The Thing About Independence

I, like most people who live with a disability (I think) have a thing with independence.

I hang on to it with a death grip. If I can do something myself I want to do it myself because I don’t always have the luxury.

Like being able to open a door or carry my own suitcase through the airport (or even just to the curb). I understand that people want to help, and I appreciate the sentiment, but what many people don’t understand is the significance of being able to do something on my own.

I know a lot of people view me as independent but they don’t realize what it takes for me to be seen as independent (as is the same for many others with disabilities).

I have a pair of pants that illustrates my independence pretty well. My mom bought me these pants because I didn’t want to buy a new pair and she was sick of watching me alternate between the same 2 pairs of pants whenever I go to the gym or pool. As hard as it for me to have clothes that fit well these pants seemed meant to be, basically meaning they fit without need of alteration.

But as far as functionality, they suck.

The first time I wore them to the gym I almost slid off the exercise ball.  My core strength is in fact so unreliable that wearing pants that provide some sort of traction for sitting is always a plus. So wearing these pants to the gym was a no-go. I’d just wear them to the pool instead. No big deal, right? You would think, and frankly I did too, but it takes me a long time to get them on. My feet never seem to want to point the right way to avoid the epic tug-of-war that ensues between my body and itself.

The only thing that stops me from giving up on putting on said pair of pants is the likelihood that I’d get banned from the aquatic facility or arrested.

I’m not saying don’t help someone if they need it. I’m saying if they say “No thanks,” respect that and back off, or ask How can I help you?” if you offer for help has been accepted.

Because even when we (or maybe it’s just me) accept help we really want as little help as possible.

There’s something about being able to do things on your own that is incredibly satisfying. It also provides me with human dignity that I sometimes lack when stepping (or rolling) out into the outside world.

Yes, not being able to open a door leaves me feeling downtrodden and pretty useless.

I have the smarts to work towards a master’s degree but something as “simple” as opening a door can prove to be more challenging (among other things).

How messed up is that?

Independence is something countless people have fought for and will continue to do, probably until the end of time. So before you offer to help someone (or probably afterwards) consider what that act of help says to that person about how you see, as well as value, their independence.

What do you consider to be signs of independence? How do you feel or would you feel if someone took those things away from you?

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One thought on “The Thing About Independence

  1. This post reminds me of a recent experience. A new friend of mine had recently had a stroke. One day when I was alone with him his symptoms came on very intensely to the point where he looked like he was in distress so naturally I asked him if he wanted help. He smiled and said “No” and I remember wanting to insist on helping but then stopping myself when I thought of how pissed off I get when people help when it is not needed. So I backed off and watched as he calmly regained control over his nervous system. It gave me so much respect for him to see how well he handled the situation on his own and because I had respected his dignity and probably a bit of his ego he trusted me and asked me to help him when he did want help. The best thing I did for him and our friendship was let him call the shots. I just wish that some of the people I work with would not excuse me of not being independent enough when I do ask for help for safety reasons. I hate having someone preach to me about something they know nothing about.

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