Social media has a way of concealing aspects of us that are otherwise apparent in daily life.
Unless pertinent to disability awareness or advocacy, I don’t often talk about having a physical disability. I choose not to do so because my disability is not important to my self-image.
In previous columns, I’ve outlined my internal dialogue about the decision not to disclose in online dating settings that I have a disability. Despite what seems to be unavoidable advice to the contrary, I feel confident in my decision to speak about myself, not my disability.
However, in an unexpected way, incorporating my disability into a conversation with someone over the phone can yield an immediate, revealing snapshot of their true colors. Unlike chronic illness, people seem to take a much more aggressive stance about physical disability: They seem to either acknowledge it and move on or say something offensive.
The circumstances in which I’ve encountered cruel responses about my disability have left a mark. There is something that resonates deeply about being reduced to grimy stereotypes and demeaning jokes. While the residue lingers, it contrasts with the message from society that I should be grateful. I should be grateful for whatever attention I am offered, because who knows when it will come around again.
I believe the mentality of scarcity is deeply ingrained in disability culture. I feel as though the message of forced appreciation for any attention or friendship, no matter the quality, has been emphasized to me. Because I’ve been dehumanized, and treated and perceived as profoundly inadequate, the fact that anyone would willingly offer their time and attention to me should be sanctified. This paradigm doesn’t work for me.
I won’t deny that being socialized in a world that assumes I am unworthy has led to a deep degree of internalization. My thoughts of fear and rejection and patterned expectations of criticism clash with my beliefs. I believe I am worthy. I believe I am good enough. I believe I am smart, beautiful, amazing, and deserving of all the good on the planet. Yet my mind continuously spews insulting stories at me.
Reining in my trampling thoughts is a constant battle. At the core of my being, however, is the resolute knowledge that I deserve the best. I do not have to resign myself to toxic interactions or minimize the ignorance of others in order to cling to whatever shred of attention I can get. Much to the contrary, I find that the wrong relationships stab more deeply than the sting of loneliness.
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