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!

11 comments:

  1. Ah but the goalposts are different for you, dear - and until people realise that, they're going to expect and anticipate that you will be 'normal' - it's that gap between which trips you (and I guess, them) up. I've been struggling with Husby this year, because he *still* gets so frustrated when he comes home from work and is too tired to do anything. I mean, I can sympathise because it has sometimes felt like all he does is work and then crash. But he's sick, and he keeps forgetting to factor that into his thinking. Some days, just managing to do one thing in the evening is a HUGE achievement.

    And to be honest, I think that all of us, CP or not, have been in the situation where we've bitten off more than we could chew, and ended up in over our heads, wishing we'd spoken up, but too afraid to lose face to actually find the words.

    Thanks for the spoiler alert - I was worried for a second there ;)

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    1. So sorry to hear about your struggles with your husband!! I can definitely see how that would be frustrating for him and I hope things get better. I'm so glad he has you, though, to remind him to put things into perspective because that is so, so important!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting...it means a lot to me that you take the time to read my posts and give your take on them! :)

      Glad that I was able to ease your worries with the spoiler alert ;) I didn't want you to have to wonder!

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  2. I don't mind asking for physical help. I used to a little bit, but it hasn't bothered me that way in years. What I still struggle with is asking for help when it's NOT directly related to my disability. I think I got this idea that anything NOT about my disability I should be totally perfect with. Which is ridiculous of course, but it has been a harder lesson to learn than acknowledging my actual disabilities.

    Great post!

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    1. Hey Andrew! I always look forward to hearing your perspective. That's so interesting that you feel the opposite...I usually have less of a problem asking for help that isn't related to my disability because I feel like people are more comfortable dealing with non-disability stuff.

      I would love to become more comfortable asking for help in any situation, though...I hope that with time I can become more like you and more willing to advocate for myself when it comes to disability-related issues!

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    2. Oh, believe me, you are well on your way ... ahead of schedule I'd say!

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  3. First. I'm a little bit pissed off at your teacher for recognizing how you got there and not offering to have you wait for her to drive you back. Because wtf. Seriously.
    Second. I want you to know that all of us are embarrassed by the things we think we suck at - CP, autism, whateverism or the no-ism alone. We ALL feel like we suck at stuff and we're all embarrassed to say what that is to the peer group we're interacting with at the time. I feel very insecure about the fact that I had my first and only baby at age 40!! People judge, and some jerks assume I'm his grandma. While I get it, as do you, it's just life. And when I say it's just life, I mean that people make assumptions based on their own experiences. They don't know yours. They don't know mine. They don't know anybody's but their own. So please listen to your heart because it is beautiful and unique and YOURS. I'm still mad at your professor for not offering to drive you home. I feel like that is the injustice here, and am also pissed at Lizzi's comment (and IM'd her so not being passive aggressive I promise) because f##king - censored for you my sweets - really? It's not the same. It's good for you to shout it out to the world. It is powerful and brave and HUGE IMPORTANT that you say how this all feels for YOU. I say that selfishly, of course, knowing that one day, Tucker will also know he's different. We're not there yet and I hope so much that you will be in my life to guide him when he knows that he is. Also, I love you for sharing what it feels like on both sides.

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    1. Actually, until you and Kerri mentioned it, it didn't even occur to me that she should have offered to make arrangements for me to get back! Practically speaking, the distance between her office and the school isn't too far -- after I get past the stairs, I just have to cross that highway and walk up the hill, so perhaps she thought that if I could make it *to* her office, I'd be able to make it back. I was a little nervous about it though, and I wish she had mentioned that it would be difficult to get there before she suggested that I come see for myself.

      And thank you so much for the little pep-talk...I needed that. It surprises me that people think you're Tucker's grandma -- seriously? You do /not/ look old enough to be a grandmother! Ugh. I'm sorry you have to deal with people like that, though, and thank you so much for the encouragement. It means so much to me that you think my words are important (yours are too, to the nth degree! I cannot even begin to express how much of a difference they've made in my life!) and it will be an honor and a privilege to be able to guide your son someday. :)

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  4. First off, I think your teacher is flipping nuts. I get her not realizing it wasn't YOU she was e-mailing (but really trying to be nice here). Yet once you were there for her to say oh look out you might get run over? Call you a cab or drive you or I don't know. SOMETHING.

    What I do love is your friend. B/C she is your friend and while she doesn't get it (i.e. depth perception) she gets you. It was no big deal to her that you had a problem. you are just beautiful you to her. She honestly seemed surprised that you would even apologize (I hope) So I get that while it was no big deal to her, it was to you because you don't want to be different. You don't want to say Oh I can't do X b/c of my CP. You want to be the exact same as everyone around you.

    And it sucks sometimes that you cannot.

    But that is what is awesome. You are willing to put it out there. That hey I'm embarrassed too. That I wish I could run track, or put a flipping penny over a cup. Guess what? We all have those moments. That moment when we just want to fit in.

    Sadly, turning 40+ doesn't get rid of those feelings. What I love is you are so freaking self aware that you realize it is a self-defeating mantra and you are trying to figure out a way to stop that inner dialogue.

    I hate asking for help. Seriously, I am way too independent for my own good. I also am a chronic apologizer. I even make up words :)

    I adore the honesty in your writing. And I am totally copying Kristi here but I am so freaking happy I have you to guide Boo as she gets older and has to deal with being visibly different.



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    1. I couldn't help but laugh when I read your take on the professor situation, because as I mentioned to Kristi above, it didn't even occur to me that maybe she should have offered! You're right though...would have been the generous thing to do. :) She's a wonderful lady, but I guess not everyone is quite as thoughtful as you and Kristi, hahaha. On the flipside, there's an older woman in one of the buildings *on* campus who's kind of a secretary, and she's offered to drive me back to my dorm numerous times. Once, one of my professors wanted to hand back one of my graded assignments and she happened to know that I was in the neighboring building at the time, so she physically went and FOUND me so I wouldn't have to make the trip from my dorm to her building...I was floored. :) So there are definitely people who "get" it, like you guys do.

      And I love my friend too -- she's beyond amazing. She definitely seemed surprised when I apologized and she's just like my good friends from home in that she intuitively understands when I truly need help and when to let me do things for myself.

      LOL at making up words -- and I love that you are a chronic apologizer because in my mind, it's way better to apologize too much than to do so not enough (you are such an awesome person though -- I can't imagine that you get yourself into too many situations where you need to apologize!)! And I totally understand being too independent for your own good b/c I feel that way sometimes as well! I see that Boo has inherited your independent streak though -- that girl ROCKS!

      Adore YOU and can't wait to guide your Boo someday. :) She has brought so much AWESOME to the world already, and I can't wait to see what's in store for her as she gets older!

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  5. This is an amazing post! I struggle with this almost every day of my life. I tend to think that people will see me as weak if I ask for help, which is why I choose not to ask sometimes. In other areas of my life I feel like I need to compensate for my CP and be amazing. I'm slowly trying to break out of this habit, but it takes time!

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  6. I'm not sure when it happened, but sometime in the past few years I finally became (mostly) comfortable asking for help. I think realizing that no one does EVERYTHING alone and everyone needs help with something (because no one possesses every single skill they will ever need in life) has helped me feel much more comfortable asking for help.

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