As someone with a disability, previous crutches user, walking stick user and now a wheelchair user I can tell you that the offers of help I get or have had when out and about are a little like marmite. People either really go for it or they stay well clear.
Quite often people will offer to help me with a door, reaching for my bag or to pick something up for me, perhaps something I’ve dropped. On the other hand quite often when you are in a real sticky situation nobody offers their help. For example, sometimes I get stuck in a door way as I can’t quite manage to keep the door open and manoeuvre myself through it.
It got me thinking… are we only interested in helping others when it’s easy? Is that our natural instincts? Someone is usually happy to hold a door open for me but only when it’s already held open by something. However, nobody offers to hold a door open for me otherwise or when I’m stuck in it.
Maybe it’s just me?
Offers of help massively vary but this is a pattern I have noticed. It’s rare someone goes out of their way to offer help on a day to day basis. When I say out of their way, I mean they don’t like to take two steps to the right to hold the door open.
I don’t mean to contradict myself… However, as much as I wish that sometimes people would offer their help, I wish people offered me their help when I actually needed it.
Today, I want to talk about those that do offer their helps and the situations I then find myself in.
I personally love my independence but chronic life and disability often take this from me. So, whenever, wherever I can I clutch onto independence as though my life depends on it. Yes, perhaps sometimes this does me more harm than good when I decline the offer of help purely based on the fact that ‘I want to do it’ – at this point I imagine myself as a child determined to get my socks or shoes on independently.
I’m learning that help isn’t necessarily a bad thing and help most definitely isn’t ‘giving in’ as so many have put it to me in the past.
However, this does not take away from some of the issues I face when people offer me their help.
As I said I am learning to accept offers for help to save my already drastically low/non existent energy and fatigue. Although sometimes I don’t need help. Sometimes someones “help” is actually more of a hindrance.
I believe that when someone offers me help I accept or decline politely. I always smile, I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I often wish them a good day. Believe me when I say I am fully aware that sometimes my patience runs thin with those that patronise me or use terms such as ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘should you be doing that?’. However, I still smile ever so politely – kill them with kindness is the saying, right?
So, whilst I am using my very best manners and my kindest smile I am always confused and surprised by those that become offended, rude and difficult.
I have spoken to a few abled people about these situations and they’re always surprised. Usually they can see the other person’s point of view and I feel expected to just accept it because they were trying to be kind. Others prefer to be shocked and play ignorant to the situation entirely. So, I hope anyone reading this realises that these things do actually happen. These situations are regular occurrences in my life and I assume others with disabilities/impairments.
As I said sometimes I take up the offer for help. Sometimes I decline, I thank them, we exchange a smile and I am left to it. However, there are then those that become offended, rude and difficult.
Let me break it down.
1. Those that become offended.
“I can manage, but thank you” a sentence I quite often use.
“I was only trying to help” they then usually huff and tut before leaving me be. I probably receive this response as least once, every other time that I venture outside of my house.
2. Those that become rude.
“Oh, I’m okay but thank you” another sentence I frequently use.
“I’m just trying to help” is their response.
“Thank you I appreciate it but really I’m okay, I can manage” is my response.
“I was only trying to help you. You obviously needed help.” Their response as they walk off usually muttering words under their breath like “ungrateful”, “I can’t believe you”. Sometimes if that persons with another person or a group of people then I can hear them saying things like: “did you see that?”, “I can’t believe that”, “I was only trying to help” and depending on the person there can be a few curse words thrown in there too.
3. Those that become difficult.
*gasps* “can I help you” they say.
“No I’m okay than…” I try to say.
“Here let me help you” they interrupt.
“Honestly, really I’m fine but thank you.” I reply.
“No no, don’t be silly. Here I’ll help” they say as they open a door for me.
“Really I’m fine but thank you, I wouldn’t want to run over your feet” I say politely but with a little warning in my voice.
“No no, I’ve got it common. Can you get through there?”
“I can’t really get through with you standing in the door way, I won’t fit through” I say embarrassed as by this point there are usually people staring.
“No no of course you can, here.” they say as they back up against the door on their tiptoes. (Which by the way doesn’t help me in anyway).
“Really I’m fi…” I start to say but they interrupt. So I interrupt back. “If you could just move to the other side of the door and hold it open then I should be able to get through”. I say deflated.
“No no, I’m fine here just go through.” they say.
As I start to move again I say “It would be easier if you just stood behind the door” as I start to bash against the door and scrape my wheelchair and hand rims against the door frame. By this point my cheeks are usually pink and I become close to tears through both embarrassment and sometimes a little anger.
“There we are. You’re nearly a pro at that, you missed my toes but hit the door a few times”.
*My brain thinks ‘well perhaps if you’d just moved’ or ‘maybe next time I will just run over your toes, then maybe you wouldn’t make this mistake again’.*
“Ha, yeah. Have a nice day” I say as politely as I can manage by this point as I take myself as quickly as I can away from the situation.
Out of all of those scenarios I think the third is the hardest to deal with and one of the most common situations I come across. I’m told to be polite so, I am. I’m told that others just want to help so, I try to let them. I’m told to take control of the situation, without being rude so, I try. Does it get me anywhere? If the place it’s supposed to get me to is embarrassment and an emotional breakdown then yes.
Sorry. Was that too honest?
I genuinely appreciate any offer of help, I really do. Sometimes it helps restore my faith in humanity. However, it is difficult to be polite and grateful when people are making your life ten times harder than it needs to be. Still, I try.
Although it makes me wonder… why am I the one that has to adapt? Why do I have to fulfil your need to be helpful and kind. Then the other day it dawned on me…
Does helping me make you feel good?
Does it help you to feel like a better person? To know that you are a kind person? Caring? Generous?
Am I the source of your story for the day? Am I your good deed for the day, week, month, year?
Why am I expected to fulfil your personal need to feel good?
Yes, not every person that offers me their help has an ulterior motive for it, I know this. It is because I know this that I remain as polite as possible but it is quite clear to me that perhaps some do. Maybe it’s something they are unaware of? Maybe it’s something we all do? That no one is aware of. It is a ‘thing’ though. It happens to me on a regular basis and I know others who have had similar experiences to me.
My question now is…
Does being disabled and/or in a wheelchair mean that I must always accept help from others? Even when it causes me stress, difficulty and is unnecessary?
Does being disabled and/or in a wheelchair mean to others that I am vulnerable and child-like? That I must need their help and assistance otherwise goodness knows what will happen to me!?
I hate to say it… actually I don’t, It’s quite easy for me it’s just I know it shocks others. Being disabled does not mean I have to accept your help. It does not make me some vulnerable child-like ‘thing’ that must be protected, that cannot do anything independently.
Please, the next time you offer to help someone and they decline your help, take a moment. Think about why they may not want/need your help. Ask yourself can they genuinely not manage or are you making assumptions? Is your ‘help’ actually a hindrance?
Ask twice if you think perhaps someone is too proud to say ‘yes please’ but just remember that when they say ‘no thank you’ they might genuinely be ok.
I don’t have a duty to make you feel good just because I am disabled. Yes, I am disabled but there are plenty of things that can enable me too. I have also learnt to adapt to my life as a disabled person. So, please hear me when I say ‘no, thank you’.
Please don’t be put off by this post to offer your help just be more aware of your actions and reactions. Think about how you can help another person. If you think they need help but you’re not sure how you can help then ask. I know personally that if I was stuck trying to get through a door and someone asked me how they could help and actually listened, it would mean the world. A small act of kindness like that can really make my day.
So, offer and ask don’t assume and remember…
My abilities do not define whether you are a ‘good person’ or not.