Her brown eyes clouded in confusion, and when she spoke, it was a bit too brightly.

“REALLY???  Good for you!  Bless your heart!”

During her second shift on the job, a new caregiver asked me if I had gone to college.  My affirmative answer gave her pause, and then I casually mentioned that I also have a Master’s degree.  She was stunned.

It was no surprise to me, but her employment lasted only a week or so. She didn’t respond to several texts that I sent her asking what her availability was before making a new schedule.  This job wasn’t a good fit for her.  Without a word, she was gone.

It’s unfortunate that she didn’t stick around to learn more about my life. I would have given her lots of information.  Eventually.

It takes some time to get to know me.  That hasn’t always been the case.  When I meet new people these days, I tend to shy away a bit.  Not because of who they are, but because I am somewhat apprehensive about what I might do.  For a long time, I have had a nasty habit of sharing too much information with others too quickly.  I would readily tell anybody I just met  all of my opinions and everything I’d been through. Then after a few months, there was nothing left to say.  It would make others uneasy.  And me?  I was left feeling like I had no boundaries whatsoever.

So in the last few months, I have tried to do things differently.  I’ve tried to share information at a slow, steady pace, and get to know as much about others as I let them know about me.  It is a novel way for me to relate to people, and in this case, different feels good.

Currently, when someone new comes into my life, they will find out pretty quickly that I love to laugh, that I find my disability to be a source of humor and pride, and that I love my service dog with every fiber of who I am.

With a bit more time, they will discover that my writing and advocacy are extremely important to me, that I love to cook, and that one of my passions is wheelchair ballroom dance.

But it is only if I know them well that I will share some things that are closest to my heart.  I am careful who I tell that I don’t trust others easily, or that feeling disrespected makes me crazy.   One of my biggest secrets?  I am a risk taker in baby steps.

If I don’t go slowly, very little gets accomplished in my life.

I have tried to figure out the “why’s” behind this particular trait about me, and I have come up with a few theories.

Maybe it is because my physical disability made it necessary for me to do things at a snail’s pace.  Since I was a baby I have had to be taught some things that physically came naturally to other people.  Therapists had to teach me in stages how to sit up, roll over, and take my first steps with a walker.  Everything was a process, and success never occurred overnight.  Somewhere inside me, I think I learned that cautious, patient progress was the only way possible to accomplish my goals.

But then maybe my psychiatric disability plays a role as well.  My psych diagnosis means that I get overwhelmed in new situations fairly easily, and my emotional responses don’t always match the situation at hand. Irritations and inconveniences can throw me into a tailspin and sometimes I can’t tell which way is up.  Overwhelm ranks right up there with loneliness as a feeling that terrifies me, so I try to avoid it at all cost.

There are certainly improvements that I want to make in my life terms of exercise, finances, employment, communication skills and even developing a better sense of direction.  But in each of these areas I am not where I have been, and I can say with confidence that I am closer to my goals than ever before.

Why do I keep my “baby steps” approach to life such a closely guarded secret?  Because I frequently come across people who don’t expect too much from me, and if they don’t look closely, sometimes baby steps get confused with making no progress at all.

There are always going to be those who think that romance will consistently elude me and think that a college education should have been out of reach.  No matter how many goals that I accomplish, the “bless your heart” mentality, to some, will never be far away.

I never want to live down to the expectations of those who make judgments without knowing who I am personally.

But I don’t set out to achieve the things that I want to do in my life for the benefit of anyone else.  I am on my own journey, and can go at my own pace.  Especially if baby steps are what feels the most comfortable to me.

And the journey of a thousand miles?   We all know how it starts…