What I’ve Learned About Pity as a Person With Cerebral Palsy
When I was in elementary school, I learned that people felt sorry for me. I always knew I was different: that I wasn’t as strong as other kids, that falling every day was a way of life, and everything was slow for me. Oh, people were sorry for me so that’s why they were nice to me. I realize now that this a very misguided thought, but back then I learned what happens when people’s opinions start to matter.
“Sorry” slipped into my everyday conversations before I knew it. You see, cerebral palsy and all that came with it was normal for me. I didn’t think anything of it. I had to have help. I didn’t realize how this affected other people: my friends, my family, or strangers. Sorry I can’t go faster. Sorry you have to help me so much. Sorry, sorry and sorry again.
This train of thought started two major themes in my life. First, I believed help was a sign of weakness. I was going to try to be normal and go the hard way. This was a complete failure because I needed the help anyway. It’s really exhausting not to ask for help. Second, I was terrified of the word “pity.” I mean, what if everyone didn’t actually like me, but pitied me enough to be nice? I have such hate for the word “pity.” I still apologize for things I don’t have to, even now. Old habits die hard.
This set of realizations and themes didn’t help me at all. I was and still am a socially awkward person around my peers for more reasons than one. I mean, I spent a year of recess alone in the classroom, being entertained by the teachers because no one wanted to play with me. True story.
I quickly learned that “nice” didn’t always mean they cared. There were lines between the lines. I learned the difference between fake and real people. I learned that teachers didn’t always know what to do with my needs and sometimes didn’t care. I was a burden. I was seen as fragile. Some of the kids made it clear I wasn’t wanted. Granted, my social skills weren’t up to speed. I still struggle at times even today. I am the first to admit words escape my mouth before a thought even makes an appearance. Anxiety still follows me to this day when it comes to friends. I have made friends and lost them. I am not the easiest friend to have. I learn every day the art of relationships. The past makes me wince with the thought of “How could they stand me?” “Grateful” cannot encompass what I feel for those who have stood by my side during my growing pains.
There is a difference between people who feel like they have to be nice to you and a person who really cares who you are. As a disabled person, I have gained a fairly good eye for that. In this society, a person is judged by their ability to get things done. I’ve noticed that when I first meet people, they often underestimate my ability to accomplish tasks. People don’t expect me to be able to do as much as I can. This used to really bother me because they would be happy with whatever I did. To be ranked and judged based on my physical appearance alone — I really hated that.
Sometimes a person’s tone of voice changed when it came to me or others like me. The tone would get higher as if I was a child. I don’t think it’s on purpose or if people even know they do it. Call me sensitive, but it really makes all the difference.
I tell you all this because I have spent all my life being too concerned with what people think of me. Whether they pity me or not. What this pity means for me. What kind of person it makes me that I am always to be pitied by strangers for something I can’t control. Would it really kill me to ask for help? I’ve let others’ expectations become my limits in the past. No one can tell you what you can achieve. Don’t let them.
Today, I still struggle with those thoughts if I’m being honest, but I realize a lot of it is my perspective. This is the main point I want to share with you today: Don’t let other people define you. Instead of lamenting how people underestimate me, I like to see how much I can surprise people. The less they think I can do, the more I can surprise them.
Pity still plays a part in my life. I still catch the lingering look. See the sometimes-irritated look at my speed from strangers. I still apologize far too much for things I don’t have to. But you know what? I try not to acknowledge it in my life because I don’t need it. I have found the art of being content with what my life is.
Don’t be confused — I’m still human. I still have bad days of wishing I could be faster or be able to catch a ball easily. And not everyone will pity you. Some people have good hearts and pity you. Sometimes it’s bad. I believe it really depends on the person and how you choose to react. Pity has pushed me in good ways. I take pity as a challenge to do my best.
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