That Time I Valiantly Fought With a Letter Opener

The letter opener.

A humble, but truly magical office staple.

One swipe against an unruly letter, and presto — your letter is open and you’re forever hailed as the resident entry-level administrative goddess.

Okay, maybe not.

But when you start a new administrative job with a boss who proclaims “You don’t need any special skills for this,” it’s practically a given that you’d at least be able to use a letter opener.

Unless, of course, your fine-motor skills are not-so-fine.  Which makes people who can actually open a letter with a letter opener look downright magical to you.

I have cerebral palsy, which messes with my body’s ability to follow my brain’s instructions and, you know — move.  Basically, the left side of my body’s like that angsty teenage rebel who cuts class to smoke cigarettes in the school bathroom.  Or something like that.

Which makes using a letter opener seem like Mission Impossible.

So when I walked into the office for my first day — an office that, I should note, seemed pleasantly devoid of letter openers — I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

Until my perpetually-smiling supervisor uttered a single sentence that made me groan (internally, of course; this was, after all, my first day on the job!)

“First, we’re going to have you sort and open mail.”

Noooooooooo…

What a way for me to make a lasting impression.  In an office-themed version of “The Bachelor,” I knew I wouldn’t be snagging the “First Impression Rose” anytime soon.

Still, once my supervisor was out of sight, I dutifully swiped the edges of the stubborn letters with my nemesis — the letter opener.

It went… better than I had anticipated, actually.  My letter opener was — surprisingly — vaguely useful.  But I eventually gave up on the letter opener and went back to opening letters the old-fashioned way — with my slightly stiff, shaky hands.

And the most miraculous, shocking development in the dramedy that was my first day of a new office job?

I was okay with not doing my job in a “typical” way.  

My inability to wield a letter opener was actually kind of funny.

As I accidentally created jagged edges on all the envelopes and smiled at my perceived lack of administrative prowess, I thought back to my very first post-college job — a ballot processor at my county’s Elections Office, at the tail end of the election season.  We were supposed to open the ballot envelopes carefully, creating nice, clean, straight openings all the way across.  But, despite my valiant attempts to handle those envelopes with all the care devoted to a newborn baby or a cuddly kitten, I inadvertently committed the worst office offense, manhandling the envelopes with my legendary lack of motor skills.

I remembered my co-workers looking absolutely flummoxed by my envelope-mangling tendencies.  “A college graduate who can’t even open a measly envelope?  What the heck is wrong with her?” I imagined them thinking as they stared across the table at me.  

As I continued to (completely accidentally, of course!) rip envelopes at my newest office job, I laughed at how ridiculous I was just 10 months before at the Elections Office.  At that point, I pretty much thought my cerebral palsy, however mild, was The Worst Thing Ever (Me?  Melodramatic?  Never!), and, on that November day, I left the Elections Office close to tears.  I easily could have blamed my propensity to cry on the recent election results (and the fact that a solid portion of America was probably crying with me), but I wouldn’t let myself go there.

The truth?  I was embarrassed by my disability.

Which is why, in a very different, emphatically casual office, 10 months later, as I slid around on a swivel chair and laughably (but laudably) attempted to use a letter opener, I smiled at how far I had come.  The girl who swore she would never, ever tell anyone about her cerebral palsy is now practically a walking billboard for CP awareness.  Who still can’t really use a letter opener.  And is 100% okay with it.

Thankfully, I survived my time opening mail without a single peep from my supervisor about the interesting quality of my opened envelopes and promptly moved on to some other equally administrative task that didn’t require much in the way of fine-motor skills.  I aced my first day.  Well, maybe not aced, but I guess they liked me enough to let me keep working there!  (As a matter of fact, I’m still employed by that company, despite my dubious ability to use a letter opener!)

That day, I left the building laughing.  It turns out laughter really is the best medicine.

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

To the Woman on the Street Who Taught Me a Lesson in Empathy

Dear Woman on the Street,

You sidled up to my friends and I on a temperate August day.  A day on which the sky was as clear as crystal and the sun gently glinted overhead.  A day on which pedestrians sauntered through the streets of my college town, unencumbered by the rush of the work week.  A day I spent with friends, sitting on the shaded porch of a yogurt shop, laughing, reminiscing, and celebrating the gift of life, the arrival of my twenty-first birthday.

You leaned casually against a railing near us, a wide, friendly smile spread across your face.  “Look me in the eye,” you stated evenly.  My friends and I were unsure what to make of you.  Not knowing your motivation, your intent, or the reasoning behind your abrupt approach, we disregarded you.  Turned away.  Averted our eyes.  You were unknown to us — a stranger.

You continued to speak to us, to me, it seemed, your words sending a sharp jolt of humiliation through me, boring a hole deep into the fiber of my being.  Your eyeshadow… it’s mismatched!  Oh wait, did you do your makeup like that on purpose?” you taunted aloud.  You had no way of knowing that that morning I scrutinized every perceived flaw in the mirror — questioning my appearance and wondering if others would judge me on looks and looks alone. “Your teeth,” you said disdainfully.  “I use whitening strips; you should try it too!”  I immediately pursed my lips in response — the vestiges of the polite smile I kept plastered on for you fading into nothingness.  I wished more than anything that you would see that internally, deep in my heart, I was breaking, even as I attempted to smile at you.  But you didn’t.  “Do you even eat?” you asked with derision.  My eyes immediately fell on my slender body — the body that had been subject to similarly heartbreaking commentary since the third grade.  My black-and-white striped dress gently caressed the curves of my body, magnifying my slight frame, my perceived appearance of fragility.  I never should have worn this dress, I mused silently, dejectedly, as anger bubbled inside of me and threatened to erupt.  I never should have come here.  You were the voice of my insecurities personified, the nagging doubts in my appearance that constantly haunted me, our society’s harsh taunts that beauty defines womanhood and that kindness, empathy, and love are worthless.

I attempted to ignore you as you moved on to my friend and her hair, but inside, I was seething.  Hearing you berate my friend’s appearance hurt far more than hearing you denigrate mine, but I felt frightened, powerless to stop you, unable to muster a response to the assertion that my friend needed to “feel the wind in her hair” to prevent dryness.  You left as I was wondering how to end the monologue in which we were embroiled — but not before our eyes met.  

I could see pain behind your deep green eyes — the scars of hurt and hopelessness.  I could just make out the traces of weariness in your face, hidden behind a bright smile.  In that moment, a realization struck me, in the depths of my being.  We were strangers, with lives connected in a single moment in time and pasts unknown to each other.  You could not see my triumphs and struggles, my challenges, my hopes, and my dreams, and I could not see yours.  You had no way of knowing the insecurities I had battled in my twenty-one years, the challenges I had faced to embrace my appearance or the difficulties I had endured in the course of my life.  And although I could see the vestiges of a difficult past in your appearance, I did not know what brought you to cross my path, what compelled you to use the words you did or why you chose to approach us in particular.  The only explanation I could ascertain was that you felt troubled, lonely, and broken.  I immediately felt sorry for my response to you as tremendous guilt in not reaching out to you washed over me.

I do not know where you are now, but I have felt the pain I saw in your eyes.  I know what it is to feel defeated, to long for the company of others, to angrily lash out at others in times of deep personal struggle.  I have come to learn that those struggles are not permanent and that life has incredible beauty in store for everyone, even if it appears to be hidden.  I need you to know that your life is no exception.  By searching for flickers of light in the darkest moments of your life and cultivating positivity to combat life’s challenges, you will thrive under any circumstance.  You will blossom.  You will bloom.

The words you spoke to me on the afternoon of my twenty-first birthday taught me a valuable lesson in empathy.  I now fully understand the importance of looking beyond words and actions, of making an effort to understand others’ perspectives even when it becomes difficult to do so, and of forgiving after being cut down.  I hope that wherever you are now, you are safe, comfortable, loved, and at peace with yourself and others.  Thank you for reminding me that we are all a collection of stories, unknown to those around us, and that we must delve deeper than mere first impressions to truly begin to understand others.  Thank you for teaching me not to judge until I can see a clearer picture of the underlying circumstances.  Most importantly, thank you for imparting the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my 21 years of life: No matter how difficult, always choose to respond with kindness, understanding, and empathy.

Love,

A woman forever changed by your presence

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

“He Would Have Wanted This For You”

All I wanted was a place in the Honors program.

Until I received the voicemails.  Seven messages.  From my mom.  All in one night.

In my naivety, I never bothered to listen to the sudden influx of messages, assuming all was well.

Oh, how wrong I was.

It was the beginning of my second year of college, and, knowing that I was slated to graduate in only three years, I understood that if I wanted a spot in the Honors program, the time to apply was now.  I had deliberately waited a year to apply to the program so I could have the best possible chances — and grades — going in.  I wanted to graduate with honors so badly that absolutely nothing, no matter how world-shattering, could derail me.

Or so I thought.

One day, in late September, I resolved to transcend my ever-present social anxiety and work up the courage to ask one of my favorite professors for a letter of recommendation for my Honors program application.  It was that morning that I awoke to the barrage of voicemail messages from my mom.  It was that morning that, unconcerned and in hot pursuit of my ambitions, I cheerfully traipsed off to the psychology department’s office.

I was surprised and delighted to hear that yes, my beloved professor would love to recommend me for the Honors program.  Joy swelled inside of me as I rushed back to my apartment to share the exciting news with my mom.

But my joy would not last long.

No sooner had I dialed her and uttered a cheerful “Hi!” than my mom stuttered:

“Your Grandpa’s… he’s… he’s at the end of his life.  I’m headed out of town right now to go see him.”

I could hear the hum of the car’s engine whirring in the background as I attempted to process her words.  The missed calls…  I should have answered.  He hadn’t been doing well… I should have known.

What?!” I blurted, shrieking into the phone out of pure shock.  “I… I didn’t know!  I didn’t even listen to those messages!”

My mom apologized profusely for delivering the news in such a hasty fashion, but her apology could not quell the peculiar mixture of sadness and guilt rising in my chest, then sinking into the pit of my stomach.  Why had I been so concerned with getting accepted into the Honors program?  Why had my priorities been so skewed when my grandpa had very little time left on Earth?  Why couldn’t I have seen how much life matters, how much family matters?

“I called because I got the letter of rec for the Honors program,” I cried.  “I wasn’t expecting this!  But I can’t go through with it now, not with Grandpa dying.  I need to tell my professor that I’ve changed my mind before she writes the letter!”

I no longer wanted a place in the Honors program.  All I wanted was to see my grandpa again, to hug him, to tell him I loved him one last time.  I took no solace in the fact that the last words I had ever spoken to him were “I love you.” More than anything, I longed for a second chance.

Not honors.

Not accolades.

Not recognition.

Just one more chance to say “I love you.”

I will never forget my mom’s response to my sudden onslaught of doubt in my decision to apply for the Honors program.  With a single sentence, spoken softly as she fought back tears, my mother taught me a lifelong lesson.

He would have wanted this for you.

She elaborated, her voice growing stronger.  

“Grandpa has always been proud of everything you’ve achieved.  He would be so proud of you now, knowing that you applied for the Honors program.  I know that he would have wanted you to do this.  You shouldn’t give up this opportunity.”

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that my mom was right.

My grandpa, an intelligent, well-spoken man, a voracious reader with the largest vocabulary of anyone I had ever known, had always deeply valued education and academic prowess.  Even as his health worsened, his clear, blue eyes never failed to sparkle as my parents recounted my sister’s and my academic achievements — an academic award, a place on the Dean’s list.

I understood then that the most venerable way I could honor my grandpa was to live, embracing my vitality and his values in a way that would fill him with pride.  Life after death is not meant to be squandered away by relentlessly dwelling on the past; it is meant to be celebrated.  Honoring lost loved ones by carrying their words, actions, and values into the world is the most powerful way to celebrate them, to keep them in your heart forever.

Two days later, on the first of October, my grandpa passed away.  That day, I resolved to apply to the Honors program to honor his memory.

Six weeks later, on a blustery, dreary November day, I received news of my acceptance into the Honors program.  As I danced across the damp sidewalk, umbrella in hand, unencumbered by the morning rain, I gazed up at the gray sky.

“Grandpa, I made it,” I whispered softly.

I could just make out a glimmer of sunshine behind the clouds and I knew, without a doubt, that he was beaming with pride.

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

To the One Who’s Facing Injustice

You feel like your life is shattering around you, splintering in the wake of chaos.  You feel like you are dancing on broken glass, shards jutting into the tender soles of your feet.  As the shards of glass pelt the earth in a torrent, you feel like the damage to yourself — to your reputation, your psyche, and your life — is unavoidable.  Inescapable.  Irreparable.  But you must remember that you are neither glass, nor china, nor clay.  You will not be broken forever.  Your soul is not permanently fractured.  You can — you will — be made whole again.

You find yourself constantly, obsessively attempting to explain the unexplainable — wondering, worrying. Why me?  Why now?  What did I ever do to deserve this? You are a frantic sleuth in hot pursuit of evidence — desperately, rabidly searching for answers, fabricating false memories of your own wrongdoing and attempting to transform injustice into justice by blaming yourself.  Your mind is a broken record, scratching its way through an endless loop of undeserved self-criticism.  However, you must know — you must believe — that the very nature of injustice renders its recipient inculpable.  You are faultless.  You are blameless.  You are innocent.

You feel exhausted, tired of preparing for a battle you have no business fighting.  The desire to know why stirs deeply inside of you, then promptly dissipates, like a brief flicker of light in a decrepit building.  Your fear of how others perceive you — of how they will somehow justify the unjust — manifests as apparent apathy.  But you are far from apathetic.  Your anger and frustration with the unfairness of your predicament sparks your desire to fight for yourself in the name of justice, fairness, and truth, then quickly gives way to an overpowering sadness, which causes you to crumble — to surrender the fight.  As you struggle to fight through your emotional blockade, you desperately wish you could stop advocating for yourself in the pursuit of justice.  After all, you reason, this never should have happened to me.  And since this never should have happened to me, I shouldn’t have to fight it.

You are right — injustice, by definition, ensures that you should not be enveloped in your present situation — completely demoralized, whole-heartedly desiring a resolution, yet half-heartedly fighting for the truth to emerge.  However, you must never stop advocating for yourself in the pursuit of justice.  Self-advocacy is the most effective means to a desired resolution.  Self-advocacy vanquishes voicelessness, drives out powerlessness, and paves the way for truth.  Self-advocacy draws you closer to the unwavering beacon of light in the midst of the storm.  Although choosing to fight for justice may seem to place a challenging, undeserved burden upon your shoulders, it not only validates the gravity of your emotions, but it also proves that your predicament is, indeed, unjust.  It is wholly acceptable to acknowledge that you should have never found yourself in this position.  It is crucial to recognize your sadness, your hopelessness, your anger, and your frustration. However, regardless of how you feel, keep advocating.  Keep fighting. Your tireless, fearless pursuit of justice will ultimately be rewarded.

You find yourself rapidly losing faith in humanity, losing trust in others, and losing hope for the future.  Your belief that people are fundamentally good is slipping away, like grains of sand sifted through your fingers.  The soft whisper of your thoughts crescendos to a shout, roaring inside your mind.  How could anyone do this?  Why does no one think about the repercussions of their actions?  Does anyone care about the difficulties I’m facing, the hopelessness I feel, or the lack of control I have?  Clearly, there is no good left in humanity.

It is tempting to blame all of humankind for the attitudes or actions of a few, but to do so is to make a gross generalization — to ignore the kindness, care, and hope left in the world.  You feel as though you are drowning without a lifeline, subjected to a jeering audience of onlookers watching you sink, but you must understand that someone will pull you to the surface.  Someone will restore your faith.  Someone will heal the brokenness you feel.

To heal from the injustice you have faced, you must recognize the benevolence of others.  Seek out the good left in the world.  Notice the small acts of kindness others show you.  Look to those who fight for truth and justice.

Accepting goodness back into your life after your faith has been shaken and your trust has been shattered is not easy.  It will be the most challenging step in the process of reclaiming your life and restoring justice.  But once you begin to relearn the magnanimous nature of humanity, you will no longer feel like you are dancing on shards of glass.  The torrent of chaos will dissipate.  Your wounds will heal.

You will restore faith.

You will regain trust.

You will reclaim hope.

You will no longer feel confined, broken, or alone.

Believe in the benevolence of humanity and you will be free.

*Previously published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com.

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

How I (Literally) Fell Into My Perfect Job

A job interview.  A pair of heels.  An ankle injury.

A perfect storm, a recipe for disaster, a nightmare scenario?

A life-changer.

In a split second, an unnoticed step became a stepping stone to my perfect job.

I was just over a year out of college and, having embarked on a yearlong, fruitless job search that resulted in countless rejections, I grew more disheartened by my job prospects with each passing day.  

Until, clad in a black suit and a pair of patent leather heels, I stepped into a spacious office building for what would soon become a life-altering job interview.

I had previously been on numerous, unsuccessful interviews, but the moment I entered the office, something felt different.  Beneath my typical trepidation, I felt prepared, ready, confident that this would be my last interview and this office would become my workplace.

My interviewer — my prospective supervisor — arrived and escorted me to her office — a snug room at the back of the building.  My spirits lifted almost immediately as she revealed to me that I was one of only six applicants called in for a preliminary interview and my personality test results demonstrated I was a strong fit for the position.  We immediately developed an easy rapport with each other, and, as I was interviewing, I could fully envision myself working for the close-knit company, with my interviewer as my supervisor.  The interview, which was punctuated by friendly conversation, lasted for nearly an hour, but seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye.  

As the interview came to a close, I gave my prospective supervisor a firm handshake, thanked her for her time, and walked towards the front of building smiling, satisfied with my performance and in awe of my complete calm.

Little did I know that I wouldn’t be smiling for long.

I pushed open the door to the building, stepping out onto what I presumed was a flat expanse of concrete and completely missing the single step leading from the building to the sidewalk below.  My left heel nearly caught the edge of the stair — but not soon enough — and I fell, losing my grip on my possessions, twisting my ankle and landing hard on my left leg.  The pain was sharp and penetrating — completely unbearable.

I surveyed the scene, hoping and praying that no one had seen me fall.  As I collected the extra copies of my resumé and references that were strewn around me, discovered that my phone was mercifully unscathed, and winced from the pain pulsing down my ankle, my prospective supervisor rushed out of the building and found me huddled on the ground, trying my hardest to look “okay.”

“Oh my goodness, are you okay?  Do you need any help?” she asked, slightly alarmed.  

“I’m good!  Thank you for asking!” I said, as cheerfully as I could muster, simultaneously trying not to grimace and feeling mortified that I had had a witness to everything that had transpired.

After several unsuccessful attempts, I pulled myself onto my feet, and slowly limped away from the building, with pain still searing through my ankle.

My ankle was twisted and my ego was bruised.  

There’s no way I’ll get this job now, I thought.  I had one chance and I blew it!  Why did this have to happen to me?

But as I fell through one door, another door opened.

That night, I was scheduled to meet with a prospective respite client.  If the client and I got along and the night went well, the respite job could become permanent.  

My hope that I could ever find a permanent job was waning, but, armed with a smile and a freshly-iced ankle, I arrived to meet my client.  Although I refused to keep my hopes up about the respite position, it seemed to be going smoothly, effortlessly, and it was the first time in months I had not experienced any anxiety on the job.  This position felt right, but I refrained from believing it could ever be mine, lest I end up disappointed.

My disappointment set in a week later, when I discovered that the job for which I had interviewed on that fateful day, the administrative position I had envisioned myself holding, would never be mine.  With my successful night of respite work little more than a passing thought, I felt completely disheartened by the loss of the seemingly perfect office job and lost hope that I would ever find a permanent position.  It was unrequited love; I wanted nothing more than to work in the familial office with the kind supervisor, but it was not meant to be.  I had fallen hard for a company that did not love me back.

If I had never fallen, maybe I would be employed by now, I mused dejectedly.

But, a few days later, I heard back about the respite position — the position I never expected to hold.  My intuition was correct; the night had gone well and the client was happy with me.  The position was mine if I wanted it, and would eventually become a full-time, permanent job.  I was elated.

I accepted immediately.

In that moment, I realized that I ended up exactly where I was meant to be.  After months of administrative temp work, I was not meant to work in an office any longer.  I was about to live my dream of working with people with disabilities.  As a woman with a disability, I had earned a position I was born to hold.

The moment I fell, my life fell into place.  I had inadvertently fallen into my perfect job.

As you search for a job, you may feel discouraged by rejection, wondering if you will ever find the right position.  You will.  Life happens exactly as it is meant to.  That “perfect job” you have long coveted may not be the best fit for you at the moment, but every rejection — every fall — will bring you one step closer to the job of your dreams. Never lose hope; your perfect position may be waiting right around the corner.

Trust that your life will fall into place.

Let yourself fall.

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.