British people have a reputation for apologising. We apologise when we run into someone even though it blatantly is not our fault. We apologise for the torrential rain outside even though it is clear that we haven’t quite yet developed a way of controlling the weather ourselves. We even sometimes utilise the insurance apology, reassuring ourselves that, just in case we should do anything in the near future that requires an apology, we are already one step ahead. Let’s face it, apologising for something after you’ve done it just too late nowadays.
I admit that I’ve often keenly felt this need to apologise in the past. However, there is one thing that I’m fed up apologising for, namely my disability. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time feeling awkward about having cerebral palsy and using a wheelchair. I was always keen to minimise the visible impact of having a disability on my everyday life. But whichever way you look at it, my disability is part of me. It’s certainly not the most interesting thing about me (to be fair life would be pretty boring if I talked about splints, wheelchairs and booking train assistance for twenty four hours a day). Nevertheless, my disability is part of me and If I’m minimising the apparent impact of my disability, I’m also not allowing people to really get to know me. In lots of ways, trying to play down a disability is a bit like trying to pretend that you can speak fluent French whilst on holiday in Paris. It might work while you are ordering food at a restaurant, but as soon as someone starts asking for your opinion on raising the retirement age, the linguistic illusion is quickly shattered. Equally, I might be able to manage a few steps on flat surfaces indoors, but I will soon come unstuck when faced with a charming spiral staircase in a mediaeval castle (memories of a sixth form history trip to Ludlow Castle spring to mind….
I’ve realised it’s just too bad if I have to see if someone can push my wheelchair up a particularly tricky hill. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I have to ask a friend in advance to come back with me from a social event so that I don’t spend the whole time worrying about how I will manage it myself. I’ve gradually developed the confidence to realise that those people who feel uncomfortable with my disability or view it as a ‘problem ‘are not worth bothering with. At least by being open, I can be confident that friends like me for who I am rather than the version of myself that I present to them. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has their own difficulties, it’s just that mine are more visible than most.
Having said all that, the same principle of openness applies to my anxiety. I may be able to keep up the façade of relaxed serenity, but in lots of ways my own anxieties helped to make me more sensitive to how others may be feeling. I’ve often found that being open with other people invites more openness on their part and allows me to make more meaningful connections with others. I think that people also sense if you are comfortable with being you. By not viewing either my disability or my anxieties as being a problem in my own mind, I can help others to accept that part of me as well. If I need somebody to walk a bit more slowly so that I can keep up with them, that’s fine. If I have a habit of overanalysing things, owning up to it has the effect of making me less anxious, not more so. I’ve noticed that since I’ve tried to become less apologetic and more open about everything, I’ve felt much more positive about myself and I think that’s a pretty good place to start.