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To shake or not to shake hands? That is my question!

A man in a suit jacket offers his hand to shake

This is not the typical question one asks of themselves and you might be thinking that this is strange. Just stick with me for a moment and let me ask you a question, “Has this ever happened to you?” You are meeting someone new and while being introduced you reach out to shake their hand. As your palms touch and fingers squeeze there is a sudden jerk back. The other person recoils and they take a few steps backwards, their eyes widen in shock and they nervously keep their hands to themselves or completely stop talking to you. No? This may not sound familiar to most of you reading! If feels kind of yucky, let me restate that, it feels really awful. Each time I am left feeling completely humiliated and embarrassed and I feel like I have to apologize to the person and make sure THEY are ok.

Now I think you may see why I ask this question to myself.

For every new person I meet its like flipping a coin in my mind on how the situation is going to turn out. Heads everything is going to be fine, tails it’s going to get weird. It’s a typical interaction between people but for me it is stressful and an ever present worry when meeting new people.

Let me backtrack a second and tell you a little bit about what prompted me to write about this. June 28th was national handshake day. I heard it announced on the radio that morning. First I thought nothing of it. Just another one of these national celebration days like National Ice cream day (July 15th), National bagel day (February 9th), National pasta day (October 17th) and so on.Yes, I picked only food examples. Food is my thing so i’m sticking to it! I figured i’d let the day pass by like another day. It wasn’t until about dinner time that the thought came back to me. Handshakes suck for me! Why should this national day have any significance to me?

I decided to stop and take a deeper look at this day and what it actually means to me. Most people have normal handshakes with each other. Then I would reflect back on the times in my life that I was hurt by it the most and think about where I was going to go from there. So this is where it lead me.

Over the course of my life this handshake debacle has happened many times.. Too many for me to count. I either have a nervous hesitation and then look strange for taking so long to shake or I reach out for a shake looking cool, calm, collected and on the outside and then my thoughts are saying “Wait for it, wait for it... And there we have it folks! Another embarrassingly awkward moment brought to you by my disability.” Ugh! I don’t like that a simple handshake makes me feel this way. I feel like I should be able to just brush it off when it happens. A difficult task for sure!

The moment that sticks with me the most was my high school graduation. School was never easy for me,having dyslexia, ADD and a learning disability meant that it was down right rough. So I had worked hard to make it to my graduation day and this was a real defining moment in my life. Through all the struggle and hard work I succeeded and graduation was my triumphant celebration, my moment. Earning my diploma was something that could never be taken away and I was ready for my next journey to take on the challenge of college.

At the ceremony I waited in line with jubilation with my fellow classmates. One by one we were each called onto the stage and my anticipation grew as my name was called. I could hear the cheers of my family and classmates as I walked up the stairs to shake the hands of some teachers and school administrator I did not know. The first person I was to shake hands with was a women was not familiar with. I was so filled with excitement my usual worries were not present in my mind, I reached out with a big smile. Then, I was all to quickly met with that familiar disheartening response. A sudden recoil! Her hand flew backwards. My smile faded fast and my moment was gone. I was taken aback by this upsetting reminder of how different I was and how people respond to me. I was so mortified! There I was up on stage for everyone to see and I suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to cry. All I could do was hurry on through to get to the end of the line, get my diploma and get back to my seat. I held back the tears as best I could, returned to my seat and cheered on my classmates. What should have been a triumphant moment became a reminder to not let my guard down because even a happy moment could be taken away in an instant. This vision has been forever locked in my memory.

I will say unlike most encounters like this one does end a little better. Very few people have ever come to apologize but this women did. She came to find me amongst the hundreds of people after the ceremony. She apologized and let me know that she was surprised, did not have any negative intentions and she hoped that I was ok. I told her I was fine. She felt better and went on her way. Really, I was not fine. Even though she did not mean anything hurtful that moment stung!

There have been a few unexpected consequences to an awkward handshake. Both happened during my work as a social work case manager in my city. One was when met I with a new client at her home. We shook hands at her door and there was that same reaction. I tried to just shake it off and everything seemed ok. We went into her home and the woman signed the intake paperwork for my program and we set some goals for the family. Things seemed fine only to find out later that this woman had called my supervisor to ask that I not be her worker. She did not want a worker with, “Those nasty hands.” It made her feel uncomfortable and she asked for another worker.

Then there was the time that I took a client to a Social Security Disability hearing. I was waiting with her for the disability attorney to meet with us prior to the hearing to talk about what to expect. As part of client confidentiality my client had asked me not to tell him that I was her worker. I introduced myself to the lawyer with just my name and we shook hands. You might not guess what happened next. This is where it got interesting. I could see the look on his face when he saw my hands. His eyes widened, his posture straightened and his whole body was filled with excitement. This was NOT the response that I was used too. He did not continue talking with my client and turned his focus toward me. His rapid questions began. Were you born with this, do you work or have you worked in the past, did you complete school and did you make it to college? Seriously was this man for real? I tried to direct the conversation back to my client and the hearing that was about to take place. He finally ended his questioning, gave me his card and let me know that if I wanted to get social security disability and I needed a lawyer that he was the best in town and he could make me a lot of money. Yuck!! This made me feel gross on a number of levels.

The take away from these times in my life was this.

1) I made people uncomfortable,

2) I was either too freaky and disgusting to work with or

3) I was a great opportunity to be taken advantage of by a lawyer who wanted to make money off my disability case. All of these make me feel really bad and it is not how I want people to see me or act around me. The sad reality of this is that these are people's responses and they won’t be the last ones to act or feel this way towards me.

What I have learned and what I need to call upon within myself to not let this continue to affect my soul Is that I need to stand tall in my self confidence and be authentic to myself! I cannot expect perfection with not letting this bother me, that is just not realistic, though I can look at each experience from a place of personal strength rather than weakness.

My hands are truly all mine and I love them! They have been apart of my life since I was born. It’s all I know and we have learned to grow as partners in this crazy life and I can’t imagine living without them. I will never again let handshake get me so very twizzled. I will smile, put my hand forward with confidence and know that I am awesome. I find a strength in my hands as they are now my super power. Together we are the makers of change, and we’ll ignite love, peace, acceptance and connectivity of the world by standing in my own power and being an example to others. I will encouraging others to discover their voice, and invite then to become apart of something special and meaningful and help them to live their passion.

All in all handshake day turned out to have more meaning for me than I first thought. It helps me to know that I am just where I need to be and that I need to use my experiences to help the lives of others like me, to help them find and live their dream life no matter what others may think. We ALL deserve to live a happy and fulfilled life and that starts with being true to ourselves and not worrying about what others think.

When you take some time to stop, think, reflect even the most simple thing can have more meaning than you originally believed. Life is spectacular if you reach out and claim it as yours to enjoy.

Remeber, If you think you're all thumbs in the kitchen, I'm here to prove you never needed them!

When you truly Live, Eat and Love well every day, wonderful things can happen. Wishing You Joy, from the Fingerless Kitchen ~ Bryony Grealish Syracuse, NY


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