Saturday, March 13, 2010

something special to me

I want to share this speech we all of you that a friend of mine wrote I thought it was AMAZING!! I totally relate to her feelings and thought it was really great that opened up like this...I hope you enjoy!!

Today I’m going to focus on a topic that I think gets so little recognition and that is the topic of women with disabilities and relationship realities of our situation using my experiences. I remember the first time I noticed something was different about me. I mean I obviously knew I was in a wheelchair and got around differently compared to other children but for some reason no one seemed to notice and if they did they didn’t show me they cared. I think my issues about my disability began in the second grade when a fellow male classmate said as a rebuttal to something I said, “Well no one is going to marry you because you’re in a wheelchair”. I was shocked; I remember crying in the bathroom non-stop for a good hour. What did my wheelchair have anything to do with my future let alone my marriage? Taking into consideration my age at the time, I didn’t understand the full depths of relationships and even so I felt like one of my dreams was forever shattered. I was always the girl who played with my sisters left over tool from her wedding on a weekly basis , I also loved playing mommy and I did it with such expertise. I buried that comment away in my mind somewhere without really acknowledging it or expressing its effects on me to anyone over the years. I never knew what kind of world I was about to grow up in.

I always had numerous amounts of friends and had a very active social life beginning as a child. In elementary school all the boys and girls talked to me, I was quite popular and not always in a positive “everyone knows you” light. By the time I was 12 I could feel the changes happening within me and around me. From outside my elementary school clique, youth from other schools could not understand how the heck a girl like me had so many friends and got so much attention. When I noticed how people around me were changing as a result of these comments I began to overcompensate. Knowing full well the change was because I was in a chair I began to do anything necessary to not be associated with being disabled even if it meant being associated with other mostly negative things. My overcompensation turned self-destructive in which I put myself in unsafe situations just to fit in and not only that but do be liked especially by guys.

The reality of the situation is I have never been comfortable with my disability and most people who meet me are unaware of this. They think I am okay with it as is but everyday is an internal struggle for me. Because my disability is congenital and an unspecified muscle condition I used to tell people when I began daycare and school that I got shot in my legs and that’s why I needed the wheelchair. I always felt the need to dramatize the reason I was disabled because the fact that I used a wheelchair made me different but not in a fun exciting way.

As I got older and up to present day I still make fun of myself and I have officially labelled my medical condition as the Gabby Disorder. I try desperately to “normalize” whatever part of myself I can, in an attempt to fit a mould that wasn’t created for a woman with a disability, in fact was not created for most women in general. I had many ideas about other individuals with disabilities. As a child and teen I was never involved in anything disability oriented. I never played any sports, went to special camps or any form of segregated school. I didn’t even know any other individuals with a physical disability let alone be friends with them. I had a them versus me complex. I used sayings like, “she isn’t anything like me” or “I’m not like them” etc etc. I swore off dating any guy with a disability, I would not even go there with my thoughts. In fact, none of my friends ever asked me if I would ever date a guy with a disability, for they were just as absorbed in my perception as I was. It is only recently that I have been more aware of how my disability affects me and these once held beliefs. After playing the “good-cripple” role for the majority of high school just so I could undo my previous title, by grade 12 I was sick of playing any role at all. I began to realize that my life was going to be a little bit different then all my able-bodied friends and I had better figure out what I was going to do about it. The summer of grade 12 I deemed was going to be my self-discovery process where I’d forget about the heartbreaks from high school, carry with me the good times and begin university in the fall.

During that summer I went to a 3 week independence program for people with disabilities. This 3 week program focused on activities of daily living, budgeting, working with attendants. It was an overnight program held at a Ryerson university residence. The year I went the program was featured on W5, which is a sort of dateline show for Canada. I was one of 3 individuals W5 chose to focus on. Not only was my first experience living independently aired but so was my first experience of being with people who have disabilities. Of course something I didn’t expect occurred as well. I met someone there, someone I really liked. A guy. He was charming, funny, really good at creative writing, something we both shared. We got along great in the beginning while we were at the program trying to spend as much time together in and out of session. We were so obvious that our “love story” became a part of the W5 episode. We were both coming from similar atitudinal backgrounds [believing we’d never date someone with a disability] .

As the program ended we decided to test our relationship in the real world, out in the open. In the beginning, everything was comfortable with us. I thought I had really gotten over all of my issues with my disability only for me to realize I had far more than I could’ve imagined. Not only do people with disabilities get put into different categories depending on ones perception but two disabled individuals dating also get put into categories. Everywhere we went people stared. We got ignored in high price jewellery, we were called cute by absolute strangers, we were given pitiful looks by others if we were arguing etc etc. it wasn’t good at all. The more other people stared the more I judged my boyfriend and I as a unit, myself and sometimes just him. Besides all the extra stuff we had to deal with we had to deal with regular relationship hurdles as well like family frictions, balancing school and our relationship and just getting to know each other more. And like some people’s relationships, you get to know each other and realize you don’t get along nor do you have anything in common and you break up eventually. See that’s when my other dream died. The dream of us. I used to joke that we’d one day have our own reality show like little people big world, where I’d be a child psychologist and he’d be a world famous author. Except our relationship was more like a bad Jon and Kate +8 episode instead. I was comforted knowing that I had him and could rely on him to be there always. In fact, we are still great…friends.

My biggest fear these days is that I’m going to be alone and now that I’m back in singleville I am more frightened than ever. I know there are a lot of people sitting in this room who feel the same, who share that same fear. Almost everyone in this room has felt some sort of rejection by someone they liked. It might not have been because of one’s disability but rejection is rejection. It hurts. What I experience all the time is a form of rejection when you’re not even considered. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I’ve accomplished and how much I currently accomplish, it doesn’t matter how much weight I loose/gain, how nice my hair is, what I wear, what I say. I feel like I am never enough for guys. I found myself hoping I cross there mind for the second they saw me. I feel invisible. We live in such a sex-craved society where we are bombarded by images of how women are supposed to behave. I can admit I’ve prescribed to some of these beliefs, I try to dress a certain way to impress people, only wishing to get to the next level where there is interest on a dating level.

I realize now I need to be comfortable with myself in order for anyone to truly feel comfortable with me. Although I still do try to do dress-to-impress at times my reality now is more focused on me and my needs. How an individual any individual fits with my life. I realize now that it isn’t the fact I wont date someone with a disability. I just won’t date someone with whom I don’t get along with, have nothing in common with different goals and priorities. You see, the reason for telling you all this is to make you see that individuals with disabilities have “normal” relationships and to make you aware that they share similar experiences, similar heartbreaks etc. an individual with a disability type of love is the same love someone without a disability experiences. Love is love—lust is lust—sex is sex. Sometimes you end up just wanting to have a guy you can fun with—yes we want this to and no it isn’t a ‘crush’.

As I sit here with you all today I am reminded of my feelings I had before taking this class. When I decided to take this course a few of my friends who are “able-bodied” asked me, “Why are you taking this course? You don’t even like discussing anything disability hate being disabled”! They were right about it all but I knew that’s where the problem was. People within professional fields who work with individuals with disabilities have been telling me my whole life that I should be an activist for disabled people’s rights. I didn’t want to be a part of a group of individuals with disabilities fighting for an unreachable goal. See, before I assumed that the only people fighting for disability rights were disabled people alone. I used to think why would any “able-bodied” individual care about this stuff? It doesn’t affect them, they wake up every morning, jump out of their beds and live half of their life before an individual with a disability could even begin the groundwork for an independent life. Why would THEY care?

So why did I take this class? The feeling of solitude was getting too much to bare. Having majority “able-bodied” friends they could only understand a fraction of my problems because my issues were tainted with social restrictions. I didn’t want to have to complain my whole life and not do anything about it. I was sick of separating myself from other individuals with disabilities just to end up feeling isolated from them. So I took this class for understanding what disability studies was and how do we organize knowledge, our wants and needs, in a way that produces change for individuals.

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