My "Weird" Writing Problem

Two weeks ago, I was in my Sophomore Seminar writing class when something happened to me that I should be completely used to by now.

My classmates and I had to pair up in groups of three and analyze the similarities between the Declaration of Sentiments and the Declaration of Independence. After our discussion, I began to write down our most important points in my notebook, completely oblivious to the fact that my two partners were staring at my hand.

“You write really weird,” the one girl blurted out.

I sighed to myself. “Yeah, I know,” I said, not looking up from my paper.

“I’ve never seen that before,” she went on.

“Your handwriting is super pretty though,” the girl on my left said to me.

I looked up at her and smiled. “Thank you.”

That’s the right way to go about observing people instead of saying something stupid! I thought.

“I have this thing with my hand,” I explained to them. “I have weakness in my thumb and index finger, so that’s why I hold the pen this way.” I gestured to my right hand, which was enclosed around my pen in a fist. 

The girl on my left nodded. I thought that was the end of it, but then the first girl proceeded to make things worse by opening up her mouth again.

“Oh, yeah, it’s surprisingly neat,” she said. “My mom works with special needs kids in kindergarten who have mobility issues and I always thought that was interesting.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve received a weird comment about the way I hold a pen when I write.

I have this disability that I was born with known as Neurological Weakness in my AP joint. This means that my thumb and index finger are not physically strong enough to hold a writing utensil the “correct” way. The only way that I can write is if I grip whatever I’m writing with in the fist of my hand. When I was a kid, my parents called this technique that I developed my “fist grip.” It looks like I’m about to stab someone while I’m writing and the veins on my forearm pulse due to the way I’m clenching my fist around the pen. In reality, I feel the most comfortable writing this way.  

It first became a problem when I was about five years old. I had just started first grade at a new Catholic school, and something that was different about this new school was that they had a teaching aid for this boy in my class named Eric. I don’t remember why Eric needed a teaching aid, but what I do remember is that she spent a large portion of her time trying to “fix” my problem when it wasn’t her job to. If I was in the middle of writing something, she would take whatever I was writing with out of my hand and place my fingers in the “correct” position on the writing tool. Sometimes she would do this in the middle of class, so the entire class would notice and stare at me. It was very embarrassing.

In second grade, my teacher noticed that I was using my fist grip when I wrote and she informed my parents about it. The next thing I knew, my dad was sitting with me at the kitchen table every night while I did my homework. He would do exercises with me that my teacher had suggested in order to help strengthen what my parents were calling my “pincer grip.” My dad would make me pinch the neck of the pen or pencil I was using with my index finger, middle finger and thumb while I wrote. It was extremely painful for me to write this way, and the more I wrote with a pincer grip, the more my hand hurt. Whenever I switched to a fist grip in front of my dad because my hand hurt too much, he would make me switch back to a pincer grip. Unbeknownst to him, whenever he wasn’t looking I’d switch back to writing with a fist grip. I didn’t think much of my hand hurting because I figured it was supposed to hurt. I thought that my hand had to get used to me writing with a pincer grip. When my parents finally noticed that writing with a pincer grip hurt my hand, they bought me little rubber grips for whatever I was writing with. I would squeeze the grips when I wrote, which helped ease the pain from my hand a little bit. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop me from writing with a fist grip.

Some time passed and in third grade, my writing style still hadn’t changed. My parents arranged for me to meet with an occupational therapist in order to assess the situation with my hand. After a few sessions with me, the therapist concluded that I had Neurological Weakness in my AP joint and that I could have minor surgery in order to fix this problem. My parents decided that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to have surgery when my handwriting was fine. The most ironic part about this entire ordeal was that even though I wrote with a fist grip, my handwriting was impeccable. My principal thought it was ridiculous that I even needed to be evaluated since I had the neatest handwriting in my class. In the end, everyone wanted me to write the way that was most comfortable for me. Overall, my teacher nor did my parents care if I wrote with a fist grip. 

The only downside about writing with a fist grip is that I tend to write a little slower than everyone else. It’s like it’s impossible for me to write sloppily, so I need to write slowly in order to get the whole word that I’m writing down on a piece of paper. Since I technically have a physical disability, it makes sense that I have some kind of restriction. I still get comments about the way I write from random people nowadays. I was used to getting comments about my hand all the time when I was a kid, but it throws me off when I get them now. It’s different when you’re a kid for some reason. People seem to think that whatever they say is appropriate because you’re just some random kid who doesn’t have an opinion. Now that I’m older, it surprises me when people make comments that are equally as rude.

I remember when I was a sophomore in high school, I stayed after school one day with my chemistry teacher for tutoring. She and her husband both commented on my handwriting, and what they’d said was completely inappropriate.

Her husband was in charge of the after school program and he happened to be sitting with us when I was writing out a problem.

“Is that really how you write?!” he exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said.

He gave me a weird look and said, “I don’t even want to see your penmanship!”

“Oh, it’s actually not that bad,” my teacher had cut in, “But she takes forever to write.” They shared a good laugh as if what they had said was funny, even though I was visibly upset by their comments.

This is my story about my “disability.” Every now and then when I get the question, “Why do you write like that?” I truly don’t mind answering. However, there are certain ways to go about asking someone why they are doing something differently. I am completely used to the backhanded compliments that I receive about my hand, but someone else might not be. I’m sharing my experience in hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes when it comes to addressing someone’s disability. If you are genuinely interested and have positive things to say, have at it! You might make them feel good about themselves.