Monday, December 15, 2014

Michael Brown Matters. Darren Wilson Matters. You Matter.

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words Ferguson Missouri? I don't think of police and guns and black and white and six bullets to the head and burning buildings. No, I think of people who desperately want to be told that their lives matter, that they matter.

Michael Brown was an 18-year-old kid with the future ahead of him and a family who loved him. His life matters. Darren Wilson is a 28-year-old guy with the future ahead of him and a wife and kids who love him. His life matters. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something pretty crazy. Are you ready? Your life matters. You matter. When is the last time you heard that? We are really bad at saying it, here on this place we call Earth, so I'll bet it's been a pretty long time.

In Ferguson Missouri, we have an unarmed African-American kid get shot by a white police officer. Whether you believe that that is truly what happened that day or not, whether you believe that there were outside circumstances around that event or not; it is a fact that African-American people are at least twice as likely to be shot at and incarcerated than their white counterparts. And  yet, there are people that say that there is not a problem.That's enough to make any member of that race feel invisible. Also in Ferguson Missouri we have a young police officer who was just trying to do his job, trying to get back to his young family.  And yet, because of the events that took place on August 9, 2014, he felt the need to resign from the police force because his family was being so badly threatened. That's enough to make any individual feel worthless and invisible.

What about you? What makes you feel invisible? As a kid growing up in a wheelchair, I would come home from school some days and realize that I hadn't said a single word to anyone because not one person said a single word to me. And when people did talk to me, it was because they either felt sorry for me or they wanted to  tell me what an inspiration I was. **** TANGENT WARNING*** I just have to say this because I don't think I've said it yet on this blog, and then I promise we will get back to our story. Please do not ever tell someone that they are inspirational because of their disability. It is perhaps the biggest punch in the gut you can ever give someone. Let me explain why. Most of the time when a person with a disability is called inspirational, it is because they are doing things in spite of the disability,  i.e. going to school and getting good grades. The reality though, is that we are doing nothing different than what anybody else in this world is doing. We are living life with the bodies that we had been given. Ours just may happen to be a little bit more useless than yours. I am inspirational because my legs don't work and I still go to school? No. It doesn't work that way. That would be very similar to me telling someone who is able-bodied that they are inspirational because they are going to school. That's weird right? Yes. But it's only weird because he has what most people would consider a fully functioning body.  My going to school with one functioning limb and three useless ones does not make me any more inspirational. I have never had a body with four working limbs, I don't know what it's like, just as most able-bodied people don't know what it's like to function with one working limb. As such, I have done nothing in spite of anything related to my disability. I am simply living my life using the body that I have. Just like you. If you ask most disabled people they will agree with me. So please, find a different words to use when complimenting someone, or find a different reason why they inspire you. Because I guarantee you, there is so much more to that person sitting in that chair, or walking with that  limp, then the fact that they are sitting in that chair or walking with that  limp.*** END OF TANGENT*** So, you get the point. I hate the word, and if you use it to describe me, I  will feel a strong desire to punch you in the face. Now, back to our story :-).

 I felt invisible because I felt like no one actually saw me for me. They saw the inspiration, and not the person. Again, I ask: what about you? Maybe you're like me, and your story is very similar to mine. Maybe you were/are the kid who gets bullied everyday at school for whatever reason. Maybe you were/are the kid whose dad left and you can't shake the feeling that its your fault. Maybe you're the guy whose friends keep getting sick and you're powerless to do anything to stop it. Maybe you're the guy who has no friends. Maybe you're the girl who can't seem to get it right in the eyes of your parents. Or maybe you're the parent and you feel like you've failed your kid. Who are you? What makes you feel helpless/invisible. I don't know, but my guess is that you do.

Whether you believe in a divine creator, and thus the fact that you have been intentionally placed on this earth or not, the fact remains: you are here. You are a human being on this planet, and your presence here has made a difference in this world. Don't believe me? You made someone a mother, you changed her life for nine months at the very least. You are someone's friend. Even if you're the kid with no friends. Have you ever held the door open for someone? It is entirely possible that in doing so, you made their day, and in that moment you were their friend, and in doing so, you may  very well  shown have someone that you see them in a world where it is so easy to feel invisible. That's powerful. You are someone's role model. I can guarantee you this one. Even if it may not seem like it, there are people in this world who see you, people who  not only see you, but like how you do life, and therefore look up to you. All this to say: you are part of someone's story. We all have a story and that story helps to shape how we view this big scary world So. Let that sink in for a second. You are part of someone's story.  That's pretty far from invisible.

In Ferguson Missouri, and really all over the country, people are burning buildings because they don't feel seen as a result of the recent verdict. What do you do? Do you listen to and believe the negative words of others? Do you speak those words to others? Maybe those words come from you. Do you tell yourself you're worthless and invisible?  Maybe you do actually burn buildings. Maybe drugs or alcohol make it easier. I don't know, and I don't care. Stop. There are people in this world who see you, and people to whom you matter. A lot. There are a lot of stories that would be different if you weren't here. Know that.

Maybe I am oversimplifying Ferguson. But at the most basic human level we have a kid who was shot. When pictures of him partying with drugs in his hands started to surface, people started to say things like "looks like he wasn't so innocent after all!" like it was some victory. Like that makes his life any less important than anyone else's. It doesn't. On the other side, we have a police officer who shot a kid. And suddenly his life becomes so unimportant that its ok to threaten not only his life, but the lives of his wife and kids. Its not. These two lives are just as important as yours. No more, no less. No one truly knows what happened that day, and in the days, weeks, and years leading up to it, except for these two men. These guys had stories too. Respect that.

Maybe I am overgeneralizing to the world, but I am starting to realize that there are people in this world who truly don't know that they are important to those around them. And that is not ok.  So, I will end this ridiculously sappy post by saying: if someone is important to you, tell them. it might feel weird, but for as awesome as you think they are, it is entirely possible that they are just as clueless in knowing how important they are to you. Be kind today. Let someone know that you see them.

Your regular, slightly more comedic, slightly less politically correct, programming will return next time.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Bus. A Broken Chair. And A Bunch Of Boneheads.

Hello humans of the Internet,

So, I think we've established that I am only capable of doing this blogging thing about once a month. Once upon a time (about two months ago), I had intentions of doing this once a week. But, you see, it is very hard to write when you don't have a story to tell. It seems that interesting stories happen about once a month in my life these days. So there you go. Coincidently, I have a story for you tonight.

It all started this last Friday on a rainy day in Seattle. My little brother is a freshman at Washington State University, and was going to be coming home for the first time since starting school. Don't tell him I said this, but I kind of wanted to see him, so I decided to go home this weekend as well. His best friend, Sam, happens to go to the University of Washington, and decided to come home too. So, on this rainy Friday afternoon, we stood outside waiting for the bus. Well, in actuality, he stood, and I sat, but you get the picture. Anyways, as the bus pulls up, I go to move closer to the curb, and my chair won't move. I frantically turn   my chair off and then on again. It doesn't work, in fact the screen stays frozen in the on position even when it should be turned off. I soon realize that I am stuck...

Let me back up for a second here and tell you that I am not sitting in my normal everyday  chair. That chair, that $32,000 chair is broken and is sitting in a wheelchair shop waiting for insurance to be approved so that it can be fixed. I have one backup chair. A chair that used to be my everyday chair until I chose to get a new one because that chair does not do well in rain.  It has a history of running full speed into walls and spinning around in circles for hours (neither of which I have any control over) when it gets wet. This would be the chair that I am sitting in now.

When I realize that I am stuck, I turn to Sam and ask him how he feels about pushing me. Granted, the bus is pulling up to the sidewalk, so he doesn't have much of a choice, but he graciously says he will do so. All power wheelchairs have the ability to be turned on manual meaning that the power that gives me the ability to drive my almost 500 pound wheelchair is disengaged, and the chair can move freely, much like any other manual wheelchair. In  theory… I tell Sam how to turn my chair on manual, which he dutifully does. All seems to be going well again until he tries to push me. One side of my wheelchair moves freely as it should, but the other remains locked in the position that would only allow me to drive it. In other words, one side is moving and the other isn't. This makes pushing virtually impossible, but Sam continues to try.

Sam is not a  big guy, in fact, he is a rather small one (I love you man, but we both know it's true, and I need to set the stage here). So, we have lots of rain, one very large useless wheelchair, and a smallish dude trying to push said chair  onto a very large city bus, which undoubtedly has a schedule to keep. By this point, we are drawing a crowd. The bus driver lowers the ramp, which conveniently lands on my foot because I'm too close to the curb and Sam is unable to move me away because we are just that stuck. After several times of trying to help us get up the ramp facing forward, the bus driver suggests turning around and being pulled on backwards. Turning is surprisingly easy, relative to everything else, when you have one wheel that works and another wheel that doesn't. At this point, passengers on the bus get up to help. In my opinion, this is when the fun began because everyone was an expert.

Of the people that were around me (I'm not sure who got up to help, and who was just getting on the bus, because honestly I had bigger things to worry about), there was a very petite young woman and a very large man. There were other people helping too, but they didn't catch my attention because they didn't have wonderful insight to share with me. The very petite young woman, who at this point is really very concerned, but in reality is just really in the way bends over and informs me that her father uses a power wheelchair and that this happens to him all the time too. She tells me that the fix is quite simple, all I need to do is turn my chair off and then on again and it will work good as new. Oh, thank God she was there, what would I have done without this piece of wonderful advice? She persistently tells me to do this, even when I told her that I've tried already. She tells me three times to be exact. So, I decide to humor her. I turn my chair off and then on again, and when, for some strange reason, it still doesn't work, she goes and sits down. The next person to speak to me is a very large man whom I am grateful for because he also seems to be a strong man. He bends over to me, and tells me that I needed turn my wheelchair off because in not doing so I am preventing them from being able to disengage my wheelchair, and that is why they are unable to push me.  He tells me this in the voice that you use to talk to a two-year-old when you want to convey to them that you are not pleased.

 A couple things… Firstly, how in the world would he know? Secondly, did I really look like the whole mission in my life that day was purposely sabotage my own wheelchair so that I could get the thrill of having to have complete strangers drag me onto a bus? No. I am as unhappy about this chain of events as you are.

 My team of movers continue to literally drag me down the aisle way of the bus. Eventually, they get me into the designated wheelchair spot, and I'm strapped down. The bus driver asks me if I have anyone to help me get off on the other end. A very fair question, and one that I gladly answer yes to. But before I can get the word yes out of my mouth, somebody from somewhere behind me yells out that I just need to call the wheelchair tow truck.

 I really really really sincerely hope that I am stating the obvious when I say that a wheelchair tow truck does not exist.

 The rest of the ride went along smoothly, and I'm happy to report that my wheelchair even decided to start working again about halfway through the ride. Which in itself is a miracle, because let's be honest, if this chair stopped working, I would've been completely and totally SOL. Now, I probably sound like a really ungrateful gimp for ripping on the people who genuinely were trying to help me. Don't get me wrong, I really am grateful and I don't know what I would've done without those people, so if you're reading this and you're one of them, thank you, truly.

That being said, I will leave you with this piece of advice: if you see a cripple struggling and feel compelled to help, please do so, because chances are they really do need the help. But don't decide that you know how to fix the problem, unless of course you actually do. Because chances are, they, like me, were not paralyzed yesterday, and you will unintentionally end up saying something really funny, in which case you will probably end up being talked about on a blog much like this one.

Special shout out to my friend Sam. I sincerely hope I didn't break you.

I'm tired. I'm going to bed. Until next month, wonderful people of the Internet!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kanye West: Horrible Person For Making Disabled Kid Stand? Maybe Not

Seeing as it's all the rest of the Internet wants to talk about, let's talk about Kanye West for a minute, shall we? If you have been alive in the last 48 hours, you've probably heard that Kanye West had a concert in Sydney Australia the other night. What's so special about this concert, you may ask: in mid-performance Kanye told the crowd that he needed everyone to stand up in order for him to perform his next song. When he saw two people in the crowd were not standing up, he stopped the performance and demanded that they stood. It was soon discovered that the two people Kanye had chosen to single out were wheelchair users, and therefore could not stand up on his request. Effectively Kanye had stopped a concert to yell at a kid in the wheelchair for not standing up.  Bad Kanye, bad! Right? I I'm not so sure...

 Let me back up for second. Do I like Kanye West? No. Do I think Kanye West is a good person? Not particularly, no. Do I do any respect for Kanye West whatsoever? Nope, I can’t say that I do. But,  do I think that he is a horrible human for yelling at a kid in a wheelchair to stand up? No. Let me explain.

As most of you know, and as I hope the name of my blog would imply, I am in a wheelchair, and I have been in one all my life.  Growing up, I can honestly say, the greatest personal insults anyone could ever give me was to give me a double standard. Obviously, my being asked to stand up, or climb a rope in gym class, just wasn’t going to happen. I'm not talking about the physical double standard. I'm talking about one on a much more personal level. When someone completely changes who they are or what they expect from me because I am sitting in a wheelchair, that is insulting. Example:  The teacher who is known as the biggest hard ass in school yells at the entire class, demanding that they do better, then turns to me  and tells me in a much lower, softer, kinder voice, "you are doing an awesome job! Keep it up." If I have been doing the exact same thing the other kids in the class have been doing (which was true more often than not) then that little conversation  hurts more than an actual slap in the face.

There is nothing more patronizing than someone who changes everything about them, their expectations, their personality, their communication style for me, and only me. It hurts, because they might as well be saying, "because you are in that chair, you obviously can't handle the real me, so hang on  one second, let me dumb it down a little bit." 

Back to the whole Kanye situation: He's a jerk. He's a jerk to everyone. He thinks that everyone should stand up when he says so, because that's who he is. He thinks that the world revolves around him, and he has thought that for a very long time. He's a jerk, and you know what? He was a jerk to those people in wheelchairs too. I know that I might be stepping on rocky ground here (yes, pun intended), I know that I wasn't the person in that situation, and I might feel differently if I was, but to me that's a compliment. I know that it was in no way intended as one, but he didn't stop and change who he was because of the wheelchairs. He yelled about it, and then when he realized why they weren't standing, he continued on with his business being his usual jerky self while standing on top of the world. He didn't stop and talk to them in a different tone, he didn't apologize, he moved on. 

 Kanye West  is a jerk, and he didn't "dumb it down" when he realized these people were in wheelchairs. I don't like him, what he did, or the way he carries himself, but I like that. All this being said, I have a question: Are we mad at him because he demanded for everyone to stand up? Or, are we mad at him because he treated some kids in wheelchairs the way he treats everyone else? Because let's be real here, he shouldn't have demanded for anyone to stand up. But if he had, and he had stopped the concert because two able-bodied people hadn't stood, this wouldn't have gone viral, and I wouldn't be talking about it right now. Why is that? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Awkward Door Conversations

I'm baaack!!! I still haven't decided how I feel about this blogging thing, hence the three month hibernation. But at one point there was a piece of my brain that thought this was a wonderful idea, so maybe it still is.  I've decided to give it a consistent effort for the next few week, and then go from there... So get excited people! You will be hearing a lot more from me for a little while.

Anyways, it has occurred to me that I haven't told you a whole lot about me yet. To fix this problem, I think I will start each blog post with a random fact about me. Today's random fact? I HATE asking for help. I realize that I am not unique in this hatred. I don't know if its  pride, fear of being an annoyance to others, or just a simple need to prove. Regardless, asking for help is one of the things I like least about life.

The reality, however is that only 1/4 of my body works the way it should, and that means that most things take me three times longer to accomplish than the average human. If I went through life without help, I would get absolutely nothing done. Ever. Doors, for example. I am perfectly capable of opening them... It just takes me about ten minutes. Let's be real here, ain't nobody, gimpy or otherwise, got time for that. So, when I encounter a door, which is unfortunately quite often, I suck it up and ask someone to open the door for me. Which brings us to our topic tonight...

When people open doors for me, they frequently feel the need to give me encouragement, compliments, or just general life advice. Here are some of my favorites from this past week alone:

  • "The devil won't win." I didn't think he was going to. Does something about me going through a door suggest he might? I guess we're in agreeance though, so have a nice day buddy.
  • "Be careful." No. I'm going to unstrap myself from my chair and miraculously jump out the window as soon as you let the door close behind me. Thanks so much for opening door to my impending doom.
  • "Your smile lights up the room." I wasn't smiling. I've never seen you before... Thanks for opening the door, mate!
This one's my very favorite...

  • "Your legs are tan... How come they don't work??" ...Because my favorite color is purple!... What?? In what universe... Am I supposed to sit at home and do nothing all by my poor gimpy self, and thus acquire ghost white legs... What?
It should be noted that these conversations were all completely independent of each other, and all happened within the last five days. 

Have a good night wonderful people of the internet. If you are one of the people in the aforementioned encounters...  You have a good night too, my friend!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Become Aware

Today is March 25. It is also Cerebral Palsy (CP) Awareness Day. I don't particularly like awareness days. To me, it feels like a day on which people living with whatever condition the world is now supposed to be aware of, stand up and talk about either how much their life either sucks or is better because of said condition. Then, everyone in the world who is not living with that condition feels inspired because those people are living their lives, hard as it may be, in spite of whatever condition that particular day is dedicated to. Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder, but that drives me nuts. So! I'm not going to sit here and tell you that my life with CP is perfect and wonderful and I wouldn't change a thing, but I'm not going to tell you that I would change if given the choice either. Because honestly, I don't know the answer to that. Some days, I love my wheels, and I love who I am, other days, I would give anything to have four working limbs. I'm not going to be the good gimpy kid on awareness day who tells you my life is wonderful or begs you to help me find a cure because I just can't stand it anymore. Nope, I'm not going to do that, not this year.

Instead, I will say this... Any little thing has the ability to change the projection of our lives. What if you married the cute guy instead of the guy with the brains? Your life would be different. What if you took the job in San Francisco instead of New York? Your life would be different. What if your parents had you go to a different elementary school. You would grow up with different friends, friends who quite possibly have different interests than the friends you have now. Maybe, just maybe, you would have the desire to become an architect instead of a hairstylist, and all because of the friends you met an element for school. If you went to a different elementary school your life would be different. I'm not saying it would be better or worse. Just different. 

The very same is true of CP in my life. As I said before, the presence or absence of this condition in my life does not necessarily mean good or bad. That fluctuates from day to day, but the presence or absence of it would, I'm sure, change the projection of my life. At this exact moment in time I can't sit here and tell you that it doesn't suck to only have one working limb, that it doesn't suck to have to fight for rights and privileges that other people take for granted, or that having to prove myself as qualified for the job 10 times more than the person sitting next to me in that job interview because I am sitting in a wheelchair and he is not, isn't hard on the ego. I can't sit here and tell you that, because it is hard and it does suck sometimes. But I can tell you that I like my life. I like going to school at the University of Washington. I like my career path. I like that I'm surrounded by people who love me, and if not having CP would have changed the projection of my life (and I'm sure it would have), I'm not sure I would like that. So I guess by extension, the answer is I wouldn't change it for the world.

I'm pretty sure I just did everything I told you I wasn't going to do in the first paragraph. My bad. My guess is you're not going to hate me for it though. Today is March 25, National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. Because I have it, and because it's only polite to do whatever someone asks you to do on their respective awareness day, I am going to ask you to do something. Become aware.

I don't mean become aware of CP and what it is and how it affects people. Although, I should probably be a good gimpy kid for once and tell you to do that too. But become aware of the things that have changed the protection of your life. Love it or hate it, I don't care just know about it. Know that every time you wish for that one bad thing to go away, or wish that it just never happened, you just might be asking for a whole new life.

I don't want this awareness day for me. So I'm giving it to you. Use this day of awareness for you.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hello World

You see a kid in a wheelchair driving down the street, and you're curious. You try not to be, because you know its none of your business and you know its politically incorrect to ask, but you are so curious. Questions start to flood your mind... "Why is she sitting all lopsided? What's her life like? What's her family's life like? If I go up and talk to her, will she understand me? How fast does that thing go? What's wrong with her!?!?!?!"... And before you know it, you've been staring at the poor kid for the better part of a minute. And you feel like an awkward awful human being for gawking so you turn and walk away, still confused by the kid you just saw. 

Sound familiar? Come on. You can admit it. You've been that awkward person unintentionally staring for over a minute at that kid sitting slumped in that chair... Desperately trying to figure them out. 

Can I tell you a secret? Me too. 

Can I tell you another secret? I am that kid. 

Hello world! My name is Macy Westrick, I am a nineteen year old junior at The University of Washington, and I have Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. In English, that means that when I was born, the part of my brain that controls movement was damaged, and all four of my limbs are effected. This translates to inability to walk, and ultimately my dependence on a power wheelchair. So, yes, I am that kid. I am one of 1.6 million American wheelchair users. 

Even though I know how awkward it feels to be stared at, I have been that person staring across the street at another human who l perceive as being in  some way different from me, desperately trying to figure out why they chose  to pierce their face in ten different places, or maybe where they're from and what their culture is like. And before I know it, I've been staring at them for the better part of a minute, just like so many others have done to me. 

After so many years of being on both sides of the same coin, I have decided something: Differences are frustrating. They attract us to each other. They make us want to know and understand one another, and yet, they are the very things that keep us from doing so. 

More than once, I've wished that the kid walking down the street would just tell me why he chose to pierce his face. That way, the barrier that stops me from talking to him is gone, and I don't have to sound like a complete moron because I asked a stupid question. 

I know that's how people feel about me. I know you have questions, and that's okay, I am different, and different makes people curious. As much as I know you have questions, I know you're afraid to ask them. 

Through this blog, I hops to give you a glimpse into my life, and answer some of those questions along the way, so that maybe one day when you see one of the 1.6 million of us on the street, you won't see a kid slumped in a chair. You will see a person who's not so different from you after all...And you didn't even have to ask a question!

Welcome to The Diary of a Gimpy Kid!