I have spent much of my life avoiding the handicap parking spots. I have also spent most of my life trying to avoid my disability. Attempting to make the symptoms from cerebral palsy disappear. Or, at least minimize them to a point where the public could hardly tell I was disabled. I wanted to live a life as closely to typical functioning as possible. So, anything available to me that would make life with my disability easier, I avoided. I wanted to prove to the world that I didn’t need the handout. I could park in a slot just like everyone else and walk inside. Many times, parking further away from the building to leave room around my car. Realizing, probably subconsciously, that having the extra space would help with my movement. While, using the excuse that walking a further distance only served to strengthen my body. In my mind, there were other people more deserving of using the ADA parking spaces. Individuals who were more challenged in walking any meaningful distance. Who might use walkers, a walking stick, or wheelchair to help mobility. This isn’t to say I’m not challenged by walking, because I am. It just felt like others were more deserving of the spaces. The attitude was another small way of living in denial about my disability. If I was doing everything in my power to avoid accepting cerebral palsy, maybe others would look past it too. Certainly, not the way to live an honest life. And in college, I gained my first experience with an ADA parking spot.
It was one of the last things I wanted to be doing. Because, it was one more thing making me different from the others. My life feels like it has been spent trying to fit in with those typically developed. But, fitting in with my typically developed peers from a physical perspective, was never going to work. The goal has always been a losing battle. One that I have trouble admitting to and accepting. When the idea of the handicap parking spot was suggested by the parking department on campus, I balked at the idea. At the time, there weren’t really any other options. The parking lot I had used the year prior, was completely full for overnight parking. Plus, this spot would be just steps from the dorm, and would save me the long uphill walk from the year before. In my head, I thought my doctor probably wouldn’t approve of this action. My thinking, showing how much denial I was living in during that time of my life. The amount of detachment I was attempting to achieve from my disability. My life at the time was better than it had been in years. My first year in the dorm had brought on so many new friendships. I was attending the junior college, while living on campus at the university. But, everyone was accepting me like I was one of their own. I ventured up and down the steep hill, to the overnight parking lot, like everyone else. If I didn’t have to make the walk, it would isolate me even more, I was sure. I was frightened by the possible impact on my social life. The only way out would be my doctor.
To my surprise, and disappointment, my doctor was happy to grant me the documentation. I was asked to take it into the department of licensing and they would give me a placard. Just as she described, the process was seamless. Off I went, back up to school, with my ADA placard. The step felt like the first real choice of admission around my disability. Even though the decision felt forced upon me, because of the limited parking situation. It might be one of the best circumstances of my life. I don’t know if I would have the placard today, if not for that solution in college. Truthfully, parking in the handicap spot made life easier during that school year. While, the feeling of acceptance didn’t waiver from those in my social circle. I continued to grow and added friends in my second year. Being saved from the hike up and down the hill gave me more energy. Allowing me to be better focused in school, which found me experiencing added success. But, I never tied all the positivity, at least in part, back to the energy saved with the parking space when I left the dorm room and the school year behind. The ADA placard wasn’t used the many years that followed. Showing my depth of denial and disheartening expectations of outrunning my disability. In truth, I remember using the placard here and there in the following years. But, only when life found me in a pinch. It wasn’t until skiing this past season, when the value of the ADA placard came through, again. Along with another attempt of gaining further personal acceptance.
The process of getting ready to ski has always been challenging. Getting all of my equipment on and situated. Then, hiking to the lodge with poles and skies, while wearing ski boots. The situation probably isn’t easy for anyone. My challenge with cerebral palsy making it more complex. This past season, I wanted to meet my goal of skiing by myself. Achieving the goal would allow me to go whenever I desired. One of the challenges would be getting ready and up to the lodge without the security of another person. My first couple of trips were successful. But, climbing the stairs to the lodge in the morning and walking down them after skiing was tough. Maintaining my balance was super challenging. Causing me to feel like disaster could strike at any moment. Becoming injured on the stairs, going to or coming from skiing, would truly stink. So, I began doing some research about ADA parking at the ski area. Hoping, it might help me avoid the taxing climb of the stairs. Which, was not only causing anxiety, but sapping energy that should be used to ski. In doing some research, I found some ADA spots in a lot across the highway.
There was a footbridge crossing over the highway. I located the parking spaces on an online diagram of the parking lots. The next trip up to ski, I drove into the lots on the far side of the highway. Sure enough, there were a few handicap parking spaces located at the end of the footbridge. I could feel the discomfort in parking in the spots arise. A similar emotion to the one felt years before in college. But this time, I felt strongly that parking in the spots would make the day easier. The first thing I noticed when parking in the ADA slot was the amount of space. There weren’t any cars parked to either side of mine. Giving me plenty of room to maneuver without concern of getting in the way of someone. In trying to move around on the snow and ice, having the extra space felt invaluable. Allowing me to feel more relaxed while facing the challenges of preparing to ski. Then, the walk across the foot bridge continued my more comfortable preparation. It was far easier from the struggle of navigating the staircase. The footbridge took me right up to the level of the lodge. Not steps or hills to traverse on my way to the ski lodge. By the time I was making final preparation, siting at an outdoor picnic table, small amounts of water seeped into my eyes. The beginning of my ski day had taken place with far less struggle. I couldn’t help but feel the emotions of relief.
When my morning on the slopes had come to its conclusion. The walk back to my car felt almost as satisfying. I relished the added space surrounding my car. Providing ease in the movement needed to remove my equipment. I was able to set down my poles and lower my skies off my shoulder without concern over hitting a car or another human. I could move around the car and get things loaded, void of those same concerns. When everything was put into its place, I got into the driver’s seat for the trip home. On my way, down the mountain, my elevated energy was noticeable. The day hadn’t been full of nearly the emotional stress of previous skiing trips. I spent about the same amount of time on the mountain, with the only difference in my routine being the parking spot. There was a new feeling around going back up to ski. Gone was the trepidation of climbing up to the lodge. Or, the fear of falling, while attempting to get back to my car. Those things could still happen. But, I would stumble on a relative flat bridge if they did occur. Instead, of tumbling down stairs or a snowy hill in the past. The reliving of those fearful emotion left me excited to return. I finished my drive home and looked forward to the rest of the ski season with renewed excitement.
This summer has brought about a new challenge in my life. I explored the idea of renting an office a few years ago, but never pulled the trigger. Something about it didn’t feel right at the moment. Looking back, I’m thankful it wasn’t in the cards then. Little did any of us know, we would be experiencing a historic couple of years. After moving through the pandemic and all the emotional stress that was part of life. I decided to take the chance and lease an office this summer. The leasing of the office came with a parking space in the garage. I was given an assigned space, but told it didn’t matter which space I used. Parking down in the garage during the first week of my lease, showed me how unoccupied it was. Half of the spaces might have been taken during the week. During my second week, the same parking situation held true. Meaning there would be plenty of room for me to park anywhere, just like everyone else. But, from the second day of coming into this office, I chose a different path. An action, I can assure you, I wouldn’t have taken previously. With all of the options for open spaces to park. It would be easy to attempt blending in with others. This time however, I chose to start parking in one of the ADA spaces next to the elevator. Guaranteeing me the extra space around my car to make life easier. Removing the concern of someone parking close to me, adding difficulty to getting items out, and placing items inside my car. Parking in the stall provides extra space around the car, making life a little simpler. Similar to the impact handicap parking had on my skiing.
Parking in the ADA space at my office carries a larger social impact. Where parking in the spaces while attending college or skiing, I could still blend into the crowd. There were so many people around, unless someone had seen me get into the car, they may not have put it all together. The number of people who work in this building doesn’t seem large, making this feel different. With the number of people working on the floor I’m on, even smaller. When I’m passed in the hall, it would seem pretty clear who has the car in the handicap space. As, I haven’t seen any of the other two spaces downstairs being used. I have to say; this has been a new feeling. Another small step out from behind a shield I have tried to keep in place. More of an admission about an aspect of my life, having always been, challenging to accept. When I spoke with Dr. Dave about the choice, I felt as though something had been accomplished. He seemed pleased, speaking about my ability to be true to myself. About my worthiness in using one of the ADA spaces. Yet another thing I have struggled to accept. As my mind often feels like those spaces are meant for individuals experiencing greater impact from their disability. But, maybe I have been wrong all of these years. That cerebral palsy impacts my life to a degree which makes those spaces meant for my challenges, too. And it shouldn’t be anything causing shame in my life. Well, I’m still working on that acceptance thing. While, starting to utilize the ADA spaces in other places I visit.
It feels strange to think at my age; I’m still working on accepting my disability. Still overly concerned with the things people think about me, in regards to C.P. I have spent much of my life trying to run from my disability. Feeling like people would be more accepting if I reduced the impact of cerebral palsy on my life. If only I could reduce the symptoms to the point where it was difficult to tell I was disabled. Then, people would like me better. Then, I could live the life I had always imagine. All I had to do was find a way to outrun my disability and acceptance would reign. The funny thing has been, the thoughts are irrational, and impossible to achieve. The only way to make the even plausible, has been to live a lie. A lie, it would seem, I have ascribed to for much of my life. Now, let’s not go flying off the rails here. But, the more I can take these small steps, like parking in the ADA spot, or writing this blog more honestly. The further I can get, away from living within that lie. The seemingly small steps, eventually start becoming monumental steps toward honesty. I’m slowly starting to think that acceptance doesn’t reside in living the perfect looking life. It might just be in living the most honest life possible. Where the days pass slow, sleep comes easy, and happiness shows up where we least expect it.