When I was a little girl, people modified the world for me. This was partly out of necessity and partly out of overprotectiveness. I did need extra help and support as a child; my parents and teachers and therapists went out of their way for me – and far above and beyond – so that daily life would be easier and more manageable. I grew up believing that this was normal and acceptable, and if I didn’t like something or didn’t want to do something, I could (and should) have it modified for me. My current therapy is also modified for me, but such is the nature of this kind of care: in order to address specific problems and achieve specific goals, the work has to be modified to fit the individual. However, this attitude can also reinforce the belief that if I don’t like something, I am exempt from it or it can be changed to suit what I am comfortable with.
My cerebral palsy places me in a bubble. People notice my disability as soon as they meet me, and this observation immediately causes them to treat me differently than they would otherwise. They look out for me, look after me, and make sure that I’m okay. People often do this without trying or realizing it, especially when they first meet me. They don’t know the extent of my disability (or ability) and they aren’t aware of my boundaries. Sometimes people are not conscientious enough and they assume that I can do things that I can’t, or they are too sensitive with me and treat me too gently and kindly when I am perfectly capable of certain things (that I have always been capable of).
My mother and I spoke on Skype a few days ago and she said that the concept and practice of modifying things is much more common now than it was when I was little. Schools modify everything for students who have any challenges and workplaces modify settings and expectations for people who need extra help or have certain difficulties. It’s much more of a given now that problems can be addressed and things can be modified.
Last summer, I interned with an advertising agency. The building in which I worked was not accessible in that the outside stairs had no accompanying hand rail. I could walk up the steps, but not down the steps. On the day I secured my internship, I didn’t ask my boss for help back down the stairs because I was too embarrassed. I stood outside and waited for the person picking me up from the interview to help me because I was embarrassed that I needed help at all. My boss came outside at the end of his work day and found me standing there; he graciously and without complaint helped me when he saw that I was struggling. He told me not to be embarrassed about needing help or asking for it.
When I started my internship, I had to ask for help with the stairs at the end of every single work day. I knew that my colleagues didn’t mind helping me, but I felt bad. My boss very kindly arranged to have a railing installed so that I would be safe and wouldn’t have to ask for help. Installing the railing would also help anyone else who needed the extra support when descending the stairs. It wasn’t just for me. It was for the benefit of everyone who used the building. I thanked my boss but he knew that I felt bad that I needed help. He said, ‘You need to learn to ask [if there is something you need].’ He likened the need for a railing to the need to have air in order to breathe. I understood his point and completely respected it, especially when I knew he wasn’t doing it out of ‘special treatment’ or ‘modification’ for me specifically, but for anyone whom it might help.
I’ve been hesitant to blog about another element of my rehabilitation that I constantly work on, but the topic is unavoidable in this instance. I work on social, emotional, and interpersonal maturity. Much of maturity is realizing and accepting that I can’t expect to get out of things I’m uncomfortable with or quit things just because I don’t like them. The modification that surrounded me as a child enabled me to give up things I didn’t like or to not even start things if I thought I would fail them. I had to learn – later in life than I care to admit – that I couldn’t continue to expect special treatment or leniency, especially when something had to do with my personal preference rather than my physical capability.
It’s when I got into the working world that I started to ‘grow up’ in this area of my life. I learned to do what was expected of me without complaint, to do tasks I didn’t enjoy without expecting that they would be modified, and to meet and exceed an employer’s expectations. Work made me more responsible, mature, and aware of my place within a team of employees than an individual in school, university, or a form physical therapy. I am embarrassed that I came into this maturity as late as I did, but I’m very glad that I have learned it that I apply it to everything I do now: therapy, school, and work. I worked four internships between my last degree and my most recent one and it has helped me become a better student. I am more respectful and cognizant of deadlines and I do assignments that I don’t like to the best of my ability (even if I moan about it the whole way through). Breaking out of my modified world has helped me see the big picture in a way that I hadn’t before. I am able to handle tough situations better because I can see their eventual worth. I am also more considerate of others and my place among other people.
The most wonderful thing about adopting this mentality is that I can only improve on it. With every internship and job I have, I become more responsible, mature, independent, and capable. This isn’t something I risk losing now that I have made it central to my personality and the way in which I live my life. The maturity that I have gained through rehab will only get better and be with me always.