Being Recognized As More Than My Disability

          I’ve never been one to complain about things, especially things pertaining to my disability.  That doesn’t mean that I’m completely unbothered by my limitations all the time, though; I simply choose to not be very vocal about my issues.  Every once in a while, when my neck hurts or my legs are tired, I’ll mention it, but not very loudly, and I don’t usually intend for anyone to pay my complaints any mind.  I’m not one to believe it’s healthy to try to pretend I don’t have a disability or anything like that, because I’d only be hurting myself and other disabled people if I tried to hide it, as many able-bodied people would automatically assume that I’m ashamed of my disability.  If anyone knows me well, it’s obvious that is not the case.  In fact, I rather enjoy raising awareness for disabilities and the struggles disabled people face, because I love to make positive impacts on our society.  (We need a lot more of them today!)

          It’s funny (and by that I mean interesting) to me how so many people, especially my friends, forget that my needs are different from theirs.  I suppose if I were more vocal about the struggles my disability brings to my life, they’d be more likely to think of me as someone whose body functions differently than theirs, but I’ve learned that they don’t.  And, truthfully, I like that.  I don’t like it because I think it’s bad to be seen as a disabled person—that’s far from it.  I like it because my disability isn’t the only thing my friends notice about me.  Instead, they think of me as someone who loves Harry Styles and ballet, who loves to write and read and smile.  They don’t forget that I have a disability—it’s just not the first thing they think of when they see me.  I know that part of why this occurs is because my disability is invisible; I don’t look like I have a disability even though I do.  If I required a wheelchair, people would be rushing to my aid, even when I didn’t need it, which could be nice but also severely annoying.  (Or they’d stay away because talking to a person who uses a wheelchair is much more frightening than speaking to a person who doesn’t.  Obviously.)

          At school, when I ask my friends to open my water bottle, they often assume that I only need help opening it because the cap hasn’t been taken off yet.  So, they usually unscrew the cap and re screw it back on before handing it back to me.  Since I already feel like I ask my friends to help me with so much, and often a lot at one time, I always feel bad when I ask them to take the cap off completely afterwards.  It’s stupid, since I’m sure my friends don’t mind taking another few seconds to help me, but I can’t rid the feeling of being a bother.  I’m never annoyed when my friends do this because, like I said, they’re thinking of me as someone who is like them.  I just hate having to ask them to help me again; I never want to be bothersome.

          Other instances like the water bottle have happened before, too.  Once, my friend and I were talking about what we might want to be when we get older.  “I couldn’t be a surgeon,” I said jokingly, confident she would get the hint: my hands wouldn’t allow me to be a surgeon even if I wanted to.  Her reply came, “I couldn’t be a surgeon either; I hate blood!”  To say I was shocked would be an understatement.  I still remember this conversation two years later, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it right after it happened.  She wasn’t thinking of me as someone who couldn’t be a surgeon because of my disability; she assumed I couldn’t stand blood just like her.

          Just like all fifteen and sixteen-year-olds, my friends and I have been eagerly discussing who has their learner’s permit or driver’s license, interested in who can venture off wherever they want already.  I’ve had my learner’s permit for over a year now, so if I didn’t have Transverse Myelitis, I’d probably have my official license by now.  However, I’ve been toying with whether or not I really want to get my license or not since I’d have to drive for at least five hours every day for a week in a special car to learn, then raise thousands of dollars to purchase the adapted equipment I’d need to drive.  Discussing this with my friends one morning before school, my friend suggested, “You could always ride a bike!”  Smiling, I replied, “I can’t ride a bike.”  She laughed, too, both of us clearly finding the situation amusing.  “Oh, right.”  I’m never offended when someone forgets that I can’t do a certain task or suggests I do something I’m not able; in fact, it makes me happy knowing my friends don’t see me as someone with limitations.  It felt nice that my friends didn’t look at me and rack their brains for the activities I couldn’t do because of my disability.  Instead, they saw me as someone who could do anything like everyone else, just maybe in my own way, which I’m thankful for.