Hey, guys! I’ve been feeling especially proud this week and determined – determined to speak up and make a difference. I recently watched the disability history documentary called Crip Camp (of which my review is coming soon!) and it reminded me of how much beauty and pride there is to be found in being disabled. I used to be ashamed of my disability, which isn’t surprising – it’s almost an inevitable feeling if you grow up alongside modern media and don’t encounter many other disabled people in your life. There are so many things society says that we should be ashamed of, including simply being who we are.
Here is a list of five things I used to be ashamed of due to my disability and how I’ve learnt to be proud of them and own them instead:
1. Having a Stairlift
When I finally had a stairlift installed in my home last year and shared the news with the people I know, I was surprised by how many disabled people were horrified by the idea. The media definitely portrays having a stairlift as something that you should be ashamed of. It’s often shown as being synonymous with frailty and weakness. That’s why I felt like receiving a stairlift was like giving up – and a lot of other disabled people share this view.
I believe that we should start showing having a stairlift a little more positively. When was the last time you saw a teenager or a young adult using a stairlift in films or TV? We need more casual representation where disabled people have stairlifts and it’s not a big deal or the butt of a joke. My father teasingly said the other day that when I come down the stairs in my stairlift, it’s like I’m descending into my own Batcave or getting ready to take off in one of the Thunderbird vehicles. I like that idea – stairlifts can be cool! And they’re nothing to be ashamed of.
Now I can make my way upstairs without tiring myself out. It actually gives me much more freedom and makes me feel happier during the day. Accepting extra help doesn’t have to mean that you’re giving up – it can simply mean that you’ve picked your battles a little more wisely. I now have more strength for other things and I know that stairs certainly aren’t worth more of my time or effort. I suggest decorating your stairlift to make it more your own: my stairlift is dark purple, the same colour I chose for the walls of my bedroom to be painted. Own it! Be proud!
2. Having Accidents
Time for some brutal honesty: it can sometimes be harder for me than it is for other people to make it to the toilet in time. When I was fourteen, my teacher put on a Dutch film called Bluebird for the class. The main character of the movie happened to have a younger brother who was disabled. During one of the scenes, her younger brother wakes her up in the night because he wet himself and he needs her help to get clean. Even though it was an entirely serious scene, almost everyone in my class burst out laughing at the fact that the disabled boy had wet himself.
I’ll never forget how horrible I felt in that moment – I had done exactly the same just a few days ago and it felt like they were laughing at me too. I wanted to sink away and not be there in that classroom anymore. I did everything I could to hold back my tears because I was worried people would see me crying and make the connection that I also sometimes did the same. (Luckily, some of the nicer students told the others off for laughing). It made me feel like a freak and cemented in my mind that I was not normal. I resolved to never let anyone know that sometimes I had accidents because, if I did, they’d probably react in the same way and burst out laughing at me.
One of the people who spoke for the documentary Crip Camp said: “I guess you could imagine what it was like being fifteen and trying to hide the fact that you had to wear a diaper.” And I was just like – SAMSIES. It felt good to know that someone else had experienced the same. I used to do everything within my power to hide the fact that I was wearing a nappy/diaper from everyone because I was ashamed. Media once again pairs wearing nappies with helplessness and ridicule. But over time, it’s another part of my life that I’ve grown to accept. I’m now even at the stage when I can joke about it. For all you fellow nappy/diaper-wearers out there: you may not feel comfortable about it right now, but just know that it’s perfectly normal for numerous different medical reasons to wear one. Hopefully seeing me own up about it will show you that you have nothing to be ashamed about ❤ Society needs to be ashamed for saying that it’s wrong.
3. Eating in Public
I unfortunately still struggle a lot with this one. I usually have to be fed at restaurants. It can get messy and people’s eyes are frequently glued to me which makes me feel uncomfortable – like it’s feeding time at the zoo or something. My mother and I recently went to a restaurant together and the experience was a little unnerving. It was not the celebratory treat that I had imagined it being. The food was incredible; however, I couldn’t help but regularly shield my face from people and wipe my mouth after every morsel (even though most of the time there was nothing there). Now that the lockdown is ending, I need to get used to the staring and pointing again. I didn’t realise it was something that I could fall out of practise with.
I just feel like the image of me being fed a vegan burger by my mother at the Happiness Café while sauce drips sloppily down the side of my chin, doesn’t line up with the image of the intelligent and creative girl that I truly am. I’m working on trying to take Billie Eilish’s advice by not allowing myself to feel like other people’s perception of me is my responsibility. I need to put my own enjoyment and freedom to be myself first. Thanks, Billie, for the great advice 😊
4. Asking for Help
Asking for help used to be my biggest struggle. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone or be a burden to my friends by asking for their help. I also used to be ashamed that I required a helper to assist me by pressing the buttons on my calculator during my maths exams, I needed a nurse at lunch break, a wheelchair taxi driver had to take me home from school, etc. Every extra task I needed help with was another thing that made me less like my friends – less like everyone else. I’d sometimes struggle for up to twenty minutes to complete a task as small as picking up something from the ground that I’d dropped rather than ask someone for help with it.
I view asking for help differently now. While watching Crip Camp, I noticed that all of the disabled campers would help each other out in whatever way they needed without any fuss. People would carry wheelchair-users into the pool, help people to walk or eat, etc. It seemed natural – someone needed help, so someone would go and help them. It made me realise that helping each other out is kind of a given in the disabled community: we’re accessible, we’re welcoming, and we’re always ready to lend a hand without fail since society has not always been willing to do the same for us. Helping each other out is something that brings us closer together and something that we should be proud of – not ashamed of.
I’ll let one of the characters from my comic book explain: “I used to think that being a disabled girl that was completely independent was the only way to show other people that I was just like them. Sometimes I needed extra help during my day-to-day, and I’d hate myself for it. But I soon realised that wasn’t right. Receiving help doesn’t make me weak or lesser than others. I’m not like them, I can’t be independent in the same way and that’s okay. I shouldn’t have to live like the able-bodied to be accepted by them. Doing things differently is our whole deal, right? We do it together, not alone.” (Willow, Obsidia 4 [still a work in progress!])
One of the people that they interviewed for Crip Camp said: “If you’re disabled and you happen to have a passive nature about you, you’re really screwed.” I know from personal experience that he’s right. I’m still trying to work on letting my voice be heard and fighting for what I want more. If you have a disability, no one hands you anything on a silver platter: if you want friends, you have to go up and speak to people because they probably won’t come to you. And if you want help – you need to ask. And never feel bad for doing so.
5. Being in a Wheelchair
When I was younger, I had the bad habit of sitting on my fingers so that people wouldn’t see them. My wrists and fingers are… well… different. My fingers are curled and my wrists flop down since they have no movement in them. When people stare at you constantly whenever you leave the house, it can be easy to feel like hiding or wanting to shrink away from the world. I admittedly still struggle with stares, but I’m trying to work more on being myself in public and not caring what other people think.
It starts out simple: it can feel like dressing so that you draw the least amount of attention to yourself is the easiest option. So, I’ve done crazy things with my hair like styled it in different colours or I’ve worn outfits that stood out like being the only girl in a suit when we had to dress formally for school. This is who I am and that’s never going to change. I should own it and be proud no matter how much people whisper or point when I pass by. (Keep in mind that you don’t have to dress crazy to be a proud disabled person. Do whatever you feel comfortable with!)
As much as media and governments treat catering for disabled people or choosing to represent them as an inconvenience, I won’t let that be a reason for me to be ashamed of who I am. I’m proud to be disabled. Proud to be different. And now that I’ve found this pride, it’s going to take a lot to shake it. Thank you so much for reading this post ❤ What is something that you need to work on so that you can be more proud of yourself or the way that you look? Feel free to comment below! See you next week!