2014-10-27 Posted By Jenna Reed-Cote
I’ve been pushed a lot in my life. I’ve been pushed by people who want me to become the best possible person I can be. I’ve been pushed around (figuratively) by people who want to get a rise out of me (for reasons I can contemplate until the cows come home). And finally, some people just plain push me - literally.
Today, I want to talk about something that I think is really becoming a problem, all in the name of what I think might be genuine intentions to help. I hope to be a part of educating the world around me (instead of repressing what I go through and becoming overly bitter - you don't want to see me bitter). I want you to remember the power you have to shape the lives of the people around you, both positively and negatively, directly or indirectly, whether you know it or not. I also want you to know that I recognize that I might be the only one who goes through this particular issue, and in that case, thank you for indulging in this cathartic exercise. However, I don’t think I am, so if I’m letting someone else out there know they are not alone, that’s all I care about.
Having said all of that, it’s off to the races!
When you’re someone who has used a wheelchair for the majority of his or her life (like myself), a new user or a temporary user, being pushed around at one point is a given. We all have to start somewhere. You start off small, learning the mechanics of pushing yourself around. Much like any new activity, you tire quickly and muscles you never knew you had are screaming at you. And then, like in all things that you practice, you get better at them. You start to use your new skill more and try for longer distances and steeper inclines. But just like when you started, you realize it’s a process and you appreciate someone being there to push you while you take a break or, with that little piggy, get pushed all the way home. Whether you’re in a wheelchair or not, we all need a break sometimes!
So we thank our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, significant others, etc. who we are able to go to and ask for a push, or even just look them in the eye and let them know we need the help. Hey, I’ll even admit to asking for a push from a cute guy just to get his attention and make him feel all chivalrous, and everything. No, I’m not naming names! But seriously, it feels good to help - even as a person who will do almost anything to prove to others I can do something myself, I get it. You get this high when you feel like you’ve helped someone.
What I don’t get is this - when you’re in a wheelchair (on your own), rolling along on your merry way on the flattest ground you can imagine, and a complete stranger (without saying a word or making an attempt to show you she is behind you) just starts pushing you… you never forget the first time. Little did I know, this would not be an isolated incident.
Imagine yourself, however you get around, having someone (you’ve never met) come up behind you and start pushing you - without saying a word or making eye contact. It may sound silly, or there may be people reading this who know exactly what I’m talking about. But for those of you who think it sounds silly because it may sound like a stretch, humour me and really think about it. I’ll wait until you’re finished...
...Ok, and we’re back.
So, the scenario is: You, getting around independently (without trouble) and a stranger comes up behind you, without making a peep, and starts pushing you.
What might you feel?
Violated? Ambushed? Incompetent? A nuisance?
Relaxed? Pampered? Entitled? Grateful?
What might be some ways you react?
Grabbing your wheels so tight so that the chair can’t move/Digging your heels into the ground? Screaming? Paralyzing fear
Sitting/leaning back, fingers interlaced behind your head? Turning around and saying, “Thanks, I really needed that! How did you know?" Turning around and saying, “Let me know when you want to switch?”
Hopefully you can pick the joke ones out from what I consider to be the realistic responses, because I am trying to bring a lighter side to this. However, this is serious and a safety issue.
You should never approach another person and put your hands on them (or their mobility aids, which are extensions of him or her) without asking that person - plain and simple. Even if you want to help. And if your intentions are to help, the same rule applies - look the person in the eye and ask if they need help. Isn’t that how you’d want someone to approach you if you were in that situation?
Hopefully the moral of the story people take away from this isn’t, “I’m never going to offer to help to anyone again because I don’t want them to think I’m assaulting them, disrespecting them, or it becoming a big deal!”
Hopefully the moral of the story that you do take away from this is: yes, everyone is going to need help in their life - no matter what hand they’ve been dealt - but we should always approach others with the respect with which we expect to be given.
So, with your helpful hearts, go forth and ask how you can help someone you think is in need. You might be surprised to find that the person doesn’t need or want help, and that’s ok. You might find that the help you think they need is actually different from the help they’re telling you they need, that’s ok, too. Life is full of surprises, but let’s do our best not have one of them be getting behind someone in a wheelchair, or anyone for that matter, quiet as a mouse and then start moving them, making them think “OH MY GOD, I’M BEING ABDUCTED!”