“When you’re vigilant, worried, anxious and insecure, you can’t lift your head to go and take off in space to be playful and safe and imaginative.” – Esther Perel
In the most recent episode of Criminal Minds (8.21: Nanny Dearest), women were being abducted and killed in the same way (tied up, systematically burned for several days, and then drowned). Only one of the victims escaped (three years prior to the abduction the team was working to solve) and she had post traumatic stress disorder. She was in talk therapy, but was clearly still deeply traumatized from the torture she endured. The profiling team spoke to her therapist, who said that she was getting better and was ‘almost normal’ in that she had a job, she painted, and she’d been on a date. The therapist measured normalcy in how well she could function in a ‘normal life’ after narrowly escaping death.
The traumatized woman eventually underwent a different form of therapy that helped her process her trauma rather than ‘doing normal things to get on with her life and be normal again.’ The idea of achieving normalcy is detrimental after having suffered such abuse because it reinforces the idea that the abuse is a fixable problem that can be overcome if she ‘did the right things.’ Processing the trauma helped her work through it rather than circumnavigate it, and she started to heal. Being healed is not the same thing as being normal. I have spent my whole life trying to be normal, and the idea of achieving normalcy through cure has been one of the central driving forces of my therapy from the very beginning: if I do the right things in the right way at the right time with the right consistency and commitment, I will be better and I will be normal.
I wish – every single day – that I could walk out of my disability and leave it behind me completely, like shedding skin or discarding a shell. The truth is that the emotional experience of my disability will always be present, even if I heal entirely. I have spent over five years trying to overcome my disability and emerge ‘on the other side of it’ unscathed, unscarred, whole, and complete. No one – I have realized – is unscarred, unscathed, whole, and complete. Curing myself will help me feel safer in the world and more whole – physically and emotionally – but it will not erase or remove the experience of the disability itself. Whether or not I accept my physical limitations, I do have to accept the fact that my life and my being human are inextricably linked to my impairment.
At the end of the Criminal Minds episode, the traumatized woman learns that the therapy she underwent helped the team find – and kill – her abuser (because she was able to give them information that helped them locate him and stop him). She connected with the most recent victim’s family, who thanked her and embraced her. The scene gave a hopeful message that, though she had survived a horrific ordeal, she would heal. It would always be with her, but she would heal rather than ‘be normal again’ which is a more inspiring and touching message than ‘she’s normal now’ or ‘she will be normal eventually.’ As much as I would give anything to be completely free of my cerebral palsy, I believe that the same is true for me.