I was once the type of girl who apologized for sneezing. I felt as if my existence put a strain on those around me. Every time I gave my ID card to the student working at the desk, I would meekly apologize for having to walk to my dorm to prepare for my next class. Living with a physical disability has made me feel like a burden; like I owe something to the world for needing help. My guilt drove me to take drastic measures, like starving myself anytime I used my wheelchair (because I needed someone to push me). I thought I had to compensate for my shortcomings, and that often meant depriving myself or sacrificing my own needs for others.
After endless days filled with meek apologies, I did not feel polite; I just felt pathetic. I apologized when someone else cut me off while I was walking to class and I apologized when I dropped my pen and someone else picked it up for me. I felt like half of my time was spent saying sorry. I said sorry more often than I defended something I believed in, laughed until I cried, and vented to a friend. It reached the point where I apologized without thinking about it; it became a reflex.
It was not until a friend insisted that I stop apologizing “for no apparent reason” that I realized how much I overused the word “Sorry.” At the time, I laughed it off and said, “I don’t know. Never mind,” but it permeated my mind. I tried to keep track of how many times I apologized, but by noon, I would lose count. Consequently, I vowed to stop apologizing for trivial mistakes or inconveniences, but I was already so accustomed to it.
A few times after I caught myself apologizing for needing help, I apologized for apologizing. The words “I’m sorry” infiltrated my vocabulary and circulated my mind like an annoying pop song.
The words also belittled me as I realized they symbolized me weakening myself for the benefit of those around me. I remember staying up until 2 a.m., and begging the printer to work because I spent the last few hours helping a friend with his homework. I then returned to my dorm room where I fell asleep at my desk, three pages deep in an eight-page paper. Fifteen minutes later, I woke up in a panic, but I helped a friend and that was all that mattered. It never occurred to me that I had a problem until my professor handed out our graded papers. In red ink atop my paper was “C-,” and my friend’s paper said “B+.” I admitted to myself that it was not the best paper I had ever written, but I did not expect such a low grade. Looking down at the page, I saw unused potential: typos that could have been avoided, explanations that could have been more concise, and arguments that could have been strengthened. I realized that while I helped my friend minimally, I severely hindered my ability.
Almost a year later, I walk into my building and give my ID card to the person at the desk. He apologizes as he accidentally swipes my card to unlock the wrong door, but I just smile and say “Thank you.”