Whenever I drive someone in my car, I invite my passenger to let me know if she needs me to do anything differently — drive slower, turn the music down, turn the heat up, whatever. If she does request that I do something, say turn the music down, I check in with her after doing so — to make sure the adjustment is enough to make her comfortable.
Depending on how long the trip is, I check in one or two times after my initial invitation, to make sure my passenger feels totally comfortable speaking up. Because when someone is in my car, I’m the one who is literally in the driver’s seat – which in turn can create a dynamic of dependency. I want to make sure that anyone in my space knows that I nonetheless see us in partnership, giving and taking so that we are each as comfortable as possible.
Of course, there are limits. At the end of the day, it is my car or my home, and I’m not willing to do things that put my own health, comfort, or safety at risk. Over the years, a couple of friends have taken advantage of my concern for them — taking over my space and getting emotionally abusive in the process — and I have had to set limits.
But I’m happy to extend myself as far as possible within the parameters of my own emotional and physical safety zones, and I’ve gotten feedback that my doing so makes a big difference.
I feel that it’s important to actively invite people to take care of themselves while around us, because we live in a world where people are so often chastised or ridiculed for even daring to mention their needs. That dynamic in turn makes it anywhere between uncomfortable and frightening for people to take care of themselves properly.
Because I have chronic pain and other health concerns, I have what are perceived as “special needs.” As an aside, it seems to me that at the end of the day, there is no uniform human body. If we actually created a space for people to take care of themselves without judgment or backlash, we might find that more people than we know in fact have “special needs” — to the extent that they are not so special after all.
Regardless, as someone with an invisible disability navigating through a world that caters to the fully able-bodied, I find that I am constantly in a socially awkward position – where I have to speak up for myself and risk discomfort or ridicule, so as to take care of my body. Most of the time, I do step to the plate and take care of my needs, regardless of external consequences.
As conscious and empowered as I am, however, sometimes speaking up for myself feels like just too much to bear. Over the past decade plus, I have endured an onslaught of emotional and physical trauma from doctors, friends, and random strangers. As an upshot, there are times when I can’t take one more person simply rolling his eyes at my suggestion to do something differently. So I stay silent — to my own detriment.
That happened again yesterday. I’m still reeling from the consequences: The right side of my head has been feeling as if someone tore off skin and exposed some nerves around my ear and eye. Today my goal is to have compassion for myself. No I am not perfectly assertive all the time. And it would be great if I could stop kicking myself in the butt about it. I’ve got enough pain in my head.