Monday, April 16, 2018

Rewrite your narrative

I'm working toward becoming more comfortable and exploring my vulnerabilities. I believe that all normal people are well-meaning, but their own idiosyncrasies get in the way, just like my own weirdness gets in the way of me interacting in the world from a place where I am completely comfortable with myself. I'll give you two examples from my life.

I had this friend, and we were walking in the Upper East Side neighborhood around Hunter College. I noticed she was openly staring at people. I was sort of appalled because I was raised that that behavior is totally inappropriate, and plus I know I hate when people do this to me. I just asked her why she was doing it and I said it seemed kind of impolite. She said that she didn't see anything wrong with it and people were just really interesting. I may have argued a little more, but I eventually I let it go.

Here's the second example. I worked in a lab for a couple years where my boss (I'll refer to him as Dr. J. was trying to get me to apply for funding. Okay, no problem. I needed three letters of recommendation and he was happy to write one for me. Okay, no problem. He asked me to read it over. Okay, no problem. It's late evening in April when I sit down to read this letter in the lab. I was lucky no one was around. I get to the second to last paragraph where he has somewhat proudly proclaimed that I am visually impaired and how that's really awesome. Okay... no. That's not okay to do. I knew him less than a year. Actually only 6 months. Sorry, you don't have the privilege to do that, buddy. I should have told him to take it out. But I didn't because I was weak and apologetic and felt like I was taking space for someone smarter and better than me. So I let him violate my personhood in this way. Something only a person from a disadvantaged viewpoint may truly understand. read this for imposter syndrome.  I let him take a piece of information about me and use it in a manner that was not befitting the level of the relationship that we had. In my mind, it's the same thing as letting someone push you to the ground and not doing anything about it.

It's annoying but I must learn to stop thinking like this or else I'll continue to be a victim of my own tricks. I don't think that if either person had understood things from my perspective, would they have done those things. Their behavior was not right, but my own thoughts about their behavior or retreating further into my shell of "I'm taking up too much space", was definitely not the right way to live and react to the world.

Normal people need time to understand the term "respect" because they do not understand what it feels like to have their respect stepped on in the way they do it to people who are different. It is necessary for people to start to understand your viewpoint if you are different, but it must be done from a place of comfort with yourself. You must be comfortable with who you are and your right to be heard as well as their right to have their own way of looking at the world.

Also, knowing that you cannot change them, you can only change you. Rewrite your narrative from the perspective of respecting yourself and act from a place of wholeness.

More exploring my vulnerabilities later.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Imposter syndrome is strong in this one

My first post may have seemed like I have a vendetta against those who are not in my small niche, partially I do, but partially I also want to instill in other people the idea that they deserved be treated with respect and dignity.

It has come to my attention in a painfully obvious way, that I am vulnerable in ways that make it easy for others to take advantage of me. I want to explore those vulnerabilities in a way that will help me gain more self respect so it makes it easier for me to recognize when and how I am vulnerable so I can better be prepared to respond when someone crosses the line. I also want to help others recognize when they are vulnerable too.

I see it all the time in posts across the internet and in interactions with people who are different. We all have a need to feel accepted for who we are, but those of us who feel different wear this need as a badge. This bade that we wear, makes us slaves to our differences.

In a post I saw recently, the original poster was worried about telling their boss about their disability. I initially thought, if you need something to do your job well, you shouldn't be afraid to tell someone. But I instantly squashed that thought because I've been essentially doing the same thing my whole life.

When I wrote earlier about why I did not use the visual aids that were offered to me, I said it was for social posterity. But as I got older, there was another reason.

I wanted to live my life without visual aids because I needed to prove to myself that I could do it without worry that I got to where I am, without someone feeling bad for me.

This thinking made me vulnerable. It made me defensive, it made me second guess my own achievements. It made me second guess my own worth. In psychology we call that imposter syndrome. The idea that you don't belong in your station of life. That you do not deserve the things you have because someone probably just felt sorry for you. Constant fear of being found out as a fraud or that someone will tell you that they recognize that you actually do not belong where you are because of _______. Fill in the blank for the thing you feel most disadvantaged about.

This thinking makes the sufferer vulnerable. Everything becomes an apology. Every mistake becomes a point where you feel you deserve to be attacked. Every attack, deserved or not, becomes a point that you're defensive about. It's a vicious loop. If you're unfortunate enough to meet a predator that preys on just that kind of weakness, it can have consequences that can even drive you to suicide. 

I have the unfortunate luck to be in a sector of society where impostor syndrome runs high as a recent PhD graduate.and 
 to have met a person who spots and takes advantage of vulnerabilities. This combination neatly literally killed me. More about this as the blog unfolds.

But let's go back... How do you deal with feeling like you're an imposter in your own life, so you are less vulnerable? You get yourself a therapist if you feel it's really bad. But start thinking about yourself differently. Most people are not going to feel sorry for you to give you things like job promotions. Work toward recognizing that you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity for the mere fact that you're a fellow human being. Those seem like tiny steps, but the challenge is to remember this in the face of feeling like you have to apologize for taking up too much space and breathing too much precious oxygen, as if your different body somehow deserves less. You deserve to be present in your own life and you deserve the same access to things just like everyone else.

Go forth with the challenge. Write a comment or share if it will validate your right to be.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Enters Stage Left...

...tapping my cane with signature red reflector section on the bottom portion...

If you're sitting back in satisfaction that you got the right blog about that poor blind scientist, that's not me... sorry, check again...

If I were asked to describe myself, I would say I just earned my Ph.D. in Psychology, in Cognitive Neuroscience specifically and I would inform you that I am looking for postdoctoral positions. I would say that I'm thrilled to be looking. It's an exciting prospect of moving to who knows where, meeting new people, exploring new places.

I would not think to tell you that I am legally blind. I would not think to tell you I'm a woman as part of my description of myself. I would not think to tell you that I was born somewhere in Asia. I define myself by my emotional state or my accomplishments. I am not sure I understand the fascination with labeling people based on some irrelevant social construct like "race" "gender" "ability", but I think that is part of the reason I'm here, writing this. I am a cognitive neuroscientist, but I think my view of people may be skewed. I'm writing this to help me understand why my visual impairment, my identifying as a woman and my ancestry matters so much to you. In my mind, it shouldn't matter one bit. What matters is how you treat the person.

I am INSANELY curious about how and why people treat others the way they do and I'm sure my blog will be filled with my razor-sharp understanding of interpersonal relationship that many seem blind to (pun intended). I also have a hard time understanding why people cannot see that what they do has repercussions. I will be writing from a place incredible sensitivity toward these interactions. The social aspects of being who I am. The finer nuances of interacting with the world.

The fact that I am legally blind has not been easy, but not for the reasons you may think. Sure it's hard to see things like a "normal" person, but since I don't know what a "normal" person actually sees, from my perspective, I'm not missing anything. The reason it's difficult is for social reasons. All of these I will go into further detail as the blog unfolds, but I will touch on them here now.

It's been isolating in some cases because I sit too close to the computer screen and hold a book too close to my face, causing people to react in ways other than to be normal and treat me normally. It kind of makes me think that no one told me that "blind" also means "crazy" or "weird", "unreasonable", "unable to think logically"... what else?! This list really goes on and on...

 It's been infuriating because people have "disclosed" for me. No, that's not your information to share, thanks. Every single time this has been disclosed "for me", I have been so pissed as to barely be able to return. I understand that the people thought they were being some kind of noble savior, but it just doesn't work that way.

Mostly it's been interesting because it points to a much larger, problem of respecting differences. I do not want to contribute to a growing problem of people insisting on particular labels, so I will attempt to continue to talk about this in terms of respecting differences.

And, recently, it's been very eye-opening for me because I have come to realize I have many vulnerabilities because of my differences and it has made me act out in ways that show that I am not comfortable with myself and it has caused me to be taken advantage of numerous times. How the heck did I get here? How did I finish a PhD without visual aids? How did I move halfway across the country by myself?

So how blind am I? Try this. Go outside and measure 200 feet, and see what you can see from that distance. Now, in order for me to see the same thing with the same amount of detail, I would have to be 20 feet away. Go on, measure 20 feet from that thing you were just looking at. It's probably declined a little more than that actually.

Here are some things you should know about me before we get started on how I did all those things I did and why I'm sitting here writing this. I had a stroke when I was 2 and a half. Just fell over on the kitchen and my parents took me to the hospital. I was right handed before I went into the hospital, and now I'm decidedly left handed. No big deal. I was speaking Korean when I went into the hospital. 6 months after recovering, I was reading and speaking English. So by 3, I was reading. When I was 4, I started playing the violin.

I have been stubborn from a young age. In kindergarten, I remember being pulled from class to visit with a very thin woman with a deep voice and big earrings. I was fascinated by her because she seemed to have some magical swirling energy around her. She was kind and I remember she wore sandals and had brown, short cropped hair. She did not wear glasses. I would later learn that she was a heavy smoker, but no matter. She had equipment with her. Little telescopes, special glasses, and magnifiers. She showed me how to use them and asked if they helped me and if I wanted to take one back to class with me. Even at that age, I was beginning to understand the social implications. I don't know if it was because I overheard my three older brothers talking about special kids, or if it was somehow a part of my observations of interactions around me, but I understood that teachers had no patience for the "special" kids. I also knew that students who were too special were picked on. I felt I did not need to have anything else stacked on the "cons" side of life. I don't remember how that first meeting ended, but I do remember having a bar magnifier and a tiny telescope in a soft brown case with a clasp on it that I kept in my desk. I stashed those things to the back pretty quickly though, through my younger years in elementary school.

I do remember seeing the woman with the big earrings again over those first few years of education. I would later learn that she was checking to see if I was using the equipment and checking on my grades. It was probably the equivalent of today's IEP (individualized education plan, for the special kids).

In retrospect, I can imagine this woman having a meeting with my parents, and my parents having a discussion about what to do. Should they force the equipment on me or should they let me make my own decisions about what I needed. Who knows if that actually happened, but here is what I do know happened. My parents did not force me to use the equipment and they let me continue to explore my world.

I think the school thought I was going to fail. Not even close, little elementary school. Maybe I should go back and visit my teachers...? :) :) :)

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