How my disability has made me stronger

By Michelle Steiner

“Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they get into hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

One of my greatest passions in life is tea. I collect many teapots and tea cups. Every evening my husband and I enjoy a cup of tea together. I love to boil water in my blue butterfly tea kettle and hear the whistle singing its song. For the water to boil it must reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water reaches this high temperature, I’m able to pour it into a cup and add my tea bag. Once the tea is in the water, the magic begins. The bag doesn’t break despite the hot water, instead, it infuses its flavoring into the cup and creates a delightful drink. Another significant part of my life has been having a Learning Disability. Having one often puts me in hot water and began to make me a stronger person.

I get into hot water any time that I have deal with math. Math remains to be a foreign language to me. My brain doesn’t comprehend how numbers work. I often miss the steps of how to complete the various steps of problems. I have had teachers patiently explain how to solve them and yet I just can’t get the concept. I can remember doing many flash cards and still not memorizing all of the facts. I’m also clueless when I have to read the face of a clock. I can see the numbers and the handles, but can’t tell you what time it is.

My trouble with math goes beyond the classroom. I get myself into scalding water when I go into the community. It’s always a mystery on how much my items total when I get to the register. All I know is that it has certainly gone up in recent days. Using a debit card is an abstract concept. When I use cash it is a concrete concept and can see the money that I’m spending. I still can’t calculate how much I’m spending, but I have a better idea.

Another way I get into hot water is when I have to give directions. It’s a challenge for me to understand directional terms such as South, East, West, and North. I struggle with giving and processing directions when they are given to me. I’m unable to tell someone how to get to my house. I can give a few landmarks and my house number but can’t tell you much beyond that. Many people don’t understand why I can’t do this. I have had strangers ask for directions and have had to tell them that I’m bad at giving directions. Most people have been okay with this but some haven’t been. I remember a man who asked me for directions to a restaurant. I told him “Sorry I’m bad with directions.” Another person near me was able to guide him. The man then turned to me and said “See it’s not that hard.” It may have not have be difficult for the person who could give directions, but for me it is impossible.

I also have trouble understanding when people give me directions. People will give me them and I will get lost. I can hear the words but have difficulty visualizing what they are saying, especially if it’s one that I haven’t visited before. It’s helpful for me to arrive a few minutes early and be able to figure it out on my own.

I also get into hot water when I have to learn a new task or skill. I don’t pick up on new concepts quickly. I will write down directions but forget the steps. I remember starting a job and being given a manual on entering information into the computer. I read the manual over the weekend but struggled to enter the information correctly. I can remember my supervisor accusing me of not reading it. I have other people who think I don’t get things because I don’t pay attention. For me to learn, I have to teach myself. Instead of reading a guide on a computer, I need to explore for myself how the features work.

Not driving has also put me into boiling water. It can be quite a predicament, when I need to go somewhere and don’t have a way to get there. I have had to turn down jobs that have either required a driver’s license, or have been too far for me to commute to. I have family, friends and coworkers who can give me rides. Living in a central location also helps me to get to places independently.

My handwriting also lands me in hot water. It’s hard for me to make my handwriting legible. I’ve struggled with this since I was a young child. I cried my way through the Handwriting without Tears curriculum. People have judged my character based on my penmanship. I have been told that it looks like a serial killer or has labeled me messy or dumb. Learning how to type was a game-changer for me. Finally, people understood what I wanted to say and didn’t have to interpret my writing!

Having a disability often puts me in hot water. I may not be able to control having one, the hardship of the circumstances, or other people’s actions. All I can do is be immersed in the heated water and handle the task at hand. Throughout all of my struggles with having a disability, being in hot water may have burned me, but it hasn’t destroyed me. Instead, such conditions have caused me to be resourceful and resilient. I also learned to work hard. It has taken many years to find the right blend, that can withstand the scorching temperatures, that I face, but I have found varieties that work. I’m not a weak cup of tepid tea, but a strong tea with a powerful punch!

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