I am going to be switching gears for this one... I just want to say before I get going that this will be one of the hardest things I'll ever write. I'm going to be opening up about the negativities that are part and parcel of having a disability. I'll be conveying feelings that might be hard for the reader to get through. But I think it's important for this to be brought into the light. And just as a disclaimer... I am NOT fishing for compliments or trying to make the reader pity me. Again, I am merely saying what has been hidden inside of me for many many years. Here it goes...
My intent in starting this blog was to give people an inside look into what living with a disability is like. I think society has many preconceived ideas about what having a disability means, but I can say with complete confidence that 100 percent of them are either romanticized, incorrect, or just plain ignorant. In fact, the ignorance astounds me sometimes for living in 2016. Anyways... I wanted to show people that we are capable of living normal lives, as well as doing whatever we set our minds to. But I also want to be completely honest about what bothers me, and even hurts me, from the way people treat me and view me. Most people don't even realize they're doing it, but that's why I need to be candid and open their eyes.
If you walk past the magazine racks in the grocery store, you are most likely going to see pictures of "flawless women" telling the world they are "body confident". And as you flip through the pages of one photoshopped woman after the other, the song "Beautiful" is played over the PA system, trying to portray the same message. Here we go for honestly... Nothing makes me angrier than seeing the words body confident in relation to these perfect women. It's the easiest thing in the world for these women to look at their absolutely normal bodies in the mirror and say they are body confident. But try looking in the mirror with a body like mine. I don't even know what body confident means. If I closed myself off to all human contact then maybe, just maybe, I could learn to have body confidence. But as soon as I step out my door, I have to fight something big, something ugly, something that threatens to consume me. Insecurity and shame. By insecurity, I don't mean, "Oh, I have a big nose... I'm insecure..." I fight the insecurity and shame of being constantly aware of my deformities and feeling like I belong on another planet because of them.
My whole life I've had to put up with people putting a negative light on my body. I have to endure the staring, the hurtful comments, the inappropriate questions. If you have a disability, you're basically born with thick skin, because it's the only way to survive. After years and years of being pointed out like the wart of humanity, it becomes hard to look in the mirror and not believe it. I even try to avoid going in public places because of the things I hear. I'll walk past someone and, "What's wrong with her?" "Why does she look like that?" "Why are her feet bent like that?" And it goes on and on. Then there are the questions, "Excuse me, if you don't mind me asking, what happened to you?" If I'm honest, yes, yes I do mind. Is that how you start a conversation with a stranger? Why on earth would you presume that I'm going to tell you something so personal about myself when you don't have the decency to have a normal conversation with me first. Start by actually making the effort to show that you respect me by taking the time to get to know me first. ME, not my disability, not my wheelchair, because YES there is a distinction. I am just so baffled by the nerve of people sometimes. It is NOT ok people, and quite honestly, I am NOT obligated to give a nice answer, which I always do. But if you really knew how I'm feeling on the inside... The shame... The hurt... If you really knew, I would hope you'd think twice before asking, simply to satisfy some petty curiosity of yours. Sorry if this is hard to read...
I have gone through many stages of love and hate in regards to my body. I think the hardest thing is when I look in the mirror, what I look like on the outside does not reflect who I feel like I am on the inside. I try to close my eyes and imagine the wheelchair away. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When I was younger I tried to hide the things that made me insecure. There's a song that describes it perfectly, "And I don't want the world to see me, cause I don't think that they'd understand." People used to always point out my clubbed feet, so I would wear socks every minute of the day, even while swimming. Going out exposed in a swimsuit was the hardest thing for me to do, and since it only attracted more negative attention, I haven't been to the pool in over 10 years. I was told in high school that I looked like a cow when I ate, so for the longest time, I wouldn't eat in front of people. When we had guests, I would eat in my room. When we went out, I wouldn't eat till we got home. I would wear tons of makeup to try and make myself feel pretty. For many years I was controlled by my insecurities. Not only that, but I dealt with a lot of emotional hurting. Finally, around a year ago, I decided I couldn't possibly cater to my shame anymore. I was tired of it all. I was tired of believing the lies. I stopped wearing makeup, I went barefoot through the house, I started eating in front of people. It took a long time for me to find the courage to do all that mind you. But here's what I finally realized. I shouldn't have to build up the courage to be me. God made me who I am, and that's all there is to it. I shouldn't have to hide who I am so I don't attract negative attention from people. And I am NOT the one who should be ashamed... It's a work in progress, but I'm taking it one step at a time.
Accepting who I am has been a challenge, but I'd say the hardest thing about having a disability is being judged by my outward appearance. Having meaningful relationships with people is one of the most difficult parts of my life. It all comes down to this... People only go skin deep. They don't take the time to open the book, to peel back the wrapping, and get to know what's on the inside. I feel it constantly. That invisible wall. I want you to understand me. But if you're going to understand, you HAVE to throw away those preconceived ideas. You have to dig down deep. When you do, you'll find out that I'm just like everyone else. I have likes and dislikes, I have opinions, I have dreams. If you want all that, you know what you have to do? Treat me like I'm human. My heart beats just like yours. So I look a little different. So I use a wheelchair to get around. So what! At the end of the day, I'm living, breathing, and just trying to survive in this ridiculous day and age just like you. And there are many more like me, waiting for someone to find the key. The next time you see someone with a disability, whether mental or physical, put yourself in their shoes and treat them the way you want to be treated. Remember, we need love, support, and friendship just as much as you.
This whole post stems from a conversation I had a couple days ago with someone I just met. This person ended up joining my mom and I for coffee, and after a few minutes of talking, they surprised me with this... They told me my hands were beautiful and delicate. Never in the history of my life have I heard someone refer to my body in such a positive way. It completely blew me away, and I was touched more than words can describe. When I told them I had never heard that before, they explained that they were an artist and enjoyed seeing things from a different perspective. I immediately looked down at my hands and wondered if they really were beautiful. I can't say I completely believe them, but what touched me the most about this scenario is that this person took the time. Took the time to see who I am from a different perspective. It is truly a shame this is the first time someone made a comment about my body that was positive. It was one of the most touching experiences I've had in a long time.
Will I ever know what it means to be body confident? I don't know... What I do know is that you can do something to help. The next time you see me, or someone like me, remember that it takes a lot for me to be out in the world with a smile on my face. Sometimes it takes a lot just to look you in the eyes. Remember that we are all different. We were made to be unique. I am unique because I have a disability, but more so because of who I am. And that's a very good thing. Show respect, take the time, find the key, and what you discover might just surprise you.