The Problem With Being the “Disabled Girl”
I think I might be reading too much into something, but I don’t really know. One fairly unfortunate aspect of living with a disability is that you sometimes have to be wary of the motivations of others. For example, there are people in the world who have truly good intentions, but tend to see me as a disabled person first and an individual second - almost like I’m a project. But believe me, I don’t want any pity, nor do I need it.
More to the point - my experiences as a freshman in college have been quite positive thus far, but something that happened at the end of the day today left me feeling… off. Let me start by setting up the story. I have two classes with these people - I’ll call them V and C. I’ve had some casual (but positive) interactions with V over the past few weeks, but I just started getting to know C this week. We started talking a few days ago when he asked me for the time and teased me for still having a flip phone. And me being the food lover I am, I had to comment on the chicken sandwich he was eating. We started chatting, and he ended up suggesting that we go for lunch together one day.
So similar interactions like that have kept up throughout the day, and he even mentioned it again today. During those moments I honestly didn’t think much of it. To me it seemed as though he was trying to be nice, and I was grateful to have found someone willing to reach out.
Now here’s where V comes back into it. From what I’ve observed, she’s very outspoken and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, but also seems to be and overall good person. Prior to today she had offered to help me with my (rolling) backpack, and initially I declined, but she insisted, so I just let her do it until I reached the elevator and we parted ways. That only happened one time, but she approached me again today. I was sitting at my desk, waiting for everyone else to clear the room at the end of class before I tried to maneuver out of there with my monster of a backpack.
V walked up to me suddenly and asked if I needed any help. According to her, it looked like I was having a hard time getting the door open and pulling my bag along with me at the same time. I politely assured her that I was fine and that I would feel awful having her do anything for me anyway. Once again, she insisted. Not wanting to hurt her feelings for just trying to be helpful, I let her walk with me to the elevator again.
We talked more about her helping me, and she even said she was willing to hold off the crowd so I could get out of the room more easily at the end of class. I once again told her I was fine, and that if anyone got in my way, I’d just jab them in the face with my elbow. Then we joked about how we’re both so short, and how I’d probably just have to him them in the chest instead. I appreciated being able to joke around with her in a way that wasn’t directly connected to her trying to look after me.
Anyway, C caught up with us near the elevator and brought up the whole sandwich thing again, and I made him promise that he would actually take me soon. I was feeling pretty good at that point, until I heard them talking as they started going down the stairs. All I heard was V saying “Aw, you’re so nice.” I can’t explain exactly how those few simple words, but it was similar to being punched in the gut. Suddenly it struck me that there very well could be an ulterior motive behind what I initially brushed off as basic human decency.
At this revelation, I went down in the elevator trying to fight off tears. I’m not trying to imply that when someone shows me the slightest bit of compassion that I’m immediately paranoid or suspicious. I have many wonderful friends who treat me like they would any other person, and when I actually do need help (and say so), they aid me in a way that is not at all patronizing. But based on how V has been fussing over me, I couldn’t help but consider her words in a negative light. Did she say that he’s a nice guy because he genuinely does seem to be a nice person, or is it because he was giving the disabled girl some attention?
I think what troubles me the most is the fact that I just don’t know. Also that this is something I even have to be concerned about in the first place. I’d love to be able to take their kindness at face value, but right now I’m at a loss for what to believe. As a disabled person, it can sometimes be hard to gauge another person’s impression of you, and at times there is some effort require to get them to see that you aren’t defined by your impairments. I’m not sure what to do either. I feel like I might need to take some time next week to put my foot down with V. I’ll do so in a civil manner of course, but I’ll need to assert my independence. I don’t like having people fawning all over me or treating me like I’m delicate or in need of some special protection - like a baby or some puppy. I’m not lost. I’m pretty damn tough when I have to be. I’ll find my own way to get things done, and if I can’t - I’ll ask for help.
I would love to be her friend and just that, with no expectations or obligations involved. The nicest thing she could do for me would be to step back and respect my right to do things my own way, and also respect my ability to ask for help as needed. Would it be nice to know that I have someone on campus who is looking out for my best interests and is willing to lend me a hand? Of course. Concern is always favorable to apathy. But I don’t need some designated helper, and I don’t want my disability (which is just one aspect of what makes me who I am) to be at the core of my relationship with anyone. If someone is going to spend time with me, I want it to be because they like who I am as a person.
I don’t know if I’m reading too much into all of this and getting myself worked up over what could very well be nothing but what it seems to be on the surface, but all of this is just making me feel kind of lousy.