with a professor. Her office is a little bit off-campus, so in the past, we've agreed to meet in an area that was more easily accessible for me. I felt really awkward asking for that accommodation, though—at the end of our first meeting, she said something along the lines of, "You should really come to my office sometime...it's pretty cozy!" and stupid me, I thought she was hinting that it was too much trouble for her to meet me somewhere else, when she was probably just trying to be friendly. So this time, I didn't mention anything at all about meeting her somewhere else...we set up a time through email and I said I'd be there.  

I was aware of her office's general location. I was not aware, however, that getting there required walking down a steep, icy hill, across a busy highway, down a set of cement steps, and up three flights of a very narrow, rickety staircase. 
 
Do you know that sinking feeling you get when you're halfway into something and it suddenly occurs to you that it was a stupid idea? You guys, I pressed the pedestrian button to cross the highway, but it changed before I was all the way across. Please don't kill me, please don't kill me, please don't kill me. (Spoiler alert: I lived.) Thirty minutes later, I finally found myself standing in my professor's doorway, and when she saw me, her expression was one of shock.

"How did you get here?" she asked."Ohmygosh I didn't realize it was you who'd scheduled a meeting...why didn't you ask me to meet you on campus? I can't believe you walked all the way here, the day after a snowstorm." And then, after our meeting, she called over her shoulder: "Please be careful walking back! Some kids got hit a few years ago crossing the highway even after they pressed the pedestrian button." You don't say?!
 
After that experience, I realized that I probably should have just womanned up and asked her to meet me on campus. It's not worth risking my life and well-being for the sake of my pride.
                
But this wasn't an isolated event...oftentimes I find myself unreasonably uncomfortable about situations that arise as a result of my disability, and I'm not quite sure why.

A few months later, my best friend and I were in our psychology class, and we had to perform a simple experiment on each other. One of us—the experimenter—would have to hold a penny about a foot above a plastic cup and move it back and forth, left to right so that it passed over the cup every few seconds. The other—the test subject—would try to get the penny to land in the cup by telling the experimenter to drop it at the appropriate time. The test subject would perform this first with both eyes open and then with one eye covered.

This task was supposed to test depth perception.
               
"Would you like to be the experimenter or the test subject?" my friend asked.
               
Instantly, I felt the warmth flood to my face. "I, um...I don't have good depth perception." As a result of my CP, my brain can't process depth very well and my eyes don't work together as they should. People are usually surprised when they discover this fact about me, as I manage pretty well. I scan surfaces for shadows (depth cues) and discretely slide my heel against steps to test their steepness. So it's usually something that I forget about because I can judge depth pretty well from other cues; I can walk up and down stairs with relative ease, and I can drive a car, although parking took some extra practice. But in this experiment, there were no objects nearby for comparison, and there were no shadows.

"Oh, okay! I guess you'll have to be the experimenter, then!" my friend said, completely unfazed.
                 
I cringe just thinking about this, but as we soon found out, even being the experimenter required some degree of depth perception; the cup was in the middle of the table, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to position the penny over it.
               
I must have looked so freaking ridiculous...I mean, who can't position a penny over a cup and oscillate it in a straight line?!
                
I was mortified.
                
"Don't apologize," my friend said. "It's no big deal."

I'm not going to say that her words made me get over all of my self-conscious feelings about my disability, because that would be a lie. There are times that I still feel uncomfortable about the situations that my CP gets me into, and I'm sure that will always be the case to some degree. But she's right—there's no need for me to feel embarrassed about what I'm not able to do. I'm guessing that's the first and only time I'll ever have to swing a penny over a plastic cup, and in the grand scheme of life, this is no big deal. After all, my lack of depth perception doesn't mean that I lack depth as a person.

I feel as though I'm coming to terms with my disability more and more as I get older, and I owe much of that to the blogosphere, to the people who have shown me that we are more than the sum of our challenges. Ultimately, I'm realizing that it's okay to ask for help, that I don't have to take on the world by myself. I still feel awkward asking, though—I can't help but think that I'm inconveniencing people. 

Do you guys ever feel that way when you ask for help? Do you ever find yourself embarrassed by situations caused by circumstances beyond your control? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not Alone


I wonder if we get to decide whether we want to be here. I heard someone speculate once that only the bravest souls are here, that most people decide to stay up in heaven and watch, as spectators to this crazy world of ours. (Not sure how true that is....sometimes I'm afraid to look out the window at night for fear that an ax-murderer will be staring back at me! ;-) )

I wonder if we know about the pain that we will inevitably encounter while we're here...if not our own pain, someone else's. 

I wonder if God, if there is someone "in charge," justifies it. "It won't be so bad because you won't be alone. You'll all be in this together."

Or maybe, like my mom believes, we experience pain in order to grow. Maybe everyone comes here with a challenge, or two, or sixty, or a million. 

My mom, who is a teacher in more than one sense of the word, told me a story a few weeks ago. She was making Mother's Day presents with her students when she noticed that one little girl, Abby, was sobbing. 

"I don't have a mom," she said.

My mom knelt by her desk. "I know," she said. "But you live with your grandmother, right? You can give her something for Mother's Day." Then she paused. "We all come here with challenges. My daughter has cerebral palsy, which means that she didn't get enough oxygen, and now it's hard for her to move her legs. She used to cry sometimes, too, because she wasn't able to do everything that the other kids could do, but I always told her that her disability was her challenge in life. And this is yours."

That's all it took for her tears to stop and a smile to spread across her face—a simple affirmation that she wasn't alone.