Maximum independence has always been my goal. Born with a physical disability that leaves me reliant on the physical support of others for almost every aspect of my daily life, I have worked tirelessly from day one to ensure that, within my realm of physical possibility as a full-time electric wheelchair user, I am able to achieve all that I hope to and that this is done entirely on my own terms.
Whether it be leaving behind family in the United Kingdom to attend Stanford, or simply walking to class without the safety net of my personal assistant for the very first time, these have all been significant achievements and are huge markers of just how much my independence has flourished since arriving on campus.
Despite my overwhelming sense of accomplishment, I acknowledge that there is a very fine line between independence and isolation that must be carefully navigated in order to remain a true part of the surrounding community. Leaning on others for any kind of support is an integral part of forming meaningful relationships and to dismiss this as a sign of weakness is to dismiss any hope of developing these relationships beyond the occasional, fleeting hallway conversation.
In the context of the many fresh-faced students rolling down Palm Drive each September ready to stretch their intellectual vitality beyond all possible limits, it is a well-known fact that it is far too easy to fall victim to the notion that everyone else is thriving in this exciting, yet challenging, environment. Therefore, you adopt the belief that you must also create this impression and avoid reaching out for help at all costs. As a result, you never learn that, actually, not only did your friend from class encounter this same problem just last week, but their friend from down the hall struggled with the exact same thing too.
The only way to defeat this cycle of fear and deception – that is, fear of being ‘found out’ as not belonging at Stanford after all, and deception as a means of self-preservation – is to begin having these conversations and enhancing our courage to speak out when in need of support, however great or small. Doing this in no way undermines your credibility as a strong, independent human being, but rather it reinforces the message that is it both healthy and productive to forge connections with others through this shared sense of human vulnerability.
I personally am still working on exchanging my go-to response of a hasty, “I’m fine, thank you” for a more gracious acceptance of assistance when offered. I by no means intend to take backwards steps by sacrificing the independence I have so recently gained, but instead I hope to use these instances of vulnerability as an opportunity to grow and learn as a member of this vibrant and diverse community.
Contact Tilly Griffiths tillykg ‘at’ stanford.edu.