Closest to Us

In Life With Laura by Laura Stinson

It’s a rather interesting phenomenon: As members of the disabled community, we spend our time denouncing stereotypes and proving to the outside world that we are more than what they judge us to be. After all of our effort, we come to find that those we never thought needed schooling, those closest to us, have the biggest misconceptions of all.

My mom’s grandmother is 90, and hasn’t been in the greatest health, so when my mom has time off, she and her mother will travel to Georgia to stay with my great grandmother for a few days.

My sister contemplates going, but, being 15, she wouldn’t have much fun in a house that may well be the center of the global warming epidemic with three women having the same conversation over and over again. Especially since,Great-Grandma can’t hear or remember too well these days.

When the possibility arises that my sister might join the excursion, my grandmother suddenly gets amnesia and forgets that I am 23 years old and very capable of taking care of myself. Not to mention the fact that my father would be home the whole time, should a major need arise.

She wants to know who will help me in the bathroom or getting dressed; both of which I have been doing on my own since I learned the fine art of transferring.

We all know there come times when, due to an injury or the like, we do need help with the most intimate of activities.

Thankfully, I haven’t needed that kind of help since my freshman year of college, when I last had a major break. Knock on wood.

The fact that my grandmother, someone who is supposed to know me, even thinks this hurts in a way I couldn’t possibly explain. I’m sure many of you know this feeling intimately.

How can we overcome our own insecurities when those people who are supposed to believe in us reveal that they don’t?

I have always suspected that my grandmother thought I needed “taking care of”. There is a big difference, however, between having the suspicion and having it spelled out for you. Suspicion you can call paranoia. But there is no denying something once it has been said.

How are we supposed to deal with this? It chops away at our mutual trust. After all, I trust that certain people in my life are aware of my abilities. It chops away at the relationship I thought we had. It makes a change in the fabric of a relationship that cannot be taken away.

Deep down somewhere, I believe she knows she’s wrong in her assumptions about me. Maybe she’s afraid of losing me. Someday I will move on to a life that may or may not include her ongoing presence.

If she thinks that I cannot do certain things on my own, maybe she can convince herself that I will never be too far away. I will always need her, if I can’t take care of myself.

The truth of the matter is I do need her, just not in the capacity she seems to want me to need her. We need those people close to us to believe in what we can do, not hold us back for what we can’t.

I need her to know that I am completely capable. She can’t tell me that she believes in me and then go behind my back and tell someone else that she doesn’t.

I know my parents believe in my abilities because they force me to do things that I don’t want to do. They force me to take on responsibilities that they know I can handle.

I know my friends believe in my abilities because they let me take the lead when any question arises. They let me decide what I can do on my own or what I might need help with; they do not automatically assume that I will need assistance with one thing or another.

I considered not writing about this because I worried that my grandmother might read it, and I didn’t want to incur her wrath. I decided to write it because I have a wrath of my own.

I need to dispel stereotypes about people with disabilities, especially those stereotypes that are nurtured by loved ones. I am out to prove to the world that I am more than my wheelchair, much more than what I cannot do, and that world includes those closest to me.

After getting over the initial shock, hurt and anger, I decided,I just don’t care. I know what I can do, and that’s really all that matters. The fact that she said these things still hurts and still makes me angry, but she can’t un-say them.

It’s hard to deal with the fact that she may not believe in my abilities. It’s hard to get past the fact that she said what she did. But, I know what’s true. Anyone who really knows me knows what’s true.

As activists and advocates, we must prove to the world that which we know to be true. As long as we know it’s true, everyone else’s opinion means a little less.