It seems that everywhere I turn these days, I am reminded of the walls that hem me in. I know that is a startling and pointed way to begin a post right off, but it’s the truth. I always knew that I had a guard up in place as I interacted with others, but I never considered the reality in terms of asking why. Why do I have a guard up in my relationships? What could have possibly caused me to feel so tentative in developing deep connections?
As I was preparing for a presentation at a grade school recently, I spoke my material out loud to get a feel for how my words would flow together. It was then that I recounted an experience I had as a fifth grader; just reciting the details out loud caused me to stop in my tracks and bite back the tears. Walls! They were there even then, but they were literal walls that kept me from my classmates and friends.
You see, I had just learned to use my CCTV. The closed circuit television helped me read comfortably by looking at written text on a television screen. Since it was an electronic device, the CCTV needed to be plugged into an outlet. The only logical place for the CCTV to be positioned was near the back of my fifth grade classroom on a large table so there was plenty of room for me to do my homework and study. But there were huge challenges to being in the back of the classroom.
First of all, I wasn’t in a row of desks with my classmates. That meant when papers were handed out or students were dismissed by row to go to lunch or recess, I was never included. Sometimes, I would just affiliate myself with the closest row to my table and try to fit in with that group, but it never seemed quite right. And sometimes when a classmate brought in a treat to celebrate their birthday, I was forgotten in the back corner. I wasn’t sitting in a row, so it was easy to forget I was there.
As if that didn’t hurt enough in itself, there were other challenges, especially with test-taking. Even though I was in the back of the room with my CCTV facing away from most of the class, some of my classmates still managed to see the answers I wrote on my test papers. As a result, the teacher constructed a shell of sorts to go around my table. It was tall and made out of cardboard, and it literally boxed me into my corner. No one could see me, and I couldn’t see anyone.
At the time, there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it. My parents and I had talked to the teacher, and although she seemed to understand that I was feeling as if I was not included, she didn’t seem eager to help resolve the situation. I don’t think she was a terrible teacher; I just think she had never really been educated in disability concerns. After all, she was a long-term substitute that semester while my teacher was on maternity leave. I tried to stuff down the realization that I was misunderstood, and I did my best to ignore that I was truly hurt.
But even as I entered middle school and later high school— all the while using my CCTV, sometimes even in the open for all to see in a packed classroom— I still felt it. In some ways, I would never fully be understood. My disability would always be a factor in my life and there was nothing I could do to change it. I could explain my situation until I was out of breath; no one, unless they lived life through my eyes, would be able to fully comprehend the way I lived my life.
Some people have come close to unlocking the door and stepping through. Some have even sent my proverbial walls crashing to the ground for the briefest of moments. Those encounters are truly amazing when they happen, but they can also be humbling and overwhelming. It isn’t often that someone can get so close to understanding me as a person that they can talk to me as if they know… or truly empathize with my situation. It’s not that I’m looking for pity or even sympathy; I’m just looking to be understood. I may not say it outwardly: “please understand me,” but the walls I have erected around myself say something like: “don’t get too close… you’re not meant to understand.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love meeting new people and building connections, but it’s getting close that’s the hardest for me. I have been in the middle of relationships that have simply ended with little or no explanation and I have been left reeling. I have wondered why things had to come to an end. Was it me? Was my disability a factor? Did I assume too much from the other person or ask too many favors? Or was it simply the time for our connection to lapse? I realize that relationships don’t last forever; people come and go from our lives and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. But when it happens again and again, I over-think and over-analyze, wishing I could somehow change things.
Just last week, I was walking to work when a truck passed me on the road. Now there are a lot of vehicles that I encounter each day, but this one stood out to me. I couldn’t read the license plate or make and model, but it reminded me of someone. As the truck passed me, I knew the color of the truck was not the same shade of this person’s vehicle, but the similarities to this friend’s truck were enough to send my thoughts whirling. I wondered about my friend’s well-being and for seemingly the millionth time, I asked myself if I was somehow to blame for our lapse in communication. Where had we gone wrong? And just like that, the relationship wall became fortified around me.
It was then that I knew what I had been doing all along. In every new connection, I was always searching for the long-term possibility. It was as if I was asking: “will this person be around in the long-term? Can I count on him or her to be a confidant, or will they leave me hanging months later with little or no explanation? How could I get close to someone if they were only going to leave me later?
Walls— whether in a classroom to block out prying eyes or in my everyday life to block out the hurt… It seemed like some demolition might be in order, and it wasn’t long before several opportunities opened up for me. Over the course of a few weeks, I had a few soul-stirring conversations with people who are very dear to me. To these incredible friends of mine— thank you for being willing to listen as I conveyed some of my innermost feelings. It was in these conversations that I began to understand some of my deepest insecurities and unspoken hopes and dreams.
So obviously, not everyone has left me. I do have some amazing friends who come alongside me in the most startling ways. I may feel misunderstood at times, but deep down, I know I am not alone on this journey. In some ways, the walls are still standing, but there are a few cracks here and there— just enough weakness in the structure that it won’t take long before they truly crumble. But until then, I seek to be open to the hearts of others, for instead of dooming a relationship before it truly begins, I can envision a connection that just might have the opportunity to take down the facade around me. Let the demolition commence.

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