Originally posted on empoweringwomennow.com
So, a bit about me, my name is Jessica and I am 22 years old. I recently graduated with honors in journalism from my local college. I run a mental health based blog, StayingStrong247.com, where I share my experiences and knowledge through my writing. Like many people, I face my own set of struggles, mine being mild depression and a few anxiety disorders.
Crazy enough, mental illnesses are not the only thing life threw at me. As a result of a brain injury I suffered when I was two years old, I also have a physical disability. The complications of this injury resulted in my inability to walk, partial control of my right hand and a slight speech impediment.
Still, I try to live a pretty normal 20-something-year-old life. I do my best not to let my disability hinder me from living. If you ask anyone who knows me they would agree. When I think about it, I’m pretty proud and happy about the amount of independence I have. However, there are some hidden struggles I deal with because of my disability; no one really knows about them because they aren’t as obvious.
I’m the hopeless romantic who has never been in a relationship. And trust me, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve put myself out there, but still no luck. Online dating is horrible and meeting someone in person doesn’t work either because they tend to see the wheelchair before they see you. Wheelchairs are the biggest cockblockers. Sadly, society generally doesn’t view people with disabilities as potential romantic/sexual partners. And don’t worry, I’m not making this up because of self-esteem issues; my self-esteem is fine. Do a bit of researching and the statistics will show that people with disabilities begin dating and having sexual experiences much later, and less frequently than the general population. Imagine this: I had my first kiss just a year and a half ago and I went on my first date just 5 months ago.
People treat me different
Whether intentional or not, I can feel the difference. Some treat me like I don’t exist or have feelings and thoughts of my own. There are others who talk down or “dumb” on me. Some talk about me as if I can’t hear them. Some praise me for simply existing. Some find me “cute”. Some are shocked when they find out I graduated college. Some are shocked when I swear or they find out I’ve been drunk before. I’ve had complete strangers come up to me in public and help me, sometimes without even asking if I needed help. The only people who truly know me and treat me the same as everyone else are my few good friends. Other than that, I have to prove to people that I am no different than anyone else.
Harder to prove myself
You know the worst part about being treated differently? Having to work 10x harder to prove that I’m not. Being 22 is hard enough without having to prove to everyone that I meet the standards of a typical 22-year-old girl. The sucky part is that people who have no experience with disabilities will most likely assume that I’m not “normal” and follow society’s assumptions of people with disabilities. So not only do I have to prove I’m normal, but I have to prove that I have feelings and thoughts of my own. This is especially true when it comes to my rights, the workplace, and my intelligence. Heck, I may even be smarter than the person who is making assumptions. I’m just a regular woman sitting in a wheelchair, but that seems to be hard for some people to wrap their heads around. I can’t tell you how many people have told me “I can’t” do something, only for me to turn around and do it. I am not my disability.
I can be a burden
Most people will never come outright and say it, but I know I can be a burden at times; at least that’s the way it feels. Sometimes I can get in the way and there are other times when people have to accommodate me. Sort of like when I’m out with my friends or family, transportation and lack of accessibility can be so frustrating, for me and them. No matter how much they love me, they probably hate the obstacles we have to face because of my wheelchair. And I don’t blame them.
I experience things differently, later in life, or not at all
There are countless experiences I’ve missed out on or experienced later in life due to my disability. Growing up, I was never invited to house parties in high school or college. Probably because people always thought they needed to take care of me; I can’t get my wheelchair into houses and some apartments don’t have elevators. I can’t drive and though this might sound like such a small thing, to people who can’t drive, it’s a big milestone that I missed out on. This means I have to rely on others for rides or take the bus everywhere. Not to complain, but buses aren’t that great and the rides are usually long; longer than it would take to drive there. When it came time to graduate from high school I didn’t have a choice for where I wanted to go to college; out of state wasn’t an option for me. The biggest reason being because I couldn’t live alone. I always felt like I missed out on the college experience of living on campus away from home or even having that option. I also experience dating/sex differently and had many of my firsts much later than the average person. Like I said before, I had my first kiss just a year and a half ago, and I went on my first date just 5 months ago.
Yet despite all these challenges, I am happy with my life. I try to live it to the fullest by doing what I can do, but it can be limiting. The reality is, this wheelchair gets in the way of a lot. Even though I’ve learned to accept it, that doesn’t make it suck any less. People I know would say I have a pretty great life and can do lots of things for someone in a wheelchair. I agree and I am glad. I just would also love to be able to drive a car or have more experiences in dating/sex.
The purpose of this blog post isn’t to make people feel bad for me because I have a disability. I try hard to ignore the fact that I have limitations and keep on moving with my life; I wish from you the same in return. Let’s face it, I can’t change the fact that I have a disability and it’s nobody’s fault so I’m not mad. I think it’s important that you all know that I don’t feel sorry for myself. If I want to do something, even if it’s hard and takes more effort for me than it would the average person, I find a way. Just do me a favor and please don’t say you’re proud of me for living my life like a “normal” person. Not sure if you know it, but it’s actually quite offensive. I just won’t accept it. I find no pride in simply living, that’s something we all do. Now graduating college with honors? That’s something I am definitely proud of!