my boyfriend is lucky to have me

7e03097a7501d4a9e37a6a0316fba884

I know, I know – the title of this post sounds ridiculously arrogant and narcissistic. But hear me out! Just the other day, I overheard someone (hi, Mom) gushing on the phone about how sweet it is that my boyfriend Daniel loves me with or without my arm. I knew she meant that he doesn’t care whether or not I wear my prosthetic, but her comment made me think about similar things I’ve heard all throughout my life. It reminded me especially of an email a church community leader once sent out in an attempt to inspire its recipients. The email featured a series of photos of a married couple and their children doing various everyday family activities. The wife and mother in the images happened to be missing both legs, and her husband’s marriage to her was being touted as an example of “true love.” It was supposed to be a “heartwarming” message, but it had the opposite effect on me.

IMG_2171

Equals

The idea that a disabled person is somehow less deserving and less likely to find a partner is one that our appearance-focused dating culture and media unfortunately perpetuate when they publish stories like the one I mentioned above. And when well-meaning people share these faux-inspirational love stories online, they are unwittingly contributing to a belief that demeans people society considers less-than-perfect and ultimately devalues the concept of love as a whole. A good relationship requires the two people involved to view each other as equals. So when we are encouraged to see an able-bodied person as a saint or a martyr for dating/marrying someone disabled, that relationship becomes severely unbalanced and puts the latter person in a place of disempowerment and dependence. A healthy relationship is a two-way street, and love needs to be present at both ends for it to work. If we praise one person for loving the other, we imply that the other person is less deserving of affection and that their love means less. That’s just not okay, nor is it accurate at all.

IMG_20140524_110609Unfortunately, this idea has so saturated society’s minds that I feel the effects myself all the time. I can’t explain how rude it is when someone tells me that they’re so glad I found someone or that it’s great that my boyfriend isn’t shallow. Ouch. That can be a huge blow to anyone’s self esteem. (Do these people even think it’s a compliment when they say something like this???) In any case, they’re wrong in their assumptions about my relationship. My boyfriend is not selfless or saintly for loving me. He is not with me because of any sense of pity or self-righteousness. Dating me is not a sacrifice, and I am not a charity case. Yes, I’m incredibly blessed that I found an amazing man I’ve grown to love deeply. But my boyfriend is equally lucky that he’s with me. We both have a lot to offer each other, and our relationship is based on love and trust and caring and attraction (both mental and physical.) It’s an insult to both parties in a relationship for anyone to assume otherwise.

So I leave you with this: the next time you read or hear about one of these “inspiring” stories of “true love,” be happy for the couple (because yes, all love is beautiful) and then roll your eyes and move on with your life.

Social Share Toolbar

getting back in the dating game

d817c98d4cec328f029b8b4e6718c8c9Hello! It’s been a while, huh? I’ve now finished up my thesis and graduated college with a degree in English (which my dad likes to joke is about as useless as a payphone nowadays). And as I mentioned briefly in my last post, I broke up with my boyfriend of two years. It was my first major breakup and, although I’ll admit that it was tough adjusting to a life without someone who was so much a part of me, I’ve been okay. I’m a survivor (sorry, emotional stuff typically makes me break out the cheesy adages).

Anyway, I’ve learned that one of the worst feelings to deal with is the anxiety that accompanies a newfound singleness. Soon after the breakup, my mind was flooded constantly with troubling questions: Did I get what I deserve? Will I be alone forever? What if no one else wants me? I know that these are fairly normal questions young (and clearly melodramatic) women face. But I  had one more thought that wouldn’t cross most girls’ minds: would guys still be attracted to me when they saw my artificial left arm? I knew that guys could be attracted to me, of course, but I just assumed that took time for them to get to know me as a person and get over the shock of my arm. I never believed someone could be into me and my looks (complete with the robot hand) before getting to know me.

c7bb4876cbe032c86f34e6e10a71f678My theory was that a prosthetic limb serves as an automatic turnoff to any normal red-blooded male. However, said theory was proven incorrect a few weeks ago during a bus ride home from work. It was mid-April so I was wearing a light sweater, but you could easily see that the hand was fake and not very humanlike. The man in the seat behind me thought it was a good idea to swing over to the open seat next to me and strike up a conversation. He started by asking about my arm, so I thought he was just another curious busybody wondering what “happened” to me. But when I was finished explaining, he stuck around and kept asking me questions. By the time we reached his stop, he was asking for my number and trying to make plans for our next meeting.

I never did go out with him, but the experience served to ease my worries. Here I was, being approached on a bus by a random (and yes, cute) stranger trying to flirt with me despite knowing all about my limb difference. And while I could probably write the incidence off as a fluke or a one-time thing, I can tell you that that was not the only time it happened. I’ve come to realize that the world of guys and dating is not as scary as I used to think. Not all guys are shallow jerks looking for perfection in a girl. And a perceived flaw like a limb difference doesn’t immediately preclude a man’s attraction to a girl. I don’t know if it’s my smile or my walk or the way I wear my hair on certain days, but I’ve come to understand that something appealing or interesting about my person almost always outweighs the shock of my very different-looking arm when it comes to dating. And  that’s sort of a beautiful thing.

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

And in case you were wondering, the answer is yes – I’m currently seeing someone new now.

 

 

(images found on Pinterest.com)
Social Share Toolbar

help

I’ll be the first to admit this: having a disability is not easy. I’m not referring to the limitations of it (which for me have been few, if any) but rather the perceptions of it. Most people seem to view disability as an inherently bad thing and thus focus on the negative aspects, emphasizing the “dis” part instead of the ability. With people constantly staring with sad expressions and extending their pity, it’s easy for someone with a physical difference to fall into a sympathy spell of his or her own creation once in a while. I’ve fallen into this trap quite a few times, throwing myself mini pity parties and forcing my boyfriend and closest friends to attend. They’re all party poopers, though, and are always unwilling to indulge me. My boyfriend Chris is quick to roll his eyes at me and remind me of what I can do. He refuses to see me as weak or incapable in any way.

Sorting out baby clothes

I hope no one misunderstands me; I’m not saying that going out and finding a significant other is going to fix all your problems and make you think 100% positively all the time. I had to face my issues on my own, long before I was in any relationship. Having a great support system in my friends and family and boyfriend is a real blessing, but it’s not a panacea. In my 20 years as a one-handed girl, I’ve had plenty of time to figure out ways to find the strength and acceptance in myself. And there’s one particular way that changed my view of myself immensely.

The title of this post is not meant to be taken as a noun (as in “I need help”), but as a verb (“Go help”). When I was 18, I went on a weeklong service retreat in upstate New York. It was before I began dating Chris, so he wasn’t even in the picture at the time. It’d been a tough year and I was still adjusting to all the new changes. I was a college girl who was no longer forced to wear ugly uniforms and who went to a coed school (I had gone to an all-girls high school), and I was about to spend a week of my time volunteering at several new locations and explaining to a whole new group of people what was “wrong” with my arm. In short, I was nervous. More than nervous, really. I was freaking out, particularly about the thought that people might give me a lighter load or not let me work because of my hand. I was determined to prove myself, though.

It’s funny because I don’t recall a moment that week when anyone questioned my ability to do something. On the first day of the retreat, I was painting the interior of a replica building of St. John Bosco’s childhood home in Italy. By the time I got back to my dorm room, I couldn’t move or feel several parts of my body. My clothes were covered in dust and dirt, and there was a huge paint stain across my cheek that wouldn’t wash off for nearly two weeks. I didn’t want to leave my bed and I even doubted my ability to make it through the week. But in spite of the exhaustion and pain, I was extremely grateful that I was able to do the dirty work (literally) without anyone mentioning my arm.

The rest of the week went just as smoothly. I did what the other volunteers did. We served at a food pantry, lugging heavy boxes of canned food down to the storage area. We helped out at a safe haven for abandoned and/or unwed pregnant women, where one mother asked me to hold her beautiful 2-week-old infant Elijah. We repainted and remodeled a park in a poor neighborhood. And at the end of it all, with my tired limbs and sore muscles, I felt great.

At the risk of sounding cliche, I really believe that that retreat changed my worldview. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was strong and so unworthy of anyone’s pity. It allowed me to take the focus off worrying about what people were thinking about my hand and to concentrate on helping others with immediate needs that I could meet. Who cares if you have a minor physical disability if there are people who are crippled by poverty, abandonment, and fear? Sometimes it’s our “flaws” and perceived brokenness that allow us to relate and get through to another person. In the end, all we can do is embrace everything we are and try our best to help.

Peace,
Caitlin 🙂

Social Share Toolbar

happy birthday to this guy right here

  On this lovely day, my wonderful boyfriend Chris turns 23. Yep, 23. He’s getting to be an old man! (Okay, I’m being hyperbolic.) Anyway, the handsome man you see here happens to be the most amazing human being I’ve ever met. He’s sweet, funny, smart, loving, and a zillion other great qualities that cannot be confined to a short and simple blog post. To sum it up, he’s my Prince Charming. I’ve never been one to believe in fairytale romance, but this is the real thing. Chris just gets me. He loves me on my good days and my bad days (and trust me – you don’t want to see me on a bad day.) He’s seen me go from deliriously happy to angry to sad to practically insane, often all within the span of an hour. He appreciates my strangeness, my nerdiness, and even my moodiness.
Being silly
  And in case you were wondering, he has been absolutely 100 percent supportive about my arm. He’s the one who’s given me the courage to stop wearing my prosthetic all the time, telling me that he finds me prettier when I’m comfortable. And you know what? He’s made me believe it too. I do feel a lot happier and more confident without it. I look like myself. And according to Chris, that’s a pretty good thing.
  So yes, I really hit the jackpot in terms of finding my other half. And now, I get to celebrate another year of his life, another beautiful year we’re together. I’m off to go eat some yummy cake now, but I’ll leave you here with a quote by an author I really admire (because if anyone knows anything about love, it’s him):
Peace,
Caitlin 🙂

 

Social Share Toolbar

interview with ryan niemiller

Hey there! A lot has happened this week, the highlight being that my boyfriend Chris started a new job in New York. I’m super proud of him, and I know that he’ll do amazingly well there. He’s very interested in the work he’s doing, which is the key to any great career. This, of course, got me thinking about my own future career and jobs in general. While I’ve never experienced discrimination because of my disability (I work as a writing tutor and as an intern for NBCUniversal), I know that it’s a very real possibility for many people.  So to get a better perspective on the matter, I decided to interview Indiana-based comedian Ryan Niemiller. Here’s what he had to say (I color-coordinated it for you because I’m thoughtful like that):

Me: Has your disability ever been the reason why you didn’t get hired for a job you applied to?

RN: Certainly. It comes with the territory. People see me and since I have a fairly obvious disability, it’s much easier to assume I can’t do something without giving me a shot than it is to give me the opportunity and see what I can do. I used to get really mad about it, but it’s a natural human defense mechanism for some. But really, as frustrating as it is, do I really want to work for a place that assumes I’m incapable?

Me: I understand that you’re a professional comedian. Do you view your disability as an advantage or disadvantage in your stand-up career?

RN: I’d say it’s 80/20 advantage to disadvantage. My arms make me unique. I can guarantee there are no other comedians just like me in the world. I’m not just a late 20’s single white guy comic. I have something that helps me stand out, a hook if you will (pun intended). I have something I can immediately bring the audience in on. At the same time, there’s the fear of me being a comic who ONLY talks about his arms. Plus, a lot of times I have to over prove I am actually funny and not just a gimmick. There’s certain bookings I probably don’t get because people assume I’m a novelty act. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.

Me: I know that you work as a barista at Starbucks. What’s the strangest reaction a customer has had to your arms?

RN: A little girl screamed in terror once, which was fantastic for my self esteem. But really, there’s not a lot of strange reactions. Most people just stare at most. I’ll get the occasional, “Wow, you’re such an inspiration!” line, which is irritating, but really, most people just want their damn lattes. 🙂

Me: Would you say that your co-workers treat you differently because of your arms?

RN: Not at all. Anyone who gets to know me and sees me operate doesn’t worry about my arms anymore. Once I am given the chance to prove myself, I take care of business and it’s a non-issue.


Me: So let’s say you were born with two “normal” arms. Would you still be in the profession you are now?

RN: I’d like to say yes, but honestly, I doubt it. I developed a sense of humor as a defense mechanism – I’d make all the jokes before anyone else had a chance to. If I was “normal,” I doubt that would have ever developed the way it did. I’d probably be an accountant or something equally lame. Ha ha.

Me: Let’s take that question a step further: how do you think your life would be different if you had “normal” hands?

RN: I’d probably be happier, as unpopular of an answer as I’m sure that is. Not that I’m necessarily miserable right now or anything, but my arms do lead to a lot of issues that I wouldn’t have to deal with otherwise. Getting jobs wouldn’t be as difficult, it would be easier to find someone to date, etc. But really, that’s just speculation. There’s no real way of knowing. Maybe I’d be even worse off.

Me: How do you respond when someone asks you about your hands?

RN: It depends on tone. If it’s a child, I try to be patient, because as irritating as it is, they don’t know any better. If it’s an adult who I don’t know well, usually with annoyance. Because I rarely get asked simple questions about it. I know some people are just curious so I try to be patient, but I’m almost 30 years old – I am a little tired from answering questions.

Me: What’s the best way to own your disability? By that, I mean: what do you do to feel confident when the world gets you down?

RN: I make money off it. I travel the country telling jokes about it, and then they hand me a check afterward. For me, it’s hard to get much better than that. And recently, I’ve just started cutting out a lot of the negative energy in my life. So if you’re not with me, you’re against me. That’s how I own it.

Me: Now I’m about to go all college-application-interview on you: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

RN: Not a damn clue, and that’s half the fun. 🙂


   Thanks so much to Ryan for his time and honest answers. 


   If you’ve got comments or thoughts or ideas or anything else you feel like sharing, comment below! 


Peace,
Caitlin 🙂

Social Share Toolbar