If you look at me, I appear to be petite but strong. I am strong…mentally. It was not that long ago that I worked with adjudicated youth. Back then, I was physically strong, too. I was trained in self-defense and could easily take a 300-pound teenager to the ground in a matter of seconds. Now a kindergartener can take me down with no extra effort. Not only have I lost my physical strength, but I have lost my balance as well. I also appear as if I can see everything in front of me. I walk with confidence and without hesitation. The truth is I was not distracted when I walked right by you, and I was not daydreaming when I ran into the light pole. My sight is half gone. There is a great deal I miss now.
But these are my secrets. I have learned there is a time and place to share them. I am caught between a rock and a hard place. Upon first meeting, is it better to let you know that I have limitations, or is it more important for you to believe that I have unlimited opportunities with my apparent abilities? This is a question that goes through my mind on a nearly daily basis.
I often get asked, “What happened to your leg? Why are you limping?” Sometimes this will be said after I have known a person for a while. Other times, it will be asked upon first meeting an individual. Within the answer lies my crossroads. If I answer nonchalantly, “I always limp. I had a stroke.” The first reaction is always immediate astonishment, concern and then sympathy. I do not want your sympathy though. I especially do not want it when the person asking is not willing to listen to me explain that it turned out to be the greatest thing that could have happened to me. I want to explain that they should not be sad for me. Rather, I want them to rejoice with me for what I have overcome. My physical strength might fail me often now, but my inner strength is so strong that it is immeasurable.
If you see someone in a wheelchair, be very careful about your initial reaction. They may be able to push the wheels faster than you can run. Very possibly they are faster and more efficient with problem solving due to the limitations they have had to work around. If you come across someone who is deaf, be careful what you say. They can hear the unspoken language of your body better than your hearing ears will ever allow you to understand. Do not judge a disability you can quickly notice. Do not think of what you see as a weakness. The unnoticed compensating abilities that person has may shock you.
I really do not mind my limitations. Sure, it would be nice to get back some of what I have lost. However, I could never accept giving up the amazing vision that I have for my life just to regain my missing sight. I would never relinquish the inner strength that I have gained just to get back the strength in my arms and legs. Without half of my world always black as night and the left-sided weakness I live with, I would never have neither gained nor held on to the ability to maintain these newfound treasures I harbor within me. I wish that other people could understand this upon my first encounter with them. So, is it better to let people think I am a daydreamer and laugh when I walk into light poles? Is it better to allow them to think I hurt my leg in an accident (it was a cerebral vascular accident after all) or is it better to accept their pity and have them cast their generalized views of weakness on me so they allow room for my limitations? This is a dilemma I face often and will continue to weigh.
I warn you, do not mistake the limitations some people have as weakness. It will only frustrate me. Soon though, I will change my attitude allowing me even more determination to find great pleasure in proving you wrong! And remember: Shhhh, don’t tell my secret. I really do not want you to have to experience the unacceptable pity some people feel the need to give me.