Back in Time, Dreams, Fears, Hopes

Take Up The Space

Me standing at a Waterfront with my forearm crutches, smiling and wearing sunglasses, a red shirt and purple pants with blue sneakers. There are loft style buildings and a body of water behind me.

The other day I was on Twitter and wrote a quote tweet that got quite a bit of unexpected attention. It didn’t go viral or anything but it get more attention than my other tweets. You’re probably thinking ok, who cares? Here’s why it matters. At least to me.

The quote tweet was in response to another Twitter user who is a regular in the disabled community and with disability activism. I will not apologize for my limitations. Whew. A word indeed. Speaking from my own experiences, apologizing is definitely a thing. Believe me, I wish it wasn’t. Really and truly. I could go on and on about that. But let’s get into the specifics of this tweet I recently put out into the world.

Let’s go back in time to when I was in high school. Yikes. Back then I had this bad habit of saying something like “Excuse me, sorry” every time I passed by another student in the crowded hallways. Saying excuse me is fine. Preferable, even. But the apology? No. Just no. I regret all that. I shouldn’t have apologized for taking up space, for simply being there. With or without crutches, I was a student like everyone else. I had to frequent those halls to get to class like everyone else. I had to literally push past rowdy students like everyone else –– risk of being knocked down to the floor and all. But it was impossible to be a student without crutches, obviously. I was the only physically disabled student in the whole entire high school, to my knowledge. I certainly didn’t see students using crutches or other mobility aids or wheelchairs during my tenure there besides me. Mobility aids can look different and definitely aren’t limited to the ones I listed. I know. That’s not really the point. I didn’t see other students using them. Meaning I was constantly singled out in a significant way. And it wasn’t even because students or teachers would actively isolate me all that much. It was just the nature of the situation. I’m physically disabled. The teachers and students weren’t. I use crutches. The teachers and students didn’t. I have CP. They didn’t and don’t. Get the pattern?

I don’t miss being in high school. Like at all. I won’t bore you too much with the why’s or how’s or even a sad story about how I felt othered and different. But I will say this. It was my own “stuff” that had me feeling like a lone wolf. The things I went through, at home or wherever, skewed my perspective a bit. I was only sixteen when I had my first real and rather jolting experience with death and all-consuming grief. Being a teenager was hard. Being a teenager with CP was even harder. I was stuck navigating a weird relationship with my body and body image. And trying not to let being disabled define me. Then there was the loneliness. I didn’t date in high school. No boyfriends or anything like that. I played it off like being single was no big deal but deep down it made me sad. I have this distinct memory of telling my humanities teacher “I don’t know why anyone would ever date me” or something and she legit got so sad when I said that. I saw it in her eyes. Heavy stuff, yes. But I didn’t want to lie about how I was feeling or how I saw things back then.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t let a boy define my happiness, blah blah blah. What the heck, I was sixteen! Self-conscious, shy and unprepared. I’d heard people tell me about creating your own happiness, but I didn’t really subscribe to it because it was deeper than that. I thought being disabled made me undesirable. Really and truly. I see things differently now, obviously, but I’m just saying. The mind can be a scary place.

Some days I went to school convinced people were only being nice to me because I helped them with classwork and homework. I was valedictorian. I mean, my school didn’t really have valedictorian but if they did, it would’ve been me. Let’s be real. Anyway. I thought they were being nice because they didn’t want to be mean to the disabled girl. Honestly, it all seems very melodramatic. Now. But back then it felt extremely real and it hurt. It felt like I didn’t have a group of core friends during those years. People I could really rely on, share heavy things with, bond with. I ate lunch alone most days. Thank goodness for headphones and music, am I right?

Ok, relax. I’m really not trying to get you to sympathize or feel bad for me. I mean, you might. If that’s what you’re about. Or you might just not care. That’s fine. I don’t really care, honestly. Last thing I need is pity. It was such a long time ago. Besides, I definitely don’t want to be the person who thinks high school was the best four years of their lives to date. That just seems sad to me. I’m not judging. I’m venting, really. Musing. That’s what’s nice about blogging. I can vent and write into the void and feel like a new human being after. Writing is so cathartic it’s ridiculous. It has saved me more times than I can count.

Here I go, writing into the void. Back to the topic at hand. Here are some questions I’m considering right now: was saying “sorry” just a bad habit? Was it more than that? Maybe I was conditioned to apologize because I did feel unworthy of taking up space. Unworthy because I’m disabled. Apologizing because I felt like I didn’t belong there or anywhere.

Stop. To any disabled person who might be reading this post and maybe even to myself, I want to say loudly and clearly: you are worthy. Take up the space. You belong there. You belong anywhere you want to be. You should have equal access to hallways, sidewalks, streets, whatever. You aren’t here accidentally. So own it. To any non-disabled person who might be reading this… please move out of the way. Some disabled people need extra space. And they should get it. And while we’re on the subject, be an ally. And please, know what that really means and how to be one.