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When a Customer Asked What Was Wrong With My Shaking Hands

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I expect the friendly concern: “Hey, are you OK? You’re shaking.”

Yup, I’m fine. Thanks for asking.

I welcome the questions: “I have a loved one with cerebral palsy, can you tell me about your experience?” “My spouse and I are looking into adopting a child with cerebral palsy, can you tell us a little bit about what to expect?” “I’m a healthcare student. Can you answer a few questions for me?”

Of course I can. Sincere questions deserve sincere answers. 

But what I cannot and will not accept are the accusations, the demands to know what’s “wrong” with me or even the well-intentioned, but unsolicited “sympathy.” 

Twelve years ago, I was a high school senior looking forward to a bright future. Just a few months earlier, at age 16, a doctor had diagnosed me with extremely mild cerebral palsy. Many people with cerebral palsy need varying amounts of assistance with walking, talking and other things we take for granted. My case is so mild I don’t need any accommodations, besides maybe a little grace from my P.E. teachers when I couldn’t quite keep up with my classmates. The actual diagnosis didn’t really affect my life; My parents and I were just glad to finally have an explanation for why I lacked gross-motor skills, tended to be hyper-flexible (even though that was a perk in dance and cheerleading!) or why my hands sometimes got the shakes. The diagnosis did not change my plans to go to college in the fall or to become a teacher, nor did it discourage me from playing tennis, taking dance lessons or working my part-time job at a department store. 

It was at that department store the following encounter took place: I was ringing up a purchase when I heard the sharp command, “Stop shaking!”

I looked up to see a man, probably a few years older than my own father, staring down at me in disgust.

“How much coffee have you had today?!” he demanded. 

I was 17, and I was supposed to be polite to customers even when they were rude, right? 

“Um, none?” I answered. (To this day, I don’t even like coffee!) 

“Well, what are you so nervous about?!”

Again, all I could reply was, “Nothing.” 

“What’s wrong with you?!”

By now, my heart was starting to race (making the shakes worse, of course), but it wasn’t because of fear. I was angry. How were my slightly-shaky hands affecting this guy? What right did he, a complete stranger, have to know about my coffee habits or any other area of my life? Why should I have to justify myself to him? 

I looked up at him. “Nothing is wrong with me. Would you like the receipt with you, or in the bag?”

Nothing was wrong with me. To this day, nothing is “wrong” with me. I hold a master’s degree and have my dream career. I run and lift weights to stay healthy. I help out with youth group at my church and love to read. I also happen to have mild cerebral palsy. It’s all part of who I am, and I refuse to apologize for it.

Originally published: June 19, 2015
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