Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I Offended Someone Today

That's right, Mom. and Jesus... and whoever else might be reading this. I didn't turn the other cheek. I didn't hold my tongue. I was rude. I hurt someone's feelings.

And I'm not sorry.

You see, here's the story. Last night (this morning) about 3am when I finally had wrapped up my really-procrastinated Child Psychopathology paper on using Specific Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors to treat Trichotillomania in children (say it 3 times fast), I hopped in bed began my nightly ritual of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram before falling asleep. And then boom.

Sorry my phone cut off the entire image, it reads: "Tag a friend that's into midget threesomes."

Of course I was immediately angry. Why does this picture even exist in the first place, and why in the hell is it on MY newsfeed? I've wasted way too many hours on social media to think that this was a mistake. You see, things only show up in your Facebook newsfeed when they have been posted, liked, or commented on by one of your own friends. Awesome. 

For the sake of this rant, I've kindly hidden the identity of this "friend," but I will tell you that it is someone who attends Augustana and though we have probably never spoken to each other in person, we somehow ended up connected on Facebook. I knew that since I wasn't truly friends with him, it wouldn't be easy to just shoot him a simple text and say something like, "Hey, you know I don't like that shit, so can you please reconsider your post?" Honestly, I've had friends who have innocently posted things that are mildly offensive to certain communities. When that happens, I'm not afraid to reach out, mention the issue, and help them correct it, because I know that they would do the same for me. We're all learning, and it's ok. 

However, I didn't feel comfortable messaging this guy. And I truly wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. While I can almost guarantee that he did not share this post because he truly thinks those girls are beautiful, I figured he maybe forgot that he was "friends" with someone who would find this offensive. So I decided to comment on the photo, "...how about no?" My hope was that the comment would spark his attention and he would realize his mistake and remove the post. 

But that's not what happened. 

Instead, my "friend" saw my comment, deleted it, and kept the photo posted. 

*insert many, many fire emojis here* 

Not only did this guy's actions really, really piss me off, but he caught me at a really bad time as well. For the last 10 weeks, I have been extensively researching negative perceptions of people with disabilities for my senior capstone project. While the research has been truly eye-opening, it cuts to the heart every. single. time. I work on it. I will be presenting my entire project on Tuesday, and needless to say, this past week has been a hot mess of stress, little sleep, and crappy food. It was not the time to make me mad. 

So I messaged him. 

Could I have been a little nicer? Maybe. 

But I'm satisfied with what I said, and I'll sleep just fine tonight. 

I know you're waiting for it.. so here's his response. 

A couple of things I want to point out in his response: 

1. "Accidentally" sharing something on Facebook is difficult. I tested it out. You have to first click "share" and then also choose who you want to share it with. I'm having a difficult time believing he's talented enough to "accidentally" press two consecutive, correct buttons.. but whatever. 

2. I don't think there's a rule for how well you have to know someone before you can share your opinion. If there is a rule, I've definitely broken it on more occasions than just this one, so I really suck at being a decent person, for which I am very sorry. 

3. He says that private messaging him about this situation "irked" him. Would he rather I have publicly posted my message to his wall? Ok. From my experience, privately messaging someone about something that is offensive or controversial always, always works better. Who wants to be embarrassed in front of other people when they innocently posted something that they didn't mean to? Apparently this kid. 

4. The way he ended his message is the number 1 greatest example of why ABLEISM IS A VERY REAL AND RAW ISSUE IN TODAY'S SOCIETY. I'm literally printing it out and pasting it on my poster for Tuesday. 

I was wrong. 
I upset him. 
I am the crazy one. 
I, the person with the disability, should not have addressed this issue, because he "didn't attempt to hurt anyone." 

And you know what? For a couple minutes, I fucking believed it. 

I sat at work and read and read and reread our messages until I regretted sending them in the first place. I felt like I over reacted. Maybe he truly was innocent, and I crossed the line. 

And then I called my best friend. Because if anyone can be honest and call me on my shit, it's her. I knew that she wouldn't automatically side with me and would consider all perspectives before giving me advice. 

But after about 12.5 seconds into the conversation, she had plans to light poop on fire on this guy's doorstep. 

But on a more serious note, this is the very real problem that the disabled community faces. Though we experience significant oppression and discrimination for our differences, hardly anyone can speak up and fight against it because as soon as someone does, they're shit on by people who don't think they're qualified enough to complain about it! 

Though my confidence is still wavering, I now know that: 

He was wrong. 
His actions were upsetting. 
He does not live with a disability, and therefore cannot say that his actions were not offensive towards people with disabilities.


Even after researching for a 30+ page document and experiencing 21 years of life with a disability, I still have no clue what it will take for people to get it. The disabled community is and always will be one of the last groups to gain understanding and empathy from the rest of the world, because it just might make others uncomfortable, and we wouldn't want anyone to experience that. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

5 Things You Absolutely Do Not Get to Say to Me

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a peacekeeper. I'm pretty quiet and I typically try to fly under the radar-- especially in public. I hate causing a scene, because I know that my appearance alone draws enough unwanted attention, so I usually try to balance that out with a calm personality. However, I use the words "typically" and "usually" because there are always exceptions. And this is one of them. 

Since turning 21 earlier this summer, I have come to learn about the whole new world of the bar scene. Like any other senior in college, I enjoy going out with my friends on weekends and catching up over a drink or two and dancing. Always dancing. But along with the fun comes a lot of intoxicated people and I know all too well the results of combining alcohol and dwarfism-- or any difference for that matter. At the beginning, I learned to just accept people's rudeness and move on and try to focus on having fun with my friends. My parents raised me to not let my disability stop me from enjoying life and going to the bars is definitely part of enjoying life-- can I get an amen from someone in the back? 

This whole new experience has brought a lot of ups and downs, but for the most part the good has outweighed the bad. And I believed it always would. And then last night happened. Some friends and I set out with the "work never ends but college does" attitude, determined to have a great Thursday night. But it was ugly, due to some unwanted and rude people saying very inappropriate things. So here I am, the not so calm and peaceful Courtney. I have spent the day reflecting on the things that happened and that I should not have to accept. 

Here are the 5 things that you (read: probably not actually YOU, but people in general) do not get to say to me anymore:


Not one single conversation that has started with this line has ever ended well, yet people keep using it. On any given weekend night, I hear this line shouted from across the dance floor or bar as a sad attempt to gain my attention. Don't even bother asking, because no, you cannot take a picture of me to put on your snap story. I came to have a drink with my friends and have some fun after a long week of work. I do not care to hear about how much you love Little People Big World. And no, for the love of Jesus himself, I am not a cast member from Little Women: LA. Also, might I add that there would be a problem if I entered a bar and approached a group of people, shouting, "I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE!"? It is not-- and never will be-- ok to refer to people only by their appearance. When you acknowledge me only for the fact that I am a little person and you, for some reason, think that's awesome, then you have objectified my physical disability to mean more than the other things that make me who I am-- my personality, my dedication to my education and future career, my friendships and willingness to meet new people, and probably my really embarrassing laugh. Yes, I do wholeheartedly believe I am an awesome person who… also has dwarfism. You can leave it at that. 
On the other hand, if you enter the bar, see me from across the room, and run towards me yelling, "Oh my god it's Courtney!!!!" followed by a hug and more screaming, chances are you're one of my sorority sisters and we haven't seen each other for like the last 18 hours, so we're about to take a photo for Instagram. That's fine. 
Otherwise, goodbye.  

Alternative option: Throw me a wave, ask my name, and come dance with me and my friends. We are some great people who know how to have a great time and it doesn't really matter that I am a little person.

#2 "You're every guy in here's dream." 

Nope, I'm just going to stop you right there. I don't want to hear about your fantasies of having sex with a little person-- or midget, the term you probably used. You only feel that way because of the disgusting things that you have seen in the media. I am sorry that some little people have chosen to expose themselves in such a way that makes you believe that all we are capable of is crawling out of suitcases and taking our clothes off. Having sex with someone who is smaller than you will not make your penis appear larger. Your comments are objectifying, offensive, and way beyond intrusive. In response to any variation of this line, I will probably just turn away from you and towards my friends, because I really suck at coming up with something to say to your face. Please don't offer to buy me a drink if I've already stopped conversation, because then I'm really going to have to find something to say to make you leave and you won't like it. You'll get a little butthurt and that leads us to #3. 

Alternative option: If you want to approach me at the bar and tell me that I'm beautiful, cool! I already know that I am, but it doesn't hurt hearing it respectfully from someone else. Introduce yourself. You'll get bonus points for having the balls to do so. And if we vibe well and you care to offer to buy me a drink, I'll probably accept. I'm not scary. 

#3 "What, you don't like me because I'm (insert a race, religion, or other identifying group here)?" 

Yes, exactly! I'm trying to end this shitty conversation with you because you're black! No, actually, I don't like you simply for the fact that my asshole meter is alarming right now and you stink of complete, utter bullshit. I like to consider myself a very friendly person. I will carry on a conversation with literally anyone-- people waiting in line at the grocery store, my pharmacist, cute elderly people at church, the mailman, you name it. I got that trait from my mom, the lady who will tell her life story to anyone who will listen (even if they didn't want to hear it). THEREFORE. If I am acting in anyway that indicates that I do not want to talk to you, you probably did or said something to piss me off, whether or not it included points #1 or #2 and NOT because you have purple hair, are Athiest, speak a different language, are wearing a Packer's jersey, etc. Last night a man approached me at the bar and said some of the most disgusting and inappropriate things I have heard in a while. I declined, looked away, and my best friend even stepped in to indicate my disinterest. He immediately shot back with, "Oh, so you don't like me because I'm black? Because I have dreads? You're so goddamn racist." I was extremely offended. I don't think I even said anything back to him. But if I could have, I would have said something similar to the following: 
"How DARE you assume such a thing about me. I have friends of many different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and I love each of them and what they bring to the table in my life. Your skin color and hairstyle have absolutely nothing to do with why I have turned you down. YOU, SIR, are the one who came in with your creep flag waving. I was offended by your comments such as, "I'm going to steal you and make you come home with me," and, "I've never had a sexual fantasy before, but now I do." You need to leave. Right now." 
He made me want to repeatedly hit my head on the bar.      

Alternative option: "I'm very sorry that I offended you. Can you tell me what I did wrong so that I may fix it?" I'm a super forgiving person and I understand that some people make mistakes due to being uneducated. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt if you seem sincere.

So if you're like my mom, you've probably read this far and are thinking, "Gosh, Courtney, maybe going out to the bars is not the greatest idea. How about you find somewhere safer to hang out?" 
I'm just going to hit you back with a big NO. Because I have heard this line too many damn times:

#4 "Well, that's what happens at bars." 

No. I refuse to believe that. I will not believe that. Saying such a thing puts the blame on the victim-- ahem, me-- suggesting that I shouldn't go if I don't want to be offended or violated. As a 21-year-old female college student, I have every right as the next person to go out with my friends on the weekend and grab a couple drinks, dance, and maybe even talk to a cute guy or two, then eat leftover pizza for breakfast the next day with my roommates and binge watch Netflix as we recover. 
So, no, the things I have experienced is not what "happens at bars." That's what happens when people are uneducated, rude, and haven't been raised by their mamas to love and accept other people for their differences. I won't stop going out with my friends because of my bad experiences. I do not have to sacrifice my fun weekends because of the actions of others. Instead, I will fight against it and hope that maybe one day, these people will understand that I don't have to take their shit.  

Alternative option: "How about we try a new bar and see if we can meet some new people elsewhere?" You can't run from bad experiences, but I am always up for trying something new. Even better? "Hey, I know when we go out tonight, there may be some rude people out there, but we are still going to make it a fun night." Damn right we are.   
Last, but definitely not least, here's the kicker of them all. As my friends and family and people who love me, you have probably said this to me as an attempt to help, without realizing that it's not helpful at all… but that's ok. We're all learning. In the future, just try to please take this one out of your List of Things to Say to Courtney When She's Upset:  

#5 "Don't let it bother you" / "Those people don't matter." 

It bothers me. That's why we're here. That's why, at 10pm on a Friday night, I'm laying in bed writing this instead of hopping on the bus to The District to order another Funky Monkey at Daiquiri Factory or dancing on the speakers at 2nd Ave. I'm not going out tonight. I'm speaking out tonight. 
Unless you are a 4'2", blonde hair, blue eyed, 21-year-old, female, Communication Sciences and Disorders major at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois with Achondroplastic Dwarfism, YOU do not get to tell me that I shouldn't let it bother me. Unless you are Courtney Lynn Simross, YOU do not get to say that those people don't matter. Because you've never felt the embarrassment of having to apologize to the bartender for having to witness people being rude and disgusting. You've never cried on the bus ride home because you overheard guys laughing about how they'd love to "f*ck a midget" but that they'd make sure to wear a condom because they "don't want one of those kids."   

Alternative option: "Yes, this hurts and it's unfair. What are we going to do so that it hopefully doesn't happen again?" Hint? Education and awareness. Always. If you love me, you'll join me in this fight. It's not fun. But I know that one day people will catch on and stop being so rude. One day.     

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Salsa Salad

Due to some recent poopy people, I feel the need to remind you that no, I do not want pitty or attention because this happened. That was not my reason for posting this, so if you believe so, please go away. Instead, we're here because I laughed at this situation and I want you to be able to laugh at it too. Carry on. 

So we're approaching finals week here at Augustana, about that time where life gets so busy you don't have time to eat dinner. Tonight I found myself in my dorm, buried (literally.. it's everywhere) in scrapbook-making materials, wondering where and what I was going to eat. I knew I didn't have time to run to our dinning hall (and let's be honest who eats in there by themselves anyways?) so I decided upon going to the c-store in the next dorm building. They have packaged meals you can pick up on the go-- perfect. 
Well tonight, all the c-store had was salads. I don't mind me a good salad every now and then, but just about the time I grabbed one out of the cooler, I remembered that I didn't think I could reach the salad dressings. But I prayed real fast anyways. 
Nope, sure enough. Sitting in an organizer on top of the counter, pushed all the way to the back wall. 
It took me about .2 seconds to decide the following: 
A) I sure as hell could not reach those if I tried
B) I didn't happen to know anyone in the store at that time who I would be comfortable asking for help 
C) Climbing wasn't an option because the cashier could totally see me and
D) That cashier sucks because can't she see that the salad dressing is only accessible to the OTHER 2,499 students?! 

So I grabbed my dressing-less salad and was on my way. I spent the walk back to my dorm room praying that I had salad dressing in my fridge. 
Oh, wait that's right.. I just cleaned out my fridge the other day because I'll be moving home soon. Nevermind. 
You see, this is where dwarfs get real creative. As a person who can usually only reach things accessible to someone in a wheelchair, you have to settle for less and pursue other options sometimes... err, a lot of times. (Unless you want to ask for help every second of every day and that's just not me.) 
So I began scanning through the food items I do still have. 
Peanut butter... No. 
Nutella... Love that, but not on a salad. 
Oreos... Crush them up maybe? Lol no. 
Ramen noodles... No. 
(That was seriously the first four things I found. Typical college student, I am.)
Jello... Gross. 
Vod... Nevermind. ;)

You guessed it. I had a vegan taco salad for dinner. And by vegan taco salad, I mean chips, lettuce, and salsa. 

I won't say it was... bad. But I will say that an anonymous letter may or may not show up at Augustana this summer, suggesting that maybe people in wheelchairs want to get salad dressing in the Westerlin c-store in the future. Oh, but then I remember that not a single student at Augustana uses a wheelchair and people still don't understand why I can park in handicap, so that's just where we're at right now with all that... 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Please Don't Call Me an Inspiration

For whatever reason, people have always felt the need to tell me how inspiring my life is.
How I "overcome so much."
How I am "so brave" for doing this or that.
How I am "always smiling despite the hardships."
Or how I am "so strong."
(And--oh wait, my personal favorite…)
How I "live just like a normal person."

Please believe me when I say that I appreciate these comments. I know that the person means well, even if that's not how it came out. Sometimes I want to say something back like, "Thanks for noticing!" Or, "I'm glad someone understands!" Or, "Oh shoot, do you really think that of me? I'm flattered!" 

But most of the time, I would just like to say... 

No. Thank you, but no. 

You see, I was not born yesterday. I know that when people take the time to tell me how "inspiring" my life is, they aren't just referring to the grades I work for or the new mile time I just beat on the treadmill. (Believe me when I say my mile time is anything but inspiring.) I know this because just about anyone can be smart or run fast. Instead, I am apparently "inspiring" because-- oh, that's right! I have dwarfism and don't always act like I do.

To be more specific, here is collection of some of these comments I have received in just the past few weeks or so:

"Courtney, I'm so glad you can wear cute clothes."
"We think you are really brave for going to Augustana, despite… everything, you know?"
"I look up to you so much. Well, not literally. But you know what I mean. You're so strong."
"I don't think I could be as happy as you are if I was in your shoes."
"I'm surprised to see you here (a party). I wasn't sure if you did these things like everyone else. That's awesome."
"Courtney I am so happy to see that you're not letting your dwarfism stop you from joining a sorority."
"I always tell my friends how awesome you are for being a little person and still doing everything like us."
"You sure don't dress like a little person." (That happened today.)
"Other people should take lessons from you in how to be strong."

I guess to the average person, the diagnosis of dwarfism also implies a terrible life. As if I was expected to stay in bed all the time, sheltered from the real world, and be hand-fed by my parents. School isn't necessary, forget being social and making friends, parties are a definite no, what is a car and how would I ever drive one-- just no, dwarfs can't play sports, cute clothes are impossible to find, I should just blame God for this because why would I have faith in someone who made me this way. I have heard it all.

Basically, I should have given up a long time ago.

But wait. I didn't, so…. I'm an inspiration!

No. Please stop. Just no. 

Because do you know what happens when you call me inspirational? You put me on this unnecessary and unwanted pedestal. Believe me when I say that I do not need another thing to separate me from the people I so desperately want to be associated with. Thank you, but I don't want to be seen as better than anyone else. I don't need to rise above. I just want to walk along side the rest of you. I am not extra special just because I do things despite my dwarfism. Please forgive me for not wanting to be treated differently, because I don't see myself that way.

Also, please forgive me for not wanting to be the strong one all the time. Because if I've learned anything while being "inspirational," it's that no one ever asks how you are doing. You're just expected to have your shit together. You're supposed to be the one who people come to for advice on how to live their own lives. "Oh, well Courtney handles her busy life AND dwarfism well, so she'll know what I should do." Well I hate to disappoint, but the book of life's answers didn't come with my diagnosis. There is nothing worse than when someone asks me a question that I haven't even figured out for myself yet. Hold on, I'll get back to you with that answer right after my own world crashes down and I learn to rebuild. Superwoman cries too, ladies and gentlemen. She also scoops peanut butter straight out of the jar with Oreos, laying on her bedroom floor while singing sad songs when her roommate is gone.

Don't get me wrong. 99% of the time, this girl is on fire. But the hot mess that makes up that last percent is nothing that I should be inspiring anyone to be. Some of the experiences I have had, I would never wish upon my worst enemy, much less a little girl wishing to follow in my footsteps.

Yes, I have earned every single thing I have in life. I have sweated and cried and considered giving up a few more times than I would like to admit. I have taken risks and faced my worst fears like it's my job. I have learned to force a smile when I feel anything but happy, and I have been polite to people who have destroyed me with their words. My faith has been tested and I have had to argue the existence of things that I sometimes can't even see for myself.

But do you know what? There is someone out there whose 3rd Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor on their 4th chromosome is not mutated, doing the same. damn. thing. Where is their round of applause? Where is their award? Oh wait, that's right. That would just be considered "normal" behavior because he or she is a "normal" person. (I puke a little bit in my mouth every time someone says the word normal. Stop trying to make normal happen. It's not going to happen!)

Yes, I have dwarfism. But I still can attend a prestigious college, maintain good grades, be an active member of a sorority and many other clubs, have a job, know how to have a good time with my friends, and keep a positive attitude, like anyone else. I'm not trying to be inspiring or amazing or extra special.
Just happy. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

That one time when I won a writing contest...

Happy 2014!

I hope the new year finds you happy and healthy, surrounded by friends and family and more love than you could ever imagine. With that, please let me be the 1,000,000th person to announce, "New year, new me!" Among other things like journaling one good thing that happens per day, making my bed in the morning (ha!) and working out (double ha!), I have resolved to dedicate more time to my blog. As you can see, it is the 7th and I am just now getting around to posting. We are off to a great start, obviously.

However, I would like to share with you something that happened a few weeks ago and has been bringing blessings ever since. I did not make a big deal of it when it happened, because I did not think it was that big of a deal. Oh, how wrong I was.

One random morning, I woke up in my dorm bed (and probably smacked my head on the ceiling no doubt, I hate lofted beds) to a life-changing email. (Ok, maybe 'life changing' is a slight exaggeration, but bear with me.) The subject read something along the lines of, "Win $200!" Of course I thought it was probably something dumb and not worth my time-- because who makes winning $200 easy?-- so I almost deleted it. Luckily though, I opened it. It was a writing competition. Our Center for Vocational Reflection (fancy words for "figuring out what you want to do with your life") would be accepting entries of essays written on the topic: Your Gift to the World. The winning essay writer would receive $200 cash.

Thought #1: $200? I could use $200.

Thought #2: Writing competition? Like, how many college students are really going to take the time to enter a writing competition?

Thought #3: $200? Yes. I could really use that money.

Thought #4: How can I say that my dwarfism is my gift to the world? Because lord knows I will find any excuse to talk about it. (I mean, obviously my existence is enough of a gift, but I am afraid that the CVR does not share my sense of humor…)

Thought #5: Nevermind, I do not have time. I have enough papers to write and tests to study for that are for GRADES, not money. 

So I let it go.

For like, 6 hours.

If you are an Augie student… or were… or know one, you probably know that emails are no joke. The worst possible mistake you could ever make is having your emails sent to your phone, because it will LITERALLY be lighting up/vibrating/singing a song every 1.3 seconds. In a matter of a minute, 39 emails will come flooding in from men's lacrosse, fencing club, anime club, women's basketball, and Fair Trade (because all Augustana students are pokemon-drawing, organic-coffee-drinking, transgendered athletes…)

Anyways. Where I am going with this is… I could not just let the writing competition go. Every single student received a reminder email about it on the daily. Probably twice a day.

Now, if you know me well, you know that I am a big believer in signs. Call me superstitious, but the first thing I do every single morning-- while I am still in bed-- is check my horoscope. I try to find the purpose in the song that happens to be playing on the radio when I turn my car on. And I am convinced that there is significance in the fast-food order numbers I receive. (Go ahead, judge me.)

So I literally felt as if every single email I received about that stupid writing competition was some little old man following me around, prodding me with his cane and saying, "Do it. Do it. Do it."

So I did it.

The night before it was due, I sat down at 11pm with a cup of hot chocolate and my favorite blanket and I cranked out a two page essay that was, in my opinion, worthy of submission. I emailed it to the office in the middle of the night, attached with some cute note like, "Hey, hope this isn't too late! Merry Christmas! :)"

Thought #6: I am so tired.

Thought #7: Seriously, how many people even entered that contest?

Thought #8: $200. I seriously need to go Christmas shopping.

Thought #9: How does my roommate put up with me always being up until 4am? I am the smallest, loudest person I know.

Thought #10: I am so tired that I do not even care if I win.

That was Tuesday night (well, Wednesday morning). And the confirmation email I received, after submitting my essay, stated that the winner would be announced on Friday. So that left me plenty of time to sit and wait.. and do all of the homework that I had been putting off.

Thursday evening I received an email from the lady who was in charge of the contest. I do not know what it was, but something felt right. (Signs, I tell ya.) However, I knew that the winner was not to be announced until Friday, so I opened it with doubts. It read something along the lines of, "The winner will not be officially announced until tomorrow… blah, blah, blah… Celebrate quietly… blah, blah, blah… Congratulations."

Mind. Blown.

The next morning I woke up to an email that had been sent out to the entire student body and staff of Augustana College, announcing the winner of the Gift to the World essay competition. My essay was attached for everyone to read. Almost immediately, congratulatory emails began flooding in.

My professors. My academic advisor. Random staff members. The chapel pastor. Students. People I do not even know.

Thought #11: People actually read their emails?

Thought #12: I am crying.

Thought #13: Still crying.

Thought #14: My essay was not even that good.

Thought #15: I love Augustana.      

Never before in my life have I been loved on as much as I was in the days following the announcement email.

Never before in my life have I been so glad to have taken a chance.

I won so much more than $200. I won confidence. I won friendships where I never thought possible. I won recognition. I won respect from my peers and professors. I won understanding.

The Gift of Understanding

            It is said that in order to really know someone, you must walk a mile in his or her shoes. By taking that metaphorical stroll, you can hopefully gain insight to that person’s past, his or her beliefs and ideas, and the reasons behind his or her personality. Unfortunately for me, being born with Achondroplasia has left me with shoes too small for most people to walk in. Out of the 7 billion people in this world, only about 650,000 of them know what life is like as a person with dwarfism. So how do I communicate and socialize with others who are so different than I am? How can I expect others to understand me?
            At only 4’ 2”, I am overlooked on a daily basis—both physically and metaphorically. I have been accidentally stepped on or pushed, but people have also silenced my voice and opinions. If I had to choose which of the two angered me more, I would have to say the later. I did not choose to be born with a disability, and nothing about my physical appearance makes me feel less than human on the inside. So with this being said, I believe it would be very easy for me to reciprocate the treatment I receive onto others.
            However, this is where I choose to turn my disability into an ability. I make it a point to hold other people’s opinions to a higher value. I appreciate the things that my peers, family, and friends have to share. I try to understand their stories and where they come from. And most of all, I listen to anything and everything that people tell me, because I know how it feels to be ignored. You can often find me in the middle of class debates, asking the opinion of the opposing side. I have learned that louder does not mean better and belittling others’ views will not make mine right. My fight to make others understand me is nothing if I do not extend understanding to others.
            If I was ever given the chance to share with the entire world what living in my shoes is like, I would take it. I want to stand on a mountaintop and scream my stories of pain and surgeries. I want to post on YouTube the countless pictures and videos that have been taken of me without my permission by strangers. I want to stand in the middle of the CSL and ask students if they know how it feels to not be able to reach the yogurt at the fruit bar. But more importantly, I want to share the beautiful moments too. I want to explain how people approach me at the gym and tell me that my efforts inspire them to work harder. I want to bottle up the pure joy I see in the children I babysit because I am their height.
            I want all of this because I know in my heart that it would ignite a fuse. I would be the first domino in a whole chain reaction of acceptance. If people can learn to accept and understand me and my dwarfism, they can learn to do the same for a Pakistani man and his religion. For a war veteran and her battle scars. For an elderly man and his dementia-stained love stories. For a drug addict and her past choices.       

            It is the season of giving, but do not forget about the receiving. By extending acceptance and understanding to others, you will reap the benefits tenfold: of open-mindedness, love, and friendship where you never thought possible. Life is even more beautiful when viewed from other people’s shoes. Give them the chance to show you.     

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Water

Recently I have received an overwhelming amount of responses to my blog. To all of you who have taken the time out of your day to personally contact me: Thank you SO much. It is truly encouraging and inspiring to be complimented on the things I say through my blog. Just when I think that I ramble on too much, or discuss things that shouldn't be discussed, your messages remind me of why I do what I do. If I know that at least one person can read my blog and walk away knowing more about dwarfism than he or she did before, I've been successful.

But on that note, I have also received an overwhelming amount of homework these last few weeks. I have truly tried my best to blog when I can, but I haven't felt like I've been able to put the right amount of time and dedication into it, so I have not posted any of the many drafts I have begun. If you know me well, it's no secret that I am a perfectionist and my own worst critic, so I would never post something until I am satisfied.

So why am I posting now? Well, quite frankly, I'm also doing homework. I completed an assignment today for my english/writing class and upon review, decided I should share it with you all.

One of the advantages of living with dwarfism is having a unique perspective on the world. No matter the assignment, I can usually always tweak my answer to somehow relate to my dwarfism, living with dwarfism, being a dwarf-- you get the point. Are my teachers and professors probably bored out of their mind with me always talking about it? Probably. But I don't care. No one else in my classes have ever been able to talk about dwarfism, so I will keep on keepin' on.

Monday in class we read a commencement address by David Foster Wallace that he gave at the 2005 Kenyon Graduation. In his speech he referenced a parable of two young fish.

"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?' ...... The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness-- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: 'This is water. This is water.'" 

Our assignment was write a one-page response to the question: "What is YOUR water?" So naturally, I  asked myself, "Courtney, how does this relate to your dwarfism?" I mean, not to take advantage of my condition, but seriously-- it's so easy to talk about! So why not?

As funny as it may seem, I often have to remind myself that I am a dwarf; that I look different. Being a little person is the only thing I have ever known. It is normal to me. It will never change, even if I don't think about it.

Here's what I will turn in to my professor tomorrow in class:

           In the words of David Foster Wallace, “The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” Like water to a fish, things exist in our everyday lives that should be evident, yet are difficult to explain. These things have a purpose, even though that purpose may be unclear to us. We can find ourselves oblivious to their presence, but should these elements suddenly disappear from our lives, we would be left forever changed. So I find myself asking: “What is my water? What has such a big impact on life as I know it, that sometimes I forget it is even there?”  
            For 19 years, I have lived with dwarfism. I know no difference. However, no matter how comfortable I am with my condition, there will always be people who are not. Sometimes I am caught off guard when receiving stares in the grocery store or find myself at the receiving end of a rude joke. I often want to shout out, “What the hell is so wrong about me?” These are the moments when I have to take a step back and remember that my obvious and important reality is not always so easy for everyone to comprehend; I may be the first and last dwarf that someone will ever see.   
            Water never comes and goes in a fish’s life. It is a constant, so therefore hardly recognizable. I was born with my dwarfism and I will die with my dwarfism. It is the only reality I know, and therefore sometimes difficult for me to notice—at least until someone points it out, that is.      

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Struggles Are Still Real

Hello all.

It's been a while.

Instagram (@clynnsims) or Facebook would tell you that the main reason why I have not posted recently is because, well... I am at college!

For those who know my story, yes, I finally made it to Augustana! And for those who do not, well, I'll fill you in.

Since my junior year of high school, I have been obsessed with Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. It a very small, (2,500 students) liberal arts college in the Quad Cities, right on the Mississippi River. You have probably only heard of Auggie because you either are an alumni or know one- it's that small. Well I applied and was accepted on significant scholarship for my freshman year. During my senior year of high school, I developed a health condition and was temporarily diagnosed with Complex Partial Epilepsy (it's a long story.) With my health in question, my parents were unsure of the idea of me moving away from family and my doctors, so I had to make the last-minute decision to stay home and attend Rock Valley Community College this last year. With my health under control again, I reapplied to Augustana this year as a transfer student and was accepted, along with all of my original scholarships, without hesitation.

So here I am. I finally made it. It may only be a week since move-in, but I already know this was the best decision I have ever made. I have never felt so at home anywhere else in my 19 years. The Roommate Gods have truly blessed me with one of the best people I have ever met and I am so excited for the adventure ahead of us.

The last six days have been the wildest ride. I have met so many incredible people and have truly enjoyed all of my classes. I've learned how to wash dishes in a bathroom sink. And how to run away from the smoke detector with a burnt bag of popcorn so I don't end up being "that person."

I've also been realizing all of the things I have forgotten at home. Whoops.

But there are some things I did remember. I couldn't have forgotten them, actually, if I tried. Because I didn't have to pack them.

My dwarf struggles followed me to college. As expected. So I thought I would brush the dust off of my blog account and attempt to tell you all about how I am dealing. Because, as you probably guessed.. I've had a few laughs.

First of all, I have managed to pick the college with the worst possible campus possible when it comes to walking. And it's no secret that dwarf legs aren't made for walking- it takes at least two of my steps to keep up with one of my friend's. HOLY HILLS. HOLY STAIRS. HOLY SWEAT. Luckily I have my car on campus with me and will be utilizing my driving abilities and handicap parking until I have adjusted and this heat wave has ceased. I have gotten some pretty dirty looks as I pass students sweating/crying/dying on their way to class, but I'm sorry, I ain't about that life. My friends have quickly caught on and now join me for rides. That's perfectly fine, they can make my waffles for me- story's coming.

So there's the dinning hall. Augustana has this enormous, brand new, beautiful dinning hall. And for breakfast, there are waffle makers that you can pour your own batter into and make yourself a waffle. They're great. Except when you're 4'2" with dwarf arms. But my independent self thought that I didn't need to ask for help, and when closing the waffle maker, grabbed the lid instead of the handle. I now have the worst burn I have ever received, on my middle finger, as my big "F---- you, Courtney" reminder to ask for help when I need it.

And then there's the place we put our dirty dishes. It's this fun little moving belt that takes our dishes into the kitchen, and there's a chute that we have to put our silverware in. As expected, I can't reach it. So after every meal, I get to practice my basketball skills by tossing (well, it's more like throwing. Yea.. throwing.) my silverware into this chute. So far I've missed twice. Embarrassing.

Prior to arriving on campus, I was accepted into a leadership program called Emerge. It is made up of Augustana's best 8 dozen first-year students who participate in team-building activities and such. On the first night we did an activity that required us to touch the shoulder of the person standing in front of us. Uh... I was literally stuck behind the tallest guy I have ever seen in my life. I don't think he even knew I was behind him. I didn't know how to handle the situation besides laugh. I couldn't have even reached anywhere near his shoulder if my life depended on it- not even if I jumped. Luckily someone next to me noticed my awkward situation and switched with me so I could be paired with an average height girl, not some giant. And then there's the human knot game. I can't even find the words to explain how one plays the human knot game, so I'll try to find a youtube video. Anyways, it's hell for little people. HELL. Because you're stuck in the middle, under everyone else's arms and the support that you can offer your group is just about negative. I had to play two rounds. And I wanted to die.

Like I mentioned, I get to use my handicap parking placard on campus and get free parking. (I'm pretty sure somewhere in my $46,000/year tuition I'm paying for parking... but whatever.) Well that has proved interesting. Because our campus is on a hill and quite complicated, parking is difficult to find. But on a walk one day, I happened upon two random handicap parking spaces LITERALLY in the middle of campus. Like, I don't think the road to them is even a road..? Smack dab, middle of lower campus. So I decided to try it out the other day. After almost hitting all of the students walking on the path to my (seriously, no one else uses these) parking spot, I pulled up to find maintenance parked across the spots. Apparently Augustana doesn't have handicapped students? Well I parked on the yellow lines because, well, I didn't really care at this point. Once I got out of my car and didn't get any taller when I stood up, the maintenance man realized his mistake and gave me a half wave as if that fixed everything. Next time, I'm gonna have to hit him. Oh wait, what is this? Just received. Dear lord that better not mean the path to my handicap space..

And then there are my dorm bathrooms. For the first time EVER in my life, I have been told that I am not allowed to use a stepstool. What? When I moved in, I put a random stool in the bathroom by my things in case I ever need it. The custodian apparently saw it and reported to my CA (like a residence assistant; student who is in charge of my floor) that I am not allowed to use it because I may "slip and fall." Ok then.. So she offered to adjust whatever possible so that I may reach everything in the bathroom and therefore rid the need for the "dangerous" stepstool. Well the problem is that I cannot reach the towel hook outside of the shower stalls. So where does my towel go? On the floor? I can't ask my custodian to install a lower hook on every shower, but if she installed just one, what happens when someone is using that shower and I need it? The struggle. On my latest Walmart run, I picked up a suction-cup styled hook to just use at whatever shower stall I use. Brilliant, right? It worked for the first few days. And then this morning when I was showering, it fell and my towel and clothes fell on the floor. In the shower. That's a problem. 

So I have a fight to pick with public safety, a burned finger, and a wet towel. But I honestly wouldn't trade it for anything. My dwarf struggles make me who I am, and Augustana is my home. I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

OMG My BFF Sarah

I was on vacation this past week in Vermillion, Ohio on Lake Erie for my annual family reunion.

Yea, we're pretty cute. 

And this isn't too bad either.

I swear, every year is better always better than the last. There is something truly remarkable about spending a week with 40 family members in an old cabin with only 3 bathrooms and no air conditioning or TV. No, honestly, it's like... kinda fun. Kinda really fun. 

But anyways, why I am posting about my trip is because during that week, I had some of the strangest/ most hilarious encounters with little kids while I was there. 

I love children. I am a nanny for two families. I have countless weekend babysitting jobs. I will be teaching a Vacation Bible School preschool class this summer for the second time. My Instagram (@clynnsims) is full of pictures of my mom's daycare kids. I love children. 

It's not the snot or poop or hair-pulling or screaming that I particularly love, but how kids react to me. Out of all the great things that come with being a little person, watching how children comprehend my differences and interact with me is my favorite. And my absolute favorite experiences I have had with kids happened while I was on vacation last week. (Rest assured, the first one is a little rough, but they get better as they go.) 

About mid-week, my BFF Sarah (story to come) introduced me to her friend Ava. I have met rude kids before, but this one was a real winner. She did some hardcore staring and then just blurted out, "Why are you so small with a big butt?" For about .01 seconds I considered tossing her into the depths of Lake Erie. But since I am a loving, forgiving person, I gave her the nicest answer I could think of in that moment. "Everyone's a little bit different. I'm just like this." Nope, not good enough for Ava. What came out of her mouth next has made me reconsider everything I thought I knew about the intelligence level of 3-year-olds. 

"Well maybe you should take your sunglasses off and take a look at yourself. You look pretty different." Yup, that happened. Almost a week has gone by and I have still been mulling over this. Did she really think I do not know that I look different? Did she really think that she is smarter than me, as if she knows something about me that I do not know about myself? Homegirl, please! I have been analyzing my physical differences for 19 years! Luckily for Ava I have learned to laugh at this story. Oh, to have the honesty of a child. 

This isn't Ava but we'll pretend it is.
One evening, my family gathered for our traditional softball game in the park where strikes do not count and males over the age of 10 have to bat with their non-dominant hand. Katie, one of my little cousins, "helped" me in the outfield... and by help, I really mean picked flowers. Regardless, we had a really fun time goofing around and she is honestly one of my favorites. 

You see, to her, I am just Courtney and nothing is wrong with me. For as long as she has lived, I have been small, so why question it? Occasionally she will say or do things that make me believe she thinks I am only 4 like her, but I am alright with that. I like being her cousin. But I love being her friend. 

The night of the softball game, we went out for ice cream afterwards. Most of us walked, but Katie's mom rode her bike and pulled Katie behind in one of those child bike wagons (do those things have a name?). While we were packing up the bats and gloves, Katie approached me and asked if I wanted to ride with her. I respectfully declined without laughing too hard, but when she assured me "there is plenty of room, I'll scoot over," I lost it. Oh, to have the innocence of a child.

Earlier in the week, my cousins and I were laying on the beach, attempting to soak up the few rays we could find in the otherwise crappy weather. A family who was staying at the cabin next door to ours was also on the beach, sitting probably 20 feet away. While I had previously seen the parents in passing, I had no idea they had a 3-year-old daughter named Sarah who would melt my heart. I had fallen asleep listening to music when my cousin tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that I had a friend. Sure enough, I looked up to find the most adorable little girl I had ever seen in my life, staring at me from about 3 centimeters away from my face. 

Sarah had wandered over to my towel and laid down on her stomach, mimicking me with her hands folded under her chin and just silently staring. I waved hi and asked her name and age, to which she did not reply but just stared at me, inching closer and closer to my face until I could pretty much see her tonsils. After some time she finally started talking and we have been BFFs since. She asked me to go in the water with her, and after telling her that the water was cold so I only wanted to put my feet in, she told me she would hold my hand so I would not be scared. At the water's edge, the inevitable question surfaced: "Are you a child or grown-up? Because you kinda look like a child." 

I expected the rest of the conversation to be a little rough; most kids do not understand why I am different, and do not always accept my simple answer of: "I am little, but I am an adult." Usually they spit back a deafening "But WHY?!" at me before I can finish, to which I reply: "Because everyone is different. Some people are tall, some are short. Some have curly hair and some have straight hair. This is just how I am." Not Sarah. She accepted my answer like I had just told her that the sky is blue or the grass is green- it made sense. That was not the end of our conversation, however. She (still holding my hand) went on to explain to me that if I would just eat my vegetables, I could grow up like a mommy. In all the years I have joked around, saying I might use the "didn't eat my vegetables" line on someone one day, I have never had that line used back at me. I laughed so hard I cried. 

After that, talk of my size never came up again between Sarah and I. Once our feet were sufficiently cold, she ran back to my towel and plopped herself down. It was hard to leave her when I had to head back to my cabin to take a shower and get ready for dinner, but I knew I would probably see her again. Sure enough, that evening, I ran into her and her mom at the candy store where she asked me if she could taste my push-pop. The rest of the week, I saw her various places and she would run to me screaming my name. Oh, to have the faith of a child.