Monday, April 5, 2010

Balance, Or Lack Thereof

The very act of moving for me is a careful calculation of balance. In school, I swerve and stumble through the halls like an toy top spinning crazily this way and that. I have a ginormous backpack situated precisely on my shoulders, and if you're not careful, you will more than likely get smacked with it. My crutch stabs unmercifully the floor or unsuspecting people who are stupid enough to get in the way. My purse and AlphaSmart case swing crazily from my left arm and more often than not I have a Vitamin Water clutched spazzily in my left hand. The slightest gust of wind or nudge from behind can overbalance me and send me flying towards the floor. People who obliviously kick my crutch from behind by accident soon learn that yes, I am leaning on that, and yes, if you kick it I will fall. In the sea of people I cling to the nearest wall or locker, praying I won't get blown away like a leaf in the wind.

Balance issues, for me at least, are incredibly complex. Keeping my balance walking or standing is about the same as a non-disabled person trying to balance on a tightrope. And standing in one place takes a lot more muscle control and balance than walking does. At least with walking you have that momentum, that one foot in front of the other (or in my case, crashing into the other) pattern. With standing you are not moving, and there is no momentum. And yet people wonder why it is fairly impossible for me to stand on long lines, or on a moving train, etc...The coordination of muscles required is amazing.

I also need to learn how figuratively balance. The activities I do - all my advocacy work, dance, swimming - on top of my schoolwork (still wondering why no one talked me out of taking 4 AP classes my senior year...?) and planning for college - it's exhausting for anyone, to say nothing of people like me who have fatigue issues already. No wonder this blog usually goes by the wayside. On a regular basis, I get comments from people about how I'm always tired, or how I always need to sit, and it pisses me off. If they spent one day - ONE DAY - in my body, they would understand. I'm not lying or being lazy. I really am always tired. Wouldn't you be?

I'm hoping college will be easier for me in terms of balance - both kinds. I've recently started using two crutches instead of one in certain situations and it seems to improve my balance enormously. Also, in college my schedule will be more spread out, I will have more time in between classes to balance other things. I won't be sitting in school for six hours straight when I could be doing something more productive. It just will be a lot more flexible.

And....oh look! It's another one of those balancing times! I need to balance blogging and schoolwork! Outline for senior research paper due tomorrow! *leaps up with renewed vigor, overbalances, and falls over* just figures.


Anonymous said...

My first visit here, Spaz Girl. You write really well.

I'm voting for the second crutch.


Cara Liebowitz said...

Thanks, Barbara! So glad you like my writing! If you like what I write on here, check out my webzine focused on disability culture and pride:

Andrea S. said...

I think the reason why people get confused by the idea of standing in line being physically more difficult than walking is because they perceive the idea as being "counter intuitive." It SEEMS plain to the average person living inside a standard body that it should be the other way around.

Of course, what "counter intuitive" REALLY means is that they're trying to take their own experiences living inside their own bodies and extrapolating from it to figure out what the experience should be like in your body. And of course it doesn't work because you're not in their body, or in a body like it, you're in YOUR body, which operates a little differently. But because so many people are so accustomed to being able to project their own experiences onto other people with a reasonable degree of accuracy, they get befuddled when suddenly it doesn't work. And unfortunately some people respond by saying, "Well, then, it can't possibly be MY ability to intuit your experiences that is mistaken because, after all, my ability to intuit how everyone ELSE'S bodies work always does so well. It must surely be YOU who is mistaken." While never considering the fact that their "intuition" or "ability to see common sense about how bodies work" just can't apply when talking to a person whose body is designed a little differently.

About 10 years ago, I injured my right foot, permanently messing up the tendons there. Ever since, I have had more difficulty coming DOWN stairs than going up them. It's harder for me to balance on the bad foot coming down because it doesn't stretch as far any more (when you balance on the ball of one foot on the edge of the stair while bringing your other foot forward, it's important to be able to raise your heel as high as possible because that makes it easier to lower your other foot gently onto the next step instead of thumping down on it and maybe losing your balance). But of course people who don't share similar problems seem to have trouble understanding this. They're convinced that surely it must be harder for me to go UP steps because it's harder for THEM to go up steps.

Well, yes, of COURSE it's harder for people with standard bodies to go up: the environment is designed to be compatible with the way their bodies work. This means the environment works WITH their bodies instead of trying to force it to do something it can't really do very well. The only thing that environmental design can't really do is remove the effects of gravity on the body. Thus, people living in an environment well designed for bodies that work more or less like theirs will naturally find going up to be invariably more challenging than coming down. But of course if you're living in an environment that ISN'T so well matched to your body -- and any person with any disability fits that description -- then that means gravity isn't the only challenge you're dealing with.

For some reason, I, too, sometimes find it harder to stand in one place (or in a line) for long periods of time as opposed to walking. I'm not sure why this would be the case. It's my tendons that are messed up, not my muscles. (Okay, I *do* have a completely unrelated muscle condition, but nothing that should be affecting my walking yet.) Sometimes my body seems "counter intuitive" (meaning, counter to my experiences prior to the foot injury) even for me :-)

Terri said...

I also like your writing--and your guts for taking 4 APs your senior year! Hang in there, it is almost over. I think it's interesting that being still is harder than moving (and I think that is true in metaphorical balance too.) Great post!