I had a pedicure this afternoon and a massage that involved some foot therapy, so I planned to blog about my feet and what I need to do to heal and fix them, but something came up in conversation with my massage therapist that I don’t think I have blogged about before. She told me that I sometimes think experiences and feelings are exclusive to me or to other disabled people when in fact they are universal human experiences, like feeling embarrassed or weak when asking for help or to need help at all.
I was never disabled enough to need a caregiver or constant supervision, but I always got what I needed because I knew how to ask for it and get what I wanted. I asked for help too much and I used my disability as an excuse to have other people do things for me that I didn’t want to do. As I grew up and matured, I began putting distance between me and my family so that I would be independent and couldn’t rely on them for help or support or validation. I needed to prove my own strength and capability to myself. It’s why I went to England in the first place and why I keep coming back: it forces me to rely on my own strength and to build my own necessary support rather than looking to my family for it or leaning on my family in times where I have the capability to do things alone.
My massage therapist told me she needed to ask her boyfriend to help her change a tire because she wasn’t strong enough to do so on her own. We agreed that this didn’t make her a weak person, and she told me that everyone does need help with things from time to time. She said the need for independence and the need to rely on others at times are not exclusive to those with disabilities, but things with which everyone contends.
I have to stop looking at any form of need as a sign of weakness or dependency. I grew up in a dependent environment because I needed help from the moment I was born, but I have worked to fight my way out of it and assert my own autonomy, control over my body, and independence. My mother has told me – several times – that in some ways I ask for help too often and in some ways I don’t ask for enough help. She hates to see me struggle in any way, and I often push her away when she tries to step in and help me. We have patterns from my childhood that we are still both working to change, especially with regards to how much and when I need help.
Last Christmas, I felt weakness in my legs all day. That evening, I fell as I was getting out of the car. My mother immediately went to help me get on my feet. I shoved her away out of embarrassment. Her natural response to seeing me in any form of pain or struggle is to help – as is most people’s – but I was embarrassed that I had fallen and I felt that my fall served as a ‘reminder’ to my family that they still needed to look out for me. My father pulled me to my feet out of frustration and was angry at me for refusing my mother’s help. I screamed at her, ‘Stop trying to help me when I don’t need help.’ In that moment, all I wanted was to get on my feet on my own – literally and metaphorically – and to deal with the fall alone.
I try to do things alone before I ask for help. There are times when I struggle for too long alone and then, when I finally ask for help, people end up doing more than they would have because I have spent so much time trying to work alone for the sake of strength and self-discipline. I also like to work alone; I have spent so much time this year working in groups and I have found that my best work has been produced after group meetings when I can go off by myself and figure things out alone. The draft I write after the group meeting is always better received than the draft I create during the group meeting. I like to have the time alone to think, to research, to write, and to pull things together. There are times when I need to collaborate with others and to talk my ideas through with them – as I’m an auditory learner – but I have learned this year that I would rather work with one or two people (or autonomously) than in bigger groups. The response to my work is enough evidence to me.
I try to think ‘do I really need someone to help me with this’ before I reach out to someone. I find that I balk – or worse, snap – when people offer me help that I don’t need. I try to calm and control myself when I get frustrated with people who try to help me, but sometimes I can be short with them when they are either unaware of the extent of my capabilities or still learning my boundaries. I’m also a very private person (I didn’t used to be but I became one out of necessity) and I don’t like it when anyone sees me struggling or senses that I am having trouble. My disability is visible to people and it is a source of deep shame for me. There are many times when I want to assert some control and, though I am struggling, maintain some privacy.
It is not a sign of weakness to need help or ask for help. It’s something I still struggle with. But this, again, reinforces my massage therapist’s point: everyone struggles with it. Everyone struggles with asking for help, needing help, accepting help, and helping other people. I am not alone in this or somehow exempt from it. No one is.
‘Alone. All alone. Nobody but nobody can make it out here alone.’ – Maya Angelou