The dictionary defines the word normal as ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.’ I have never been considered a normal person but I have spent my life trying to be a normal person. I grew up in an environment where everyone else was normal and I wasn’t like them, but the people around me tried to make things as normal as they could for me. I was never schooled with other disabled children and the only disability-centered group activity I ever participated in was horse-riding for disabled children. I did everything I could to ‘be a normal person’ when I knew that I didn’t fit in and wasn’t thought of as normal, both physically and socially.
Discovering that I could get physically better and committing to improving my social maturity have helped me to ‘normalize’ myself. There are many times where I still feel caught in this weird state of being ‘not disabled’ and ‘not normal’ at the same time and unsure how to identify myself or how to proceed from that place. The same is true of being in a foreign country: the idea of normalcy one place is completely different than it is in another. It’s not to say that one is better or worse than the other. It’s just a fact of life that there are differences to which anyone would have to adjust in an attempt to ‘do normal things’ or ‘be a normal person.’
I have this idea in my head that a normal person is socially acceptable and accepted, capable at work and in university, able to have healthy relationships and friendships, and in possession of a healthy, strong, well-functioning, non-disabled body. These are all things I keep in mind and work on in addition to my physical work, but everyone must be at least somewhat mindful of these things as they function as human beings and move through the world. I just feel that I often approach everything from the perspective of correcting ‘the me who wasn’t good enough’ into ‘the me who will be normal if I have success in all these areas’ which can be emotionally and physically exhausting.
The whole idea (and label) of disability is very black and white: one or the other. You have a disability or you don’t. You are disabled or you aren’t. I don’t know if I will ever be able to come to a place where I can say I’m not disabled anymore. That is what I want and that is what I work towards, but I don’t know if I will ever get there (or ever be able to consider myself free of my disability). I understand that I could stop working with the intention to ‘be free’ and just work with the intention to be healthy and give myself a break from the struggle to move through and out of this, but I would equate that with failure and weakness (especially since I have worked so hard for such a long time).
The one thing I can be grateful where normalcy is concerned is my social maturity. I am embarrassed to have come into social maturity later in life than ‘normal people’ but I am very grateful that I have been given specific feedback and examples concerning my immaturity and advice with which to correct it. This ‘normalcy’ of social interaction and the willingness to strengthen and transform my maturity has benefited my relationships with friends and family, my communication with medical professionals, my interaction and presentation within work and university environments, and my sense of myself. It has also strengthened my commitment to my physical therapy and shifted my perspective with relation to myself in the world (as a disabled person who needed to grow up and mature emotionally). The positive feedback and reinforcement I have got – from family, friends, professors, coworkers, and medical professionals – proved to me that a change in my maturity was necessary but that it happened (seismically) and is still happening. Changing my social self has taken just as much willingness, awareness, work, and discipline as changing my body has (if not more) but I am very grateful to have changed it and to know that change in behavior and personality is possible if you want it to happen and work to make it happen.
There are still many things I need to work on – physically and socially – but I have come far enough and done enough work to know that I can get to where I want to be. The challenges I face are not insurmountable, and considering how far I’ve come only motivates me to keep working. I don’t know if I can ever consider myself a normal person or call myself a normal person (or if anyone will think of me as a normal person) but I know I’m definitely not as immature, awkward, or gauche as I used to be. I think this is part commitment and awareness and part just plain growing up.