It ain’t easy looking at yourself in the mirror and loving everything you see.
“Hey, I look great!” isn’t usually what comes to mind. And when you have a disability, all the stupid baggage that can come with this label (you know what I’m talking about – feelings of shame, worthlessness, embarrassment) is just so….hard. Conflicting.
But if you ask me, associating yourself with the disability community in general is just as difficult. For some, it’s only a struggle when their disability first begins, and for others it’s a lifelong thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a wheeler say, “I avoided other people in wheelchairs for x number of years.” They thought being around other wheelers would heighten the fact that they’re disabled. But then there’s the big then….when the revelation occurs for many of us.
Maybe it happened at a disability support group your therapist twisted your arm into going to, or maybe it was on an online community you found while Googling stuff in the hospital, or maybe you were like me and met a wheeler who was just the friend you needed, but had no idea you needed them until they came into your life. That’s what happened to me with Gina. When I finally became ok with who I was.
I met her two years after my accident. She was born blind, incredibly sassy and adopted by a family in Minnesota. She introduced herself to me at dinner one night at Camp Courage, a disability summer camp I was forced into going to by my mother. I refused to accept nor be positive about the fact that this was my community now. Being at this disability wheelchair camp was my worst nightmare realized.
But Gina’s friendship was one of the best things to happen to me. By the end of the week I had come upon the soul changing revelation that “we” (what I was at that time – a teen with a disability) can actually be someone cool. Fun, sexy, flirty, awesome music tastes, these kids at wheelchair camp blew my mind, and Gina filled the gap left in my heart by all the friends who left me after my injury.
I finally realized the importance of having friends who had disabilities. Going at it alone wasn’t healthy for me anymore. Her friendship made me feel lighter. Our disabilities were vastly different but it didn’t matter. She could relate to being different. As humans, one of our biggest needs is being able to relate to others. We cannot deny this need no matter how hard we try. We want to be around others who are like us. It’s just the way it is. This means, my friends, that embracing the disability community is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Please, don’t be like this guy I know (who shall remain nameless) who’s been a hermit for the past 12 years, refusing to just say, “Eff it” and just accept himself for who he is. He still can’t identify himself as someone with a disability. Just thinking of him in his apartment right now makes me so sad. Life is passing him by.
Maybe you didn’t want to end up with a disability (really, who does), but denying the community isn’t only toxic to you, it can hurt the disability community. See, the internet wasn’t around when I was at camp, but it’s here now, so please everyone use it for this very purpose. Connect with others like you, learn from them, vent (a lot), utilize their knowledge and the biggest one – give back when you can.
There’s so much good that can come from fostering this crazy disability community we’re part of. Remember, we’re in this together. You’ll be amazed at how healing it can be.
Did you or do you struggle with identifying yourself someone with a disability? How did things change for you?