I used to struggle with how to reveal that I’m disabled to someone I just met. It’s not because I was ashamed; it’s because I wasn’t sure how the other person would react. Would it be awkward? Uncomfortable? Would I be teased, even? Just a reminder to whomever is reading this that I felt that way–anxious–years ago, and it’s certainly not a total, complete reflection of how I feel as I’m writing this.
When I went to one or two parties in high school knowing I’d meet new people who didn’t know about my disability, my crutches, about any of it, I felt dread. While some might look at that situation as a positive opportunity for reinvention, the whole situation just made me feel nervous, shy, and awkward….. perhaps deep down I didn’t want to go to the party, and felt that I wouldn’t be missed if I didn’t go.
Let me just say that high school was a strange, strange time in my life. I was battling depression and had suffered a huge personal loss that nobody–and by nobody I mean most classmates and most teachers–knew about. Many days, I ate lunch alone. I felt like the crutches were all that people saw, despite my favorite teacher’s best efforts to convince me otherwise. I simply didn’t believe her. I buried myself in schoolwork and was obsessed with getting excellent grades because I was overcompensating for something–which only became obvious to me after years of psychotherapy.
When I was doing the whole online dating thing, I eventually put the fact that I was disabled on my profile and always “double checked” that the person I was talking to was truly not bothered by my disability before meeting them in person. I did this mostly for two reasons: 1) I hate surprising people and 2) It was a defense mechanism. Dating was exhausting to begin with, and I didn’t want to go through with meeting somebody new only to find out they were not OK with my disability–and were thus very ableist–later on (yes, that has happened to me. When it did, we were actually in a relationship, but that’s a story for another time).
In college, it seemed like I had vastly changed since high school: I felt more confident, more outspoken, more social, not as obsessive and anal about my grades to the point where I felt I was unlikable, and not in a depressive slump for the moment. I felt like I had finally gotten my “start-over.”
I had reconciled with my disability, not fully, but enough to start having a very different relationship with my body…and ultimately myself. I started being able to picture myself in romantic relationships and all that was associated with that. Thus the way I revealed my disability was suddenly a different experience than it had been before. I could no longer run or hide from it: the fact that I have cerebral palsy is inescapable and cannot be erased. I became upfront about it. I made sure to mention it on first dates to see what the man sitting across from me had to say about it to my face, and gauged their reaction. I slowly began to lose those feelings of anxiety over revealing it to people, and even fear. I had developed more of a “take it over leave it” attitude. My disability is part of my story, not my entire story. I refuse to be defined by it. I figured if the man I was interested in couldn’t handle that, he was in no way shape or form worth it to begin with.