Finding Balance by Leona Emberson

Leona (on right) and her sighted guide (on left) racing to the finish line of a triathlon

Paratriathlete Leona Emberson (on right) discusses her journey in finding balance.

There are times in life when everyone needs a helping hand with one thing or another. When you have a disability, these times come more often, and the type of help needed can often be of a more personal nature. As children, it takes us longer to gain each step towards independence. We had to fight to overcome many obstacles and challenges to gain independence. Often we are told we cannot do it, or will never achieve independence.

From a young age I gained a reputation for being “stubbornly independent” I knew I could do it if I just tried hard enough, long enough. Even if it took me 10 times longer, I would do it. I felt I had to prove myself. I wanted to be like everyone else, so if my brother and friends could do it, I was determined I would do it too.  This resulted in a lot of frustration, some bruises and cuts, but most importantly this attitude gained me a sense of accomplishment. All of the small successes as a child gave me the confidence and determination to become an independent accomplished adult.

But when is this “stubborn independence” going to far? Is it worth it to do it myself if it means it will take me all day? Is it worth it to figure it out for myself if I might get hurt? Does my need to do it myself leave others feeling left out of my life or uncomfortable as they watch me struggle?

Why am I so resistant to accepting help? I fear I am showing weakness if I admit that I can’t do something. I fear that I will get lazy and dependant on others if I give in and accept aid. I fear others will assume that I can’t do it, that I’m less capable. I fear that I will feed into the stereotype of the dependant blind person.

My friends know me better than this. They know I am strong, capable and independent. Yet I still resist accepting their aid. This is a fear that goes deeper than a misconception of my disabilities. Friendships are meant to be give and take. When you have a disability, your friends often do a lot more giving than they do taking. They give me rides, they read me signs and menus, they guide me, they choose activities and movies that I can enjoy. I get the best seat so the sun isn’t in my eyes and my guide dog is out of the way. It’s easy for me to become the centre of attention, and I fear they will grow weary of this. I cannot possibly ask them to do more when by being my friend they are already doing so much. I fear that if I ask one more thing, it will be the last thing they can give. We all have our limits, and I don’t want to cross them with my nearest and dearest friends.

Everyone needs help sometimes. Finding the balance between independence and acceptance of assistance is an individual process, and one that changes as society, technology and our individual needs change. Having a disability complicates the balance, but it also provides many opportunities to be thankful for the help and assistance I do receive. I am grateful for all the amazing patient people in my life who allow me to find the balance that is right for me.

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