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I'm Done Apologizing for My Brain Injury

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In a typical day, there are two words I utter more frequently than any others: “I’m sorry.” Sorry I’m taking so long, sorry I need help, sorry I’m an inconvenience. I have hemiparesis with muscle spasms from a brain injury. It’s not noticeable to most people, but fine motor tasks are extremely difficult for me.

A few days ago I went to get fingerprinted for my new job. The technician said to start with my right thumb and press all of my fingers onto the scanner. When I didn’t move quickly enough, she repeated the instructions. I could tell she was getting irritated when she started to tell me for a third time, and I was too flustered to say anything but “Stop.” Breathe. Breathe. I explained briefly that it was hard for me, and told her how she could help. After awkwardly finishing the prints, the tech asked how I got the muscle problems, and I told her. She tried to make chit-chat.

This exchange is basically my nightmare, and I get to experience it on a regular basis. People get irritated when I don’t move as quickly as they think I should, or have trouble with a seemingly easy task, or forget things within seconds. Usually I am able to laugh it off before the situation gets (too) awkward. Regardless of the outcome, it always elicits varying degrees of the same response in me: panic. What amounts to an awkward 15 minutes for others is a constant sense of dread for me.

Is it my responsibility to notify people of the possible inconveniences caused by my invisible disability? Is the burden on me to make others feel less awkward? The more I think about it, the more I realize I deserve convenience as much as anyone else. I deserve patience and understanding. I live this life every single day, limitations and all. If it irritates you to wait five minutes, imagine my life. I have to wait on myself every minute of every day.

If the situation were reversed, how would I behave? I like to think that I would be patient and kind. If someone else needed accommodations, would I advocate for them? Of course I would. So why do I have such a hard time advocating for myself?

From now on, I’m going to challenge myself to stop apologizing. I will advocate for myself and treat myself with the same respect that I reserve for others. My disorder is invisible, but I’m not. #noapologies #spooniechallenge

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Thinkstock photo by IZF.

Originally published: May 15, 2017
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