I thought that as I got older, I started to let go of the idea that I needed to be like everyone else. To try to hide my disability or to “blend in”. While I definitely have let go of a lot of that, I realized in a very specific moment this week that I certainly haven’t let go of it all.
I grew up watching this image of the “independent woman” on TV. She has her own place, she has a great job, sometimes she’s single, sometimes she’s not. She goes out to bars with her friends all the time. She grabs coffee on the way to work in the morning in her totally put-together outfit, looking like she’s ready to conquer the world.
That’s always the image I’ve aspired to achieve in my life. The relationship part not so much but the great job, wearing my nice clothes and living on my own. Here’s the thing about movies and TV though, no matter how realistic they may be, they’re still fictional. They’re selling a certain image for the audience. And I didn’t realize until this week that there’s one thing in common with all of these women: they’re all not disabled.
I don’t think my admiration for these women and situations was just about the achievement of independence. I think it was more about my trying to check all the boxes for a life that was “normal”, with “normal” for me meaning not held back by a disability.
I have some very deep internalized ableism. That’s become increasingly more apparent to me the older I get and the more people’s stories that I read. So many of my “goals” have actually been because I don’t like my disability and I don’t like myself. I thought I had to achieve these goals because it would mean I was more than my disability, or that I could somehow ignore my disability.
But I am more than my disability no matter what my life looks like. No matter if I live with my parents. If I don’t stop for coffee on the way to work every morning. If I work remotely, hybrid, in the office all the time. Living on my own isn’t the ultimate achievement of being worthy and being like everyone else.
For the first time, I realize I need to take a giant step back and start redefining what being me looks like. What my ideal life actually looks like. And it needs to not include feeling like I need to do what everyone else is doing, or what I think I “should” be doing just because it will somehow make me look or feel less disabled.
I may not always believe it about myself, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with being disabled. It’s not a flaw. It is something that makes life harder, for sure, but it’s not something that makes us less than. It’s not something we need to hide or deny. It’s not something “wrong” with us. It’s a part of us, but it’s certainly not all of us. And it’s most definitely not something that means that we need to fulfill these random set of goals that TV and movies say we should because it will somehow make us whole or accomplished. Fitting in is also highly overrated. We all have our own paths. We all have different ways that kick ass. If we were all like everyone else, the world would be so boring.
Success and fulfillment come in all different forms no matter where you live, if you work, how you work, or your relationship status. But the best part is that we get to decide what that looks like, not TV, not movies, not society, and not the “shoulds”.