I’ve been pretty tightly wound most of my life.
Like I said in my last post, I wasn’t always like that. But as I let my experiences in the world chip away at and change me, that changed too.
There are two moments that stand out the most significantly to me that I’ll share. Two times that I allowed myself to let go, to be silly, or to show my enjoyment on the outside in public. And two times I was made fun of or mocked for doing so.
The first one happened in middle school. A bunch of us went to see The First Wives Club at the local movie theater. I wanted so desperately to be included with my classmates, so I know being invited to such an outing must have made me feel like I was on top of the world. Fast forward to watching the movie. I thought it was so funny and I laughed openly and heartily. After a few of those moments, I looked at the row in front of me, which consisted of girls I had come to see the movie with, and one of them was pointing at and making fun of me for not just how much I was laughing but for the way my body looked when I was laughing. I kept my laughing to myself for the rest of the movie.
The second one was at a bar probably10ish years ago. I was on a date and a song came on that I liked. I let myself actually be silly and dance in my chair to the song only to look further down the bar and see the couple at the other end laughing at me and imitating what I had been doing.
These may sound like small things, but when they add up, they slowly start to get to you. When you’re just trying to blend in because everyone can already see you’re different on the outside (and are constantly pointing out your limp). When you’ve tried so hard to just fit in. When the world has defined you by your body and deemed you not worthy or desirable. When you actually allow yourself to let go and feel joy, only to have your peers make fun of you and tear you down for it, it can be devastating.
I don’t think it was until I hit my 30s that I started to slowly let down my fear walls a little more. I sing in my car with the windows down and the music blasting. I no longer worry what people think when they see me trying to get out of a chair or go up and down a few steps if I have to. I’ve even let myself dance in public a few times.
The point is, sometimes you come into this world one way. I think we all do, even if we aren’t born with a disability. But if you are born with one, you come into the world and don’t necessarily know you’re “different”. Then you start to look around and you realize there’s no one that looks like you or limps like you. There’s no one like you on TV, in movies, or even in books sometimes. People start asking about your limp. You get made fun of for your walk or your weight. So you get quieter. You get more reserved. You agree with people even when you don’t actually agree with them because you don’t want to cause a stir and stand out. You don’t speak up when your accessibility needs aren’t being met or when someone is abusing accessibility that doesn’t need it so you won’t be seen as the “angry” disabled person. You try to blend in as much as possible so maybe people won’t notice the limp or the bulging stomach.
Then, as you get older, you have to try dig yourself out of that hole. To find yourself again — not the self you’ve been presenting for so long so that you’d fit it. You have to find a way to stop caring about what other people think or how they might judge you out in public. You have to learn to not just find joy, but to express it openly.