I'm 27 years old now, and I can honestly say I haven't spent a great deal of time thinking about the things I couldn't do. In fact, the word "can't" wasn't used much, either by myself or by friends and family growing up. There were things that were difficult, lord knows there were things that were frustrating, and of course things on the "probably not a good idea" list, but very little use of the word "can't."
Why do I bring this up now? Because while out at a Firm luncheon a while back I had a minor incident that made me think about such things. One of the attorneys gave me a case of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA as a gift. So, here I am at the end of lunch, standing at the front door trying to figure out how I"m going to get down the steps with a heavy case of beer. I initially tried and nearly wound up tumbling down the steps and wasting all of that beer. Thank god I didn't, because the only thing more embarrassing than having to suck up my pride and ask for help would've been tumbling down a flight of steps in front of everyone I work with. I've tumbled down plenty of stairs before, but this was one that would've been hugely embarrasing.
Pride is a weird emotion. Anyone reading this who has a "disability" knows that asking for help is one of the last things you want to do. In my case, well, I went years at The Firm without telling anyone I have CP and anyone who did notice my limp or other oddities likely just dismissed it or chalked it up to an old sports injury / bum knee and never said anything. I certainly wasn't going to say anything. Why would I? Prior to my panic attack in April of 09' almost no one knew about it. (I figured it was a medically relevant thing to tell the EMT's as they wheeled me out of the office.) Hell, until recently (I.E. starting this blog) I almost never talked about my CP unless prompted to do so.
This past weekend at the beach I was stretching with my brother and 8 year old nephew, preparing to go for a run into town. He laughed and asked what I was doing, because compared to him my stretching looked odd. So here I am explaining CP and tight muscles to an 8 year old, realizing that I've never used the words "cerebral palsy" with any of my nephews or neice.
It sounds so cliche' to say you just want to be seen as "normal" because no one's really normal. Look around you. People are fucking weird. That said, the desire to be seen as "normal" with respect to not needing help from others can be a bit ridiculous when you have any kind of physical disability. You develop an overinflated sense of "I don't need help" even when you clearly do.
To this day I have trouble asking for help, and it's clearly a product of childhood. (It's also genetic, we're all stubborn as hell) My parents went to great lengths to make sure I was independent, mom moreso than dad. My older sister would step in to help me do things, mom would stop her. There were all kinds of day to day things I had trouble with, and so, so many people who were all too eager to jump in and help at the drop of a hat. I can remember zippers and snaps on winter coats being especially frustrating.
Frankly, I'm glad my parents made me do everything by myself, and really didn't try to stop me from doing anything because of my CP. My father did try and keep me from joining the basketball team as a kid because he was worried I'd get hurt. (incidentally, you couldn't keep me off a basketball court and both of my concussions occurred in schoolyard pickup games) It's funny, growing up dad was definitely more of a hardass, yet he was always the worrier, while Mom was the "Ah, he'll be fine!" type.
My parents didn't coddle me and shield me from life, adversity and challenges and for that I am forever grateful. I can only think of very few times where I pulled the "I have CP card" to try and get a leg up. One was in typing class. I didn't want the class to negatively impact my good grades and was understandably worried because of my right hand. The school told me I didn't have to take it if I didn't want to. I took it, got a "B" and can now type just fine. Once was to get a date with a very nice girl who insisted on helping me off the university bus. The only other instance was when I got a handicapped placard after surgery in college, to reduce the amount of walking I'd have to do all over campus. This really was a necessity, and even with it I way, way overdid it. Yes, I even tried playing basketball in a leg cast. After the placard expired I never could bring myself to renew it, even though I do qualify.
I can't tell you the number of times I did something foolhearted because "I don't need any help." When I moved out of my dorm room senior year two of my "friends' ditched on me, so I decided to do it myself. I took a tumble down an entire flight of concrete stairs while trying to carry my fridge out. I laid there for a while and It was sheer luck I wasn't seriously hurt.
I do it with non-physical things as well, because I've developed this stubborn belief that I should be able to figure things out on my own. I had to write a legal memo for class last semester. I had everything I needed, knew it inside and out, and my only hangup was that I didn't know how to format / structure it, seeing as I'd never done this before. I had the same issue writing pleadings for my civil procedure class. 10-20 minutes of just sitting down with a lawyer, bouncing ideas off of them and going "Am I on the right track / doing this right?" is all it took, yet I refused to use the resources at my disposal to my advantage. As my dad said to me "The problem you're having is the same problem I had when I first started law school. It's normal."
I guess you could say there's a fine line between wanting to be autonomous and admitting that, yes, you DO need help with certain things, and furthermore, that it's OK to ask for help. Growing up I remember having winter jackets with snaps because zippers were more difficult for me. I remember for years flipping my backpack up over my head because I couldn't put it on the normal way. Even now I have days where I have trouble with my tie and the buttons on my shirt. Days where my hands just don't want to work well. I'd rather spend 10 minutes with the one damn top button or button on my collar I can't get than ask my roommate to get it. Just like I'd rather beat my head against a way forever trying to figure something out for class than ask for 15 minutes of help.
It's literally taken me years to get to the point where I'll at least sometimes ask for help, favors that I view as imposing, or say "yeah, with my CP I think doing that would be a really bad idea without help" I can't say how many times I've fallen, even in my 20's, because I was doing something ill advised that involved height and balance. I know I struggled through some things in the mid 2000's that Laura would've beat me over had she known about them at the time.
There are times where it's OK to take a step back, realize you don't have to prove yourself to everyone all the time, and either ask for assistance or refrain from doing certain things. It's taken me all this time to realize that doing so doesn't necessarily mean you're wimping out or not pushing yourself. It means you're getting older and maybe, just maybe, a little smarter. Still, even though I now realize this it's really quite hard for me to actually do it.