Tag Archives: Stigma of Physical Disabilities

Stuck between ability and disability.

15 Jul

Though I have Cerebral Palsy, I’m very much of an inbetween. I’m not fully able-bodied, but I’m not severely disabled either. I know what it’s like to feel as if I am holding other people back due to the things I am unable to do. However, I also know the feeling of being held back myself by those who are more severely disabled than myself. It’s not as if I am unable to do everything. It’s just that I may have to adapt the way I do certain things in order to participate in them like everyone else. Because my abilities fall in between the abilities of able-bodied people and the abilities of people with more severe forms of Cerebral Palsy, I’ve never felt completely comfortable in either group.

When I was a freshman at Wofford College, before I made the decision to transfer to UNC Asheville, there was an older disabled man who worked on the staff who had Cerebral Palsy. Though I never asked him if he had CP, I assumed he did because the way he walked was so similar to how I walk. I noticed him on campus. My eyes would catch his gait, and I’d look away, feeling as if I was seeing a reflection of myself. Again and again, I caught myself doing the same thing I hated in others: visibly looking uncomfortable.

One night while having dinner with friends in the cafeteria, the disabled man came over to our table. He looked at me, introduced himself, and commented that he had wanted to speak with me for a while. Though I acknowledged him and said hello, I became incredibly uncomfortable and quickly turned back to the conversation my friends were having. Eventually, the man walked away. Though the situation shouldn’t have freaked me out, it did. I hated that he approached me because of my Cerebral Palsy. I had wanted to fit in with my friends, and his presence made me feel as if I stuck out.

My perceptions have changed a lot since the experience that night at Wofford. Since then, I have started a blog, written about what it’s like to live with Cerebral Palsy, and have become much more open about discussing my experiences related to my physical disability. Though I don’t think fondly on my reaction towards the disabled man at Wofford, at the time, I couldn’t have even fathomed beginning my journey of self-acceptance. I was so far from even starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. Back then, I felt as uncomfortable with myself as I felt every time I saw the disabled man on campus.

Being stuck between fitting in with able-bodied people and those who have more severe forms of CP is continually frustrating. I do not necessarily have what is termed as “mild CP” because my CP noticeably affects my walking and my muscle tone. However, I am able to walk independently without assistance, which is not always the case for those with more severe forms of CP. I have recently joined a Facebook group for people who have CP because it’s becoming more and more difficult to describe the concept of chronic back pain and other frustrations to those who can’t even begin to understand what it’s like living with a physical disability. Therefore, I thought I’d benefit from a “support group.” However, within the group, I am reminded again of how much I don’t fit when I see the posts about power chairs, the frustrations of not being able to drive or not being able to live independently (since I am able to walk, drive, and I’ve lived on my own since I was 16).

On the good days, I’m comfortable with my able-bodied friends. On the bad days, when my back pain is worse than normal and all I want to do is cry, I wish I knew someone who was also stuck between ability and disability who understood my frustrations because at least we could be stuck together. However, this “stuck phase,” aggravating as it may be, is where I am, and there’s not much that can be done to fix that. I can’t make myself more able-bodied (no matter how much I wish that were the case), and I’d never choose to be more disabled than I already am. I’m just me, and even though it’s really hard, I’m trying to learn to be okay with that.

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Social rejection through the eyes of a CP adult.

3 Oct

I walked into my Community Psychology class this morning to see the following prompt written on the board:

Journal about a time when you experienced disapproval or rejection from peers. What happened? What kind of thoughts and feelings did you have?

When I was in middle school, I took a required Physical Education class every year. In my middle school PE classes, we played “slaughterball,” which was our definition of dodgeball. I think “slaughterball” is a more accurate description of the game though. Every week in PE, I was chosen last for slaughterball. Even though being chosen to play was better than not being chosen at all, being chosen last was one of the worst feelings I ever experienced during my middle school years. When someone who sprained their ankle the day before and was on crutches was chosen over me, it pretty much felt like getting punched in the stomach.

Even though I know that many middle schoolers go through the experience of being chosen last for a game or sport, it didn’t feel the same. Though I know that other kids who were chosen last may have experienced the same feelings of hurt, frustration, and not being good enough, I know that I was chosen last simply because I didn’t have the level of physical ability that my other classmates did. I can’t even count the number of times I came home from school crying because, once again, I had been chosen last. I think it was even harder for me due to the fact that I couldn’t change the fact that I had CP, while the person who had sprained their ankle would be healed and ready to run around with the other kids in a matter of weeks. There never was a 6-week period for me to “recover” from my Cerebral Palsy. At the same time, it’s not something that I suffer from. It is just something that I have. No amount of exercises or talk therapy can change the fact that I am a 20 year-old girl who has Cerebral Palsy.

I’m incredibly familiar with social rejection. I’m way more familiar with it than I want to be. From being chosen last in slaughterball to getting pelted last in slaughterball because the other kids knew that I couldn’t move fast enough to avoid the ball coming at me, I’ve felt it all. I know what it feels like to be stared at, not just by kids but by adults as well, due to the fact that I walk funny. I know the feeling of sitting in my high school auditorium  watching a mini-play in which the main character had Cerebral Palsy…letting the tears come…and wanting so badly to just get up and walk out of the auditorium, but knowing that doing so would cause me to draw even more attention to myself. I know the feeling of having people avoid me due to the fact that I make them uncomfortable or they are just unsure how to act around me. I know what it feels like when someone is dying to ask me what is wrong with me but can’t seem to even say it because they are too afraid of bringing it up and hurting my feelings. Worst of all, I know what it feels like to have someone imitate the way I walk and then using the bullshit excuse of “I’ve been told to observe people for a class.” No, I’m not kidding. That happened.

You could say I have felt more than my share of social rejection. Sadly, the majority of the social rejection that I have felt stems from the simple fact that I have a visible physical disability, so I naturally become an easy target for teasing and social rejection. However, don’t think that I am saying that all the other kids who have experienced social rejection but don’t have CP are any less important. That’s not what I’m saying at all. However, I think it’s important to understand that due to my CP, I became an easier target for teasing and social rejection, so in my eyes, it hurt worse simply because I was being teased about something that I couldn’t change. Despite the fact that I have gotten stronger due to experiencing so much teasing and social rejection, it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. Even now, if I get funny looks due to the way I walk, it hurts. It makes me want to cry or scream. It takes me right back to how I felt in middle school when I was chosen last for slaughterball because of the simple reason of having a physical disability. Being triggered to those moments of rejection in my childhood only takes a moment. I’ve always known that. However, the prompt in this morning’s Community Psych class made me remember just how easy it is for me to feel exactly how I did in middle school. It only takes a moment, a trigger, or even the two simple words of “social rejection”….until I’m back in the gym of my small town private school getting pelted with a red rubber ball because I wasn’t able to move quickly enough.

Monday’s Musings: October 1st!

1 Oct

Despite it being Monday, there are numerous things that have made me happy today:

  • Completing my annotated bibliography for my Community Psychology project on the social stigma of physical disabilities. If you’ve ever had to do an annotated bibliography, I’m sure you’re squirming at the thought of it. If you haven’t, count yourself lucky. I wish I could still be uninformed about all the effort and time that goes into making an annotated bibliography. I would explain it, but I’m relieved to be done with it, so that’s that. If you’re really curious, there is always Google.
  • The fact that it finally feels like Fall: complete with cool weather and changing leaves. Despite the rain and relative cloudiness today, it’s felt like the perfect Fall day. A pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks would seal the deal, but when is there time to go to Starbucks when I have so many other things that require my attention? Thankfully, I love college, and I’ve always loved learning.
  • A quick trip to Mr. K’s, my favorite used bookstore. Since I finished my annotated bibliography today (despite it not being due until Wednesday), I decided to treat myself to a quick trip to Mr. K’s. Since I have been wanting to read another book about writing after reading The Spirit of Writing: Classic and Contemporary Essays Celebrating the Writing Life, I settled for Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. After reading the first sentence of the Introduction, I couldn’t help but realize how much I’m going to love this book:

I grew up around a father and a mother who read every chance they got, who took us to the library every Thursday night to load up on books for the coming week.-Anne Lamott

  • It’s the beginning of a new month. Though this may seem like something small that made my Monday enjoyable, I’m always excited to welcome a new month. A new month means new experiences, new memories to be made, and yet another month that I get to live and breathe among the Blue Ridge Mountains that I love so much. And as the leaves begin to change, I feel even more lucky that I get to call this place home.

Teaching “social graces” for physical disabilities in schools.

29 Aug

In my community psychology class, we have been asked to do a project on a societal problem. I’ve chosen the stigma of physical disabilities and the social consequences that are connected with physical disabilities. Obviously this topic hits home for me since I have a physical disability, and I’m excited to start researching. Plus, I feel like this project could provide me with some great material to possibly include in my memoir.

I feel like the social consequences of having a disability, physical or not, is something that isn’t brought to too much awareness. Other than my intense surgeries and intense physical therapy, being able to socially adapt is probably one of the hardest things that I’ve faced due to being someone with a physical disability. I learned very early on in life that I was going to have to be the one to initiate relationships with classmates and people in my community. Everyone wants friends and people to count on, but as I was growing up as someone who was “different,” it was the one thing I wanted more than anything. However, in a society where being different isn’t the norm, it makes things that much harder for those of us who are a bit unique.

Today when I was talking to two of my other classmates who are also interested in the topic of the stigma of physical disabilities, I mentioned that grade school and middle school were very hard for me socially. I was picked on, stared at and didn’t feel like I had a place where I fit. Today my classmates and I were trying to think of reasons why that might be so, or why the stigma of physical disabilities may be so high. One thing I pointed out was that many kids don’t automatically grow up around someone with a physical disability. Therefore, to them, seeing a student at school who is physically disabled is something that’s “different” and “not normal.” However, what would happen if we chose to implement a kind of program in schools that taught kids the “social graces” of dealing with disabilities, while also pointing out that it’s important to “empower” the individual with the physical disability so that they feel like they matter within the classroom? Though it may seem easier said than done, I feel like today’s kids are lacking the simple awareness of the presence of physical disabilities. Since they may not be around them on a regular basis, they don’t know how to react, so of course they are going to feel uncomfortable. That’s understandable. However, as well so many other societal problems we face today, maybe education is the first step.

Though it may seem far reached, having a type of class on social acceptance is needed in today’s schools. Not all of today’s parents are going to properly teach their kids to be acceptable of all types of people, so maybe it’s something that should be brought up in the school system. As well as decreasing the level that kids with disabilities are being teased, I feel like it would help broaden other kid’s views of their society as well as help those with physical disabilities realize that they have a place where they can not only voice their own opinion, but actually be heard by their peers.

Yes, the fact that I was picked on as a kid made me stronger. However, I didn’t get stronger because I was picked on. I got stronger because I learned how to deal with being teased. However, that shouldn’t be something that kids with physical disabilities need to learn. There needs to be a certain level of respect that exists towards kids with disabilities in today’s school system. Providing today’s middle school kids with an education of “social graces” when it comes to kids with physical disabilities doesn’t necessarily mean that those kids would need to immediately befriend those with physical disabilities. However, I feel like emphasizing that kids with physical disabilities should be treated the same as those kids without physical disabilities would decrease the amount of bullying, physical and emotional, that is present in today’s schools.

I, of course, am fully supportive of decreasing the amount of bullying that is present in schools today. From my own experience, I know how much bullying hurts, especially when you are being bullied for something that you are not able to control. I feel like providing a class of social acceptance would help decrease this issue, thus allowing future kids with physical disabilities to feel comfortable among their classmates. Though I know that my school experience would hopefully have been somewhat different if a social acceptance class was provided at my school as I was growing up, I am willing to accept that I faced lots of teasing if it means that I can help future kids not have to experience it to such a high degree, or better yet, not at all.