Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Step Aside...Or Not?

This morning, I read a beautiful post by Ellen over at LoveThatMax in which she outlined the various forms of confidence that she wishes for her son to have in himself.

I loved the whole thing, and her words stuck with me all morning. But there was one point in particular that I couldn't shake: "I want him to feel confident about moving at his pace," she wrote.

This is still a struggle for me. Every morning to get to my chemistry class, we have to descend a couple flights of stairs. Almost automatically, if I hear someone behind me, my legs stiffen up and I feel pressured to move more quickly...paradoxically, making an effort to move quickly worsens my spasticity and increases the likelihood that I'll stumble. And the whole time, I can't stop that little voice in the back of my head: "You're making them late...they're probably so annoyed with you right now...hurry, hurry hurry!"

If I can, I almost always step to the side to allow them to pass instead of making them follow behind at my slower pace. Usually people thank me, but the reactions vary...some people seem as though they feel awkward about it, murmuring a quiet "Excuse me!" as they move past. Recently, one girl passed me but then waited at the bottom of the stairs. "You didn't have to do that, you know," she said with a smile as I finished climbing the steps. "People don't mind waiting an extra minute."

Her gentle comment brought a smile to my face and certainly made me wonder. How much do people really mind?

I hear it all the time...Offhanded, innocent comments that even I can relate to sometimes, like, "I got stuck behind a slow person on my way to class, and it was so annoying because I was running late!"

Sometimes comments like these just roll right off me...after all, I get it. We live in a fast-paced world, and we've all experienced the pressure of being six minutes late to an appointment and seemingly hitting every. possible. roadblock. And yet, there are other times when I can't deny that it hurts.

During my freshman orientation, when I got stuck in the middle of the group and someone shouted, "Why are we going so SLOW?," it stung. Because to me, it didn't feel like "slow" at all...I was walking as fast as I possibly could, and I was painfully aware that even my best wasn't good enough.

Or when I expressed worries about not being able to keep up with a large group of people on a tour, and someone in my family said that if I went to the gym more often, I'd be just like everyone else. Those words still haunt me, especially because they came from someone I trust. They made me feel as if my CP and my slow pace were entirely my fault.

And yet, I know deep down that it's not my fault. Ever since I was a young child, I knew that it wasn't. For as long as I can remember, I've heard people huff impatiently as they waited for an older person to cross the street or get out of their way. I remember being a young kid and feeling a strange connection with these older people, and I always used to remind my family and friends that it was beyond these people's control, that it might be a small annoyance for you, but imagine how much more difficult it must be for them.

"You're right," my family and friends said. "I'm sorry." They seemed to understand that I was speaking from experience, that I knew firsthand the pain of being the "slow" person, the target of those impatient sighs.

Sometimes these sighs come before people realize that I have a disability. "What's taking so long?" they'll say as I take an extra moment to move. And then they'll notice my obvious disability and horrified comprehension will dawn on their faces. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean...." and their voices will trail off as we both try to pretend that nothing happened.

I guess my emotions are complicated when it comes to this topic. As of now, I think I'm still going to step aside on the stairs to allow people to pass me, but I'd love to hear other people's opinions. I'd love to become more comfortable about my walking pace, and more and more I'm realizing that it might not be as much of an inconvenience for others as I make it out to be -- several of my friends often ask to walk to class with me, sometimes even in the rain, and it never ceases to amaze me. And yet, when I tell them that they can go ahead without me, that they don't have to wait, they seem to regard me with amused confusion. "Why would I go without you?" they say.

Just the other day, I had swung my backpack over my shoulder and was heading out the door, when I heard a voice call out behind me.

"Hey, wait up! I want to walk with you."

I couldn't help but smile.


  1. I read Ellen's post, too. That's what brought me here!

    I walk reasonably well, but my balance is not the best, and I am very small, which means people sometimes don't even realize I'm there until they run into me. I have always tended to step aside and let people pass whenever "traffic" backs up behind me, especially in larger crowds. I don't think I do it out of any concern that people are upset with me. I just feel physically more comfortable when people are in front of me, where I can see them.

    As for being hurried in other ways, that happened a little bit when I was younger, with my father and a little bit with my mother. However, it was mild and rare compared to other disabled people I have talked to whose families really laid it on heavily that they ought to hurry up, get with it, because they were annoying others. The thing is, it's both understandable, and absolutely horrible.

    1. Hi Andrew!

      Thanks for stopping by :) I know what you mean about being more comfortable with people in front of you...to some degree, I feel the same way...it stresses me out when people are on my heels!

      And yes -- I totally understand what you mean when you say that it was both understandable and horrible. Fortunately, my parents were similar to yours, it seems, in that they occasionally hurried me along (understandably so!), but never cruelly.

      Thanks for your input, as always. I love the way you think!

  2. I don't have a "disability", as such, but I'm obese and unfit and that makes me slow. I think it's just good manners to step aside so that others can move ahead, and if I sense that someone walking with me is getting antsy, I'll let them know it's okay to move along. That sets them free to do what's appropriate for them - to amble along at my pace, or to hurry to meet a time constraint. It's situation-dependent - and if they choose to hurry, that likely has nothing negative to do with me.

    1. Hi! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment...I really appreciate it. :)

      I agree that it's good manners to step aside in case others are in a hurry -- thanks for the validation in that regard. Sometimes I wonder if I worry *too* much about it though. It's hard to know for sure!

      And oftentimes I, too, let people know that they can run ahead without me if needed. I've found that's worked well for both of us, because if they need to quicken their pace, they can do so, and I won't feel pressured to walk faster for their sake or as if I'm holding them back. :)

      Anyway, I really appreciated your insight! :) Seems as though we handle these situations similarly.

  3. Ohhh but you ended in a way which made me GRIN SO HARD!

    People hold people up, wherever there's a confined space to be held. People will always be late and cussing out the 'slowbie' in front of them (I did that very thing this morning, driving to another town behind someone who INSISTED on going 10mph below the speed limit and it was DRIVING ME NUTS, but was all beyond my control, and really I should have left earlier, so it was on me, in a way, and the traffic jam I got caught in could have been anticipated and..and...and...) I guess it's always very easy to 'blame' the person who appears to be causing the hold-up, but really, there will be multiple factors at play in creating that pressured atmosphere, and there's no reason for you to take responsibility for them, for everyone.

    Don't own it. Your only responsibility is to get YOUR self to YOUR class in a timely manner. By all means be courteous, but don't feel you owe other people particular favours. If they're under pressure, it's their lookout.

    (All very much easier said than done, that attitude change-y thing...)

    I feel like there was something else I wanted to say, and it escapes me. I think it was about your friends being wonderful and about THEM being the ones to pay attention to (in terms of opinion) - they understand. They choose you. You matter to them.

    [also worth bearing in mind is a thing I saw the other day on Pintrest, which read "If you have an opinion about my life, raise your hand. Now put it over your mouth..."

    1. LIZZI!

      Thank you, as always, for your clearheaded advice. You're right -- attitude changing is tricky business -- but I like the way you think. I think that we often try to hold ourselves responsible for things that are beyond our control, and that train of thought often leads to frustration!

      And yes yes yes, I am endlessly grateful for my friends. Not only for my college friends, but for my bloggy friends like YOU, because you guys seem to get it when nobody else does as well. xo

      Ahahahaha I love that quote! I could totally see that on a bumper sticker! ;)

  4. Hi. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on my post and for understanding where I was coming from. We live in a fast-paced world (thanks in part to the Internet and insta-information) and I feel like people are getting increasingly impatient. I say, let 'em wait. Life does not revolve around any one of us. It's a give and take and sometimes you GIVE.

    1. Hey Ellen! (fangirling a little bit that you commented on my post! Ahhh!) Thank YOU for writing such a beautifully thought-provoking post. And I appreciate that piece of advice...You are so right when you say that life is a "give and take," and that's something that's worth remembering in a lot of different contexts of life!

      Thanks for stopping by :)

  5. First off, I still want the name of that family member so I can punch them in the nose.

    Second, you rock. But you need to work on letting your friends be your friends. They are not slowing down because of your CP but because they want to be with you. That is what friendship is. It is not getting to class faster and sitting next to the smelly guy but walking with your friend and entering the class together. And hey having you to sit next too is pretty cool. So stop putting qualifiers on your friendships.

    Third, stepping to the side is not because of your CP. Or totally bc of it. It is because your mom raised you right. You have manners. You know to give up your seat to pregnant lady, to hold the door for the elderly and to step to the side of the stairway to make way for someone faster. It's called manners and your mom raised you right. Of course it also keeps you safe, because your mom and your CP taught you that. So next time, no apologies as they pass just smile hello.

    Okay this is sounding like a lecture. So I will probably stop after this last thing: You transcend CP. You are more than your CP. So stop putting qualifiers on your friendships. I see you do this a lot on your blog. You for whatever reason are in awe of your friends. That they like you. But see you freaking rock. They see the inside Kerry. The one that can dance with her words, both spoken and unspoken. They see their friend first and the CP is just a part of their friend.

    No qualifier.

    Okay end lecture. Adore you. You rock. Your momma raised you right, remember that the next time you step aside of the queue.

    1. AHH YAY it published!! xo Thank you for your beautiful words, Kerri. They absolutely made my day...and you are so right -- I definitely need to change the way I think about my friends. & check your email...I replied to your comment in much more detail there! :) Thank you!

  6. K, you are such a beautiful writer. Each and every post has me smiling and nodding along, always!
    I notice it a lot, everyone always seems in such a rush, it drives me bonkers! When we were in Japan which was so busy and crowded people were so much more courteous. Organised chaos! It was like a well oiled machine. You keep to the left, wait your turn, never push in and allow people to get off a train before you get on. At home I always step aside out of courtesy rather than worrying what they might be thinking etc. As for Cooper he is super fast in his powerchair and needs to learn to be slightly more courteous as he honks his horn if people are in the way ;) I feel the same way about allowing people time to talk rather than talking for them or hurrying up or guessing their response. Basically we all need to slow down a bit and be courteous to each other.

    1. Thank you so much, Bron! It's so interesting to hear that people were more courteous in Japan.

      It made me smile to read that Cooper "honks his horn" at people, haha...that kid is too cute!

      I totally agree though -- slowing down and being courteous is a wonderful thing! Thanks for your insights :)

  7. Your friends are lucky to have you as a friend. They wait for you because they enjoy being with you. I promise. It's too easy for us to assume we are burdens, when really, each of us who offers friendship is such a gift. Love you!

    1. Kristi!! :) Thank you. I need that reminder sometimes...you are so right! Love you too!

  8. Just found your blog via this post, and wow do I relate! Thanks so much for being open and honest about what we (those with CP) feel when being rushed and that anxiety over needing to hurry.


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