This post is going to focus more on my disability than any of the others before. Let me correct that, this post is going to focus more on people’s perception of my disability than any of the others before.
Having a disability puts me in a particular category, that of the marginalized. Dictionary definition of marginalized: (of a person, group, or concept) treated as insignificant or peripheral.
I read an article recently that described living with a disability like having a set number of tickets to ask for help. Since your life requires you to rely on the help and assistance of someone else for almost everything, you don’t want to ask too much––just the necessities. Since I have to ask someone to help me make dinner, I feel like I am using too many tickets if I ask someone to listen to me when I am speaking or ask for some accommodation so I can attend a public event. Now I am too demanding.
This is how I have lived a large portion of my life, knowing I already take up too much room and too much space and not wanting to take up any more. Instead, I would try to fade into the background the best I could.
It has always been that both the burden and the responsibility of inequality falls not on the oppressors who create and benefit from the current status quo, but on the shoulders of the oppressed. It’s not my fault that there is no ramp to this public place. If you wanted to get in, you should have come prepared and brought your own ramp (which, by the way, 90% of the time I do).
Do you know why privileged people remain privileged? Because no one ever questioned them being in the space to begin with. No accommodations had to be made because the world was built by them for them. You don’t fit into their mold? Then you better assimilate and adapt. They succeed because there was no doubt in their mind that they could. No one questioned whether or not they were worthy of success.
So for marginalized people, how do we succeed when the whole world is questioning our worth, our right to just exist in the space?
There was this game I heard of as a teenager where a group of people would, throughout the day, go up to one person and ask the same thing. “Are you ok? You really aren’t looking good. Oh no! What happened? You look terrible.” By the end of the day, no matter if anything had actually happened to the person, they would look and feel pretty terrible.
Now imagine a life of, “Are you sure you can do this? Do you really think anyone is going to want to date you? It must be so hard for you. I will pray for you. Bless your heart!” And then when you do something, I don’t know, average or maybe something slightly better than average, “You are such an inspiration! I have nothing to complain about. If you can do that then I can do anything. I didn’t think you could do that but you proved me wrong!”
I have, thus far, participated in three big graduations––high school, college, and graduate school. I’m smart so I did well, but I wasn’t exceptional. There were people in every one of those programs who worked harder and achieved more than I. At every graduation, huge crowds cheered for me the loudest. Why? Because I was wearing a cap and gown and sitting in a wheelchair. Because I wasn’t expected to be there. Because I wasn’t expected to succeed, even though I was graduating with many other people. No one cheered louder for them because they were always expected to be there, it was no surprise.
It has always been hard for me to relate to people who opt out of something simply because they don’t think they belong or fit in. I’ve never felt welcomed or like I belong, but I did it anyway. I’ve looked for my own personal strengths and found strength in others, often in those who also don’t belong. I’ve been sad. I’ve been severely depressed. I’ve had extremely low confidence in myself. I have seen myself as lacking. When the whole world expects you to be this way, sometimes you’re just too worn down to fight it. So you give in. You think, “Maybe you’re right.”
But I keep getting back up. I keep telling myself I am worthy even when I don’t truly believe it. I keep digging deeper and getting to know myself better. I find my own values. I learn to listen to myself and what I believe is right and true rather than look for direction in a society that, honestly, thinks I would be better off dead. I keep discovering the good in me as well as the bad. I learn to care more about what I think of myself over what others think of me (although I still have a lot of work to do in this area). I find the people who believe in me and want me around. I listen to them over those who know nothing about me. And I realize the world is changing, I think, in some ways, for the better. So I do what I can to nudge it along. I try to educate. Sometimes I just try to be in spaces I’m not expected to be. And sometimes when I am too tired of the stares and the comments, I decide to cocoon, to hide away. And when I am ready, I go out and try again.
To my tribe, you know who you are, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are worthy. You matter. You belong here. You are wanted.