Keep in mind these are my own opinions, based on my experiences, and aren’t necessarily indicative of everyone with a disability.
Last week I revealed more about myself, namely that I was born with spina bifida. Living with a disability from birth means a tricky dance between self acceptance and seeing what the world sees. You also run into 3 categories of people: 1. The Pitiers–those that look at you in a wheelchair and go out of their way to tell you they are sorry you are disabled, 2. The Prayers–these well-meaning people are those that, in public, seek you out and feel the need to “pray away” the disability, and 3. The Acceptors–this group most commonly includes your own family. They accept that you have a disability, and take you how you are. They don’t try to change the outside appearance. It’s important to point out that all of these groups of people are well-intentioned in their behavior towards those with disabilities. Today, I want to gently and in love, turn the mirror around from myself and look closer at what people in these categories, namely the first two, project onto the person with a disability.
I’ve encountered all of the above mentioned categories of people. As a person of faith, someone who believes that God doesn’t make mistakes, it’s hard to swallow the message you get when people come up to you in public, based on your appearance, and want to pray for you. That message? “You are obviously in severe mental pain because of your disability. Your disability says to me that something is wrong, so let me pray that God fixes your outward appearance and “heals” you of your disability.” Let me just say that as a person of faith, I do believe that God can heal and fix any situation. That healing doesn’t always look the way we want it to or expect.
Next I want to focus on “The Pitiers”. This unique group of folks will see someone in a wheelchair and think, “Oh wow! I’m so sorry they aren’t able to walk like I can. I don’t think I’d be able to handle being disabled, so therefore, maybe they have a hard time with it too.” Now, to be fair, I think there are two categories of disabled people who pitiers come into contact with. Those that were disabled from birth, and those that became disabled after an accident or illness later in life. Since I am part of the first category, I don’t feel qualified to speak about the thoughts of the latter group.
As someone with a life long disability, here is what you need to know. Being disabled is all I’ve known. Of course I have days when I feel like I want to be someone else, but don’t we all? This doesn’t mean that it’s always been an easy ride. Being born with a disability has had, for me, one drawback. Since it’s all I’ve known and my family accepts me for who I am and has worked hard to treat me exactly like my other non disabled siblings, I began to have the mindset that somehow I was gonna grow out of my disability. Weird, I know. Whenever I’d have a dream at night where I made an appearance, I was not disabled. I was completely able-bodied.
In high school I remember one night I had a thought so profound, it felt as though I was hit with a ton of bricks. The thought that I finally began to understand? “I am disabled. I’ve always been disabled, and there is NOTHING I can do to fix that.” Whoa. Deep stuff. Needless to say, that’s a pretty difficult realization to process. I stayed out of school the next day to give myself a chance to digest things. My parents were super supportive and got me into counseling pronto. Through therapy, I learned I have a chemical imbalance that manifested itself through depression. The realization of my reality served as a smoke signal from my brain, telling me I needed to get help. This imbalance and resulting depression has nothing to do with my disability and I’ve since learned it’s likely genetic.
I’ve been in therapy often on from that time to the present. I’ve learned to love myself. On the inside and out. To accept myself as I am. My head finally matched the person I was when I’d dream at night. Except that now in my dreams, I saw me. Wheelchair and all.
I hope this encouraged you today. Know that you are not alone and the world needs you in it. 🙂