I grew up in a consequence-free environment. I had no sense of how my behavior came off to other people or how it affected the people around me. I wasn’t aware or sensitive to how I came across to strangers and to people who knew my family and, by extension, me. The worst thing was that people didn’t call me on my behavior and people didn’t impose consequences for it, so I got away with a lot of inappropriate things and I hurt people without realizing it because I was socially immature. It was not a side effect of the trauma I suffered as a child, but rather a result of being sheltered and excused. I ‘grew up’ later in life and came into social maturity later than other people around me. Part of my rehabilitative process involves ‘catching up’ to others my age, physically and socially.
When I was in high school, I wrote for a quarterly supplement to my hometown’s most widely-read newspaper. They gave me and another staff writer tickets to a concert so we could be photographed for the publication. Upon receiving the tickets, I realized they were in a section of the stadium where it would be impossible for me to stand up to see the show without assistance (someone holding my hand or arm). I lacked the coordination and balance to stand that high up unassisted. I went to the concert and found disabled seating, but the other writer with the second ticket was left without someone with to see the show. He went home. The photographer who would have taken a photograph of us together had no material for the publication, and so the whole purpose of sending us to the show was completely wasted.
I later spoke to the other writer and explained – in my own defense – that I couldn’t have seen the show from seats that were so high up. I couldn’t have balanced on my own. I didn’t mention it, but I’d had a previous bad experience going to a concert in the same venue where a friend of mine had to hold my hand for the whole show so I could stand up to see it (because everyone was on their feet the entire time; if I’d remained in my seat, I would have not been able to see anything). My friend who held my hand was clearly uncomfortable – though she didn’t complain – and I felt really bad that she had to look out for me and that the concert wasn’t as fun for her as a result. I apologized to the boy who’d missed the show on my account and he said, ‘It’s all right,’ but he was clearly disappointed. There were no consequences for the outcome of that night, and everyone whom it affected used my cerebral palsy to ‘explain away’ what had happened. It happened ten years ago and I still feel bad about it.
I am much more socially mature now – though I still have a lot to work on – and I try my best to accept consequences, apply criticism, see feedback as support rather than attack, and to ask people to call me on rude, disrespectful, or alienating behavior. I ask people to make me aware of any problems upfront so I can work on them and change them rather than ‘understanding me’ through my disability and then letting it go, thus enabling me to continue whatever behavior has hurt or offended them. I absolutely hate it when someone makes me aware of something I did a few weeks ago or I have done for several months that is annoying or hurtful or rude. It hurts more to know that I have offended them for ‘that long’ rather than once or twice, and I work to change things when I am made aware, so I wish people would ‘make me aware’ sooner. It would be healthier and better for anyone involved.
Writing this, I realize I do the same with other people I know who have conditions or disabilities of which they have made me aware. I excuse them. I do my best to understand them. I try to be gentle and considerate and sensitive. I don’t treat them ‘as I would other people’ which is the way that people treat me. My doctor told me that this is why some people who have cerebral palsy know they can get better but don’t do the work to get better: they like having the world cater to them and take care of them and treat them like they are special. I won’t lie: there are times when I would like to be treated kindly or excused, and I took advantage of it all the time when I was younger, the above concert being an example. At the time, I believed that it was okay that I’d done what I did because I was looking out for my own needs and I didn’t think that the boy who had the other ticket would go home. I thought he would sit in his seat, have his photograph taken for the publication, and enjoy the concert without me. That wasn’t the case.
Other people were (and still are) always sensitive with me. I had to learn how to be more sensitive with other people.