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  • Finding Common Ground

    Posted by ryan-berhar-2 on August 25, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    As a person with SMA, I often find it difficult to find common ground with people. I mean, I don’t do a whole lot, plus my situation isn’t relatable to most. I have, however, bonded with people over two main things throughout my life—love of sports, and video games. I have made many friends over these things. I have bonded with my brother over Fortnite in recent months. What are some ways you all have found to bond with others?

    mike-huddleston replied 5 years, 6 months ago 4 Members · 10 Replies
  • 10 Replies
  • kevin-schaefer

    Member
    August 26, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Unfortunately I think that a lot of people in our culture today feel this way. Even with all of the communication tools we have today, I think our obsession with social media has made authentic human contact more difficult. So, you’re not alone.

    As far as how having SMA comes into play, I tell people your disability is what you make of it. Yeah, we definitely have challenges and limitations that most people will never encounter. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have goals, interests, desires, faults and relationships like everyone else. We’re all just people, and I think it’s easier to find common ground if you put yourself out there.

    Let me ask you something, as a friend. What’s something this week you can do to engage with other people? This might be going to a small group at your church, going to a writer’s group or going with a friend to a sports bar/restaurant. I’m just being real when I say that your situation won’t change until you take that first step. So in a few weeks when you get your robotic arm, take every opportunity to show it off. I guarantee you that you can meet people that way.

  • ryan-berhar-2

    Member
    August 26, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    Yeah, as excited as I am to get the JACO, I have not been looking forward to the attention it’ll draw (I hate attention). But I’m trying to shift my mindset to looking at it as an opportunity to meet people.

    • kevin-schaefer

      Member
      August 26, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      That’s how I felt about getting my service dog. I never liked the “aw” and “she’s so adorable!” comments. It makes me feel weird and like I’m being talked down to. With the arm though, it’s more like I feel empowered and just cool. People see me with the arm and instead of looking at me like some cute kid in a wheelchair, they look at me like I’m Iron Man. I love it.

      • kevin-schaefer

        Member
        August 28, 2018 at 11:43 am

        Hey Ryan, does your friend Sam ever drive you? I know you’ve written about him a lot. Maybe he could take you to an event downtown or something? Is there anything going on in your area for Labor Day weekend?

      • ryan-berhar-2

        Member
        August 28, 2018 at 10:59 pm

        Yeah he does. Not so much recently, though, because he works a lot. This weekend I’m going to Eugene and Portland, so super busy!

  • michael-morale

    Member
    August 26, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    I’ve always found it quite easy to bond or to approach others even though I have SMA. My thoughts are if this person is uncomfortable being around me, then this is an issue that they have to deal with. My wheelchair and my limitations are what I make them out to be. Most of my friends will tell you that they don’t even see the wheelchair anymore. Yeah, they tend to find it rather quickly when we go to a sporting event and they get to park up close due to my handicap parking, but then again, if I was able-bodied and with someone that had a handicap placard, I would probably use it to my benefit as well.

    I’ve always been the kind of person that likes to make fun of myself, and this tends to be a real icebreaker with most people. I think a lot of people get uncomfortable about being around those of us that are in wheelchairs because they are afraid that they are going to say something wrong that might offend us. When they see that I can make fun of myself, this puts them at ease, and you would be surprised at how quickly they forget about the wheelchair and start focusing on the person. If someone has a problem with being around you, ask yourself this very important question: Who has the problem, me or you? You will find that 99% of the time, it’s the other person that has the problem and not you.

  • mike-huddleston

    Member
    August 28, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    I’d have to agree with Michael, oh about 125% on this one. First of all, have a sense of humor about yourself.  That will let people relax and be more of themselves around you.  No one wants to feel like they’re walking (or rolling) on eggshells.  They don’t have to be relatable to your situation to find common ground.  I mean, we share similar experiences with others with SMA but I don’t let SMA define me or the people I want to interact with.  My current situation and life experiences overlap others here, but we’re Venn Diagrams.  Shaded part is relatable, the unshaded part is everything else.  It’s not hard to find that shaded area with other folks not dealing with SMA.  SMA isn’t the only overlap you will have.  You and I have that in common, I’m assuming that’s a Dodger’s cap and I’m a lifelong Dodger fan.  We all have that overlap with every single person we interact with.  Find that overlap and build out from there.

    Be well informed or well read.  Something that makes you interesting and someone folks want to talk with.  Nothing wrong with sports and video games, but be open to expanding beyond that so there are more opportunities.  Eventually, people won’t pay attention to the chair or your situation.  People who genuinely care may ask, and share what you’re comfortable with – even if that’s nothing at all.  People will be comfortable around you IF you are comfortable around yourself.

    As far as making fun of yourself, a quick and recent example.  I was at lunch with a friend and his wife.  The waiter came around with the drink menu.  You could kind of tell the waiter was a little uncomfortable (careful not to stare at the chair and sometimes a little too cautious with his comments).  Not a big deal to me.  He asked if we were interested in the drink of the day.  My friend and his wife each ordered one.  He looked at me and said, “Sir?”  My reply was simply, “No thanks, if I have one of those I won’t be able to walk out of here.”  Everyone at the table and the waiter all lost it.  He was completely relaxed around us the rest of the time we were there.

    Point?  Don’t make your wheelchair or your situation the focal point.  Have fun, laugh, and be the guy other people want to be around.  I’m not saying be the life of the party, but eliminate the wheelchair and SMA from the equation – even if that’s just a mental exercise at this point.  What do you find interesting to talk about?  What do you NOT want to hear from or about other people?  What makes you roll your eyes when someone is talking (even if they don’t see you or it’s just a mental eye roll)?  Same thing applies to other people. They obviously can see you’re dealing with a situation vastly different than theirs.  See how the conversation goes.  If they’re concerned, nosey, or interested, you’ll know.  Respond accordingly and again, with what you’re comfortable with.  You don’t initially owe anyone but your doctor and your caregiver full disclosure.

  • michael-morale

    Member
    August 28, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    Excellent point Mike. I went out to eat with a bunch of my fraternity brothers one time whenever we were in college. After we were escorted to our table, I had my back to the bar but my friends could see the bar. Two of them said something about this blonde that just walked in and sat at the bar. They were making googly eyes at her so I turned around and noticed that it was my neighbor. I grew up with her and her sister and she had recently moved out of her house and into a condo. I kept my mouth shut just to see what my friends were to say. After about five minutes I bet them that I could go over and not only get her phone number but also a kiss. They had no idea that she was my neighbor. After being told that this wasn’t going to happen by all three of my friends that were with me, I bet them that if I was right they would have to buy my dinner and if I was wrong I would buy there’s. They all agreed thinking that they were going to get a free dinner but little did they know. As I left the table I made sure to go up from behind her where she couldn’t see me because I didn’t want her to look at me and give anything away. I went up behind her and told her “Kimber, it’s me Michael, don’t make a big scene and act like you don’t know me.” She turned around and I was just talking to her like I would anyone else and I told her not to smile at me for just a few moments. I told her about the bet so she reached over and grabbed a napkin and wrote her phone number down on it, then sat down on my lap and gave me about a ten second kiss right on the lips. After she stood up from sitting in my lap, she patted me on the shoulder and I turned and I went back to the table. You could’ve driven a truck through every one of my friend’s mouths, because their chin was literally on the floor. Well, let’s just say that I enjoyed my free dinner. Right after we got done eating, Kimber walked up to me and looked at me and said “are you and your parents still coming over to mom and dad’s house to play cards on Saturday night, if so I’ll be there.” As she walked off, I looked at my friends and grinned and told them that they never said anything about me not having to know the person to begin with. I told them that she had been my neighbor for over twenty-five years and that I grew up with her and her sister. Suffice to say that I got a free dinner out of it and my friends learned a valuable lesson. That lesson was to never underestimate a guy in a wheelchair because we are probably more conniving and more scheming than any able-bodied person would ever dream of being.

    • kevin-schaefer

      Member
      August 29, 2018 at 11:14 am

      Heh, I love both of these stories! Yeah when I’m at weddings I like to use my robotic arm to dance with girls. I then say that I can do the robot like no one else. That always gets laughs.

      Ryan, like Mike and Michael said, you just have to have confidence in yourself. Your disability is only a barrier with other people if you let it be one. I mean, we’re all just people and everyone has different circumstances. I hope what everyone’s said here helps.

    • mike-huddleston

      Member
      August 29, 2018 at 4:52 pm

      That’s hilarious Michael!  Thanks for sharing that.

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