“You’ll never be normal…” The words echoed through my head with shearing force. It’s one of the first memories I have from a childhood I’d rather forget. Though I cannot remember the entire conversation I had with the pediatric doctor who had been seeing me since the discovery I had been born without a left hip socket, bits and pieces of the conversation remain with me.
I was an exuberant child, a ball of energy who’d climb up on everything, only to get stuck and have to be lifted down, out or around. I got stuck in my brother’s upper bunk bed. My grandfather, Willie Boy, had to lift me down. I got stuck on a circular jungle gym at school. My kindergarten teacher, Marcia, had to lift me down. I even got stuck in a ball pit at the now defunct (thank goodness!) Sea World Ohio and had to have a staff member come in and lift me out.
One thing I never got stuck on was having the ability to know what I wanted out of life. I knew I wanted to make something of myself, and nobody would be able to stop me. The doctor in question provided the first major blow to my ego, that of a four year old with few cares in the world. Not only did he tell me I’d never be normal. He told me I would never be able to walk like a “normal” person, either. Today, I question what is normal anyway, but back then, all I knew was I wanted to fit in.
Words hurt, and they have meaning, especially in those early years of our lives. That I can remember this incident with such clarity almost 30 years later just goes to show how powerful words can affect people with disabilities. After this incident, I went through a period of mourning. I was mourning the loss of what I thought I would have. Apparently, this is common in kids with disabilities. Usually it happens in middle childhood, between 7-10, but I was ahead of the curve. I was mourning early. I got over it, and being the stubborn person I am, I set out to prove that doctor wrong.
Consistently, I was told throughout my childhood, “You can’t!” You can’t do this. You can’t do that. I’m a hardheaded type of person, so that just made me work harder. I appreciate things more because I have had to work so hard to achieve them. Even today, just going out in public, people make assumptions about me because I’m in a wheelchair. They do not know me. They do not know my capabilities, but they assume I am capable of little. They assume I am lucky to get up out of bed and leave my house. This kind of mentality is exasperating, but it is common. I face this kind of scrutiny every single day.
We, in this society, need to change our attitude towards disability. We need to expect more from people with disabilities because they deserve it! I may not be “normal”, but by jove I’m going to work my ass off to show you just how capable I am. No one can tell me I cannot do something because I am going to prove them wrong. That is just me though. There are plenty of people with disabilities who believe they are less. they believe they deserve to be treated as less. Society has treated them so poorly that they think they deserve this. I have gone to hell and back to prove I’m capable, and though I try not to care what other people think, it still hurts me to know others do not take me seriously.
I have worked just as hard, sometimes harder, than my able-bodied peers. When I was told I couldn’t live on my own, I moved out, got my own apartment, and got on waiver, so I could be independent with PCAs. When I was told I would never find love, I proved everyone wrong. When I was told I would be nothing more than a worthless secretary, because that’s all people like me are capable of doing, I auditioned for and was cast in a movie. I did multiple college and community theater performances, in Bowling Green, Toledo, at the University of Michigan and at Wright State. When people said I couldn’t be a filmmaker in a physically demanding program, I found someone to be my arms and legs. I told that person what to do, how to move my camera, and where to position it. I got through four years and my degree is going to be sent to me soon enough. I will never give up reaching for what I want and NOBODY can tell me I cannot do anything.
That being said… why do we have to live in a society when we have to drag other people down? Why can’t we be happy for others living successful lives? Why do we have to be hateful and demean them? We need to rethink our priorities and rethink normal. What is normal really, anyway?