Hi Bitter Butch,
I’m going blindo. I have night blindness and some peripheral vision loss, but I’m nowhere near legally blind and don’t need a cane yet. It basically means I take a little longer to get around, especially in the dark, since I have to scan back and forth to get the whole picture (if that makes any sense).
The problem is, well-meaning friends and family who know about my condition like to take things into their own hands and help, which means trying to steer me around obstacles and stuff without asking. The thing is, I do just fine on my own, and most of the time I’ll see or feel an obstacle before it become an issue (although, again, it does take a little longer). I don’t know how to address this with them, because I know they really do mean well and want to help, but 1) I really can get around on my own with a little patience and 2) they’re basically taking away my independence and it’s pissing me off.
So far I’ve just been thanking them because I appreciate the good intentions and don’t know what else to say. So what can I say, without hurting their feelings or insulting them?
Does it matter that they are hurting your feelings and insulting you?
I’m voting for FUCK YES.
I think you are experiencing a double-whammy here: you are a woman, and you are becoming disabled. (Readers, some of this letter was edited; I know she’s a woman.)
As women, we are trained to care far more about hurting and insulting others than taking care of our own selves when we are hurt and insulted. And as disabled people, especially ones like you and me who become disabled later in life, we’re still dealing with our own issues around this such as feeling increasingly helpless and suddenly being treated like (even more) second-class citizens. Asking for help sucks, and accepting help sucks, and when people just hand it over or grab us without being asked, even if we didn’t need it/they are actively hurting us, we still feel some societal pressure to be nice about it. And even to pretend to be grateful. Even when they are being helpISH instead of helpFUL.
But you are perpetuating this by thanking them! Don’t do it anymore. Don’t don’t don’t, no matter how much you want to. When you thank someone, they think they did a good thing. No no no no no stop.
I am so glad that you appreciate their good intentions. I have gotten to the point where I want to tell people to stuff their good intentions where the sun don’t shine. But since you do, I’m giving you this script:
“I truly appreciate your good intentions, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings. But you need to let me do this so I can feel like a real live independent adult. Instead of help, please offer me patience.”
And then FIRMLY, but with a warm smile, remove their hand from your arm, and STICK TO YOUR GUNS.
After you’ve delivered this speech, you can hold up your hand and say: “No help! Patience!” and then the next few times, just: “Patience!” or, if you must: “Patience, please!”
And smile. Smile smile smile smile until your face feels like it will fall off. This will really cut the sting, and will give you the strength you need to say the hard thing that you really have to say.
I know this isn’t easy. I’ve been there myself. But each time you do it, it gets easier and easier. I promise.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette. You can reach her with all your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org