I hate it when people say to me ‘I know how you feel’ or ‘I know what you’ve been through’ because they don’t know. People will often use this as a segue into telling me their own sob story, but it doesn’t have anything to do with my disability or what I’ve been through. They might be able to empathize with me to a certain extent, but they don’t know how I feel or what I’ve experienced, especially when they are complete strangers. A couple of years ago, a man I’d just met asked me if I’d been in an accident. He said to me, ‘I didn’t speak until I was six. I know.’ I said, ‘No. You don’t know.’ He and I didn’t talk about it further because I shut him down out of frustration; I didn’t want to have a heart to heart or a pity party with a stranger, especially since we both had completely separate conditions and experiences.
I started writing this blog with the intention to inform people who share my condition that there is hope to get better through therapy. I understand the risk I run with the work possibly sounding preachy in an ‘if I can do this, you can too’ kind of manner, but I try not to present my experiences in that light or with that tone, especially since I know that cerebral palsy affects every person differently and what works for me won’t and can’t work for everyone else. I just wanted to provide information blended with personal experience so that someone with no hope that she could ever get better finds some strength or useful information through everything I’ve been lucky enough to experience.
I have cerebral palsy but I don’t know how every person with cerebral palsy feels. I don’t know how other disabled people feel. I don’t know how other unwell people feel. They have their own experiences and challenges that have nothing to do with me and, though I did try to connect with people through the ‘I know how you feel’ method when I was younger, I don’t do so anymore because I myself find it irritating and patronizing. I would rather get to know someone for her mind and heart and personality rather than ‘knowing’ her because of an accident, illness, disability, or disease. A person with the most horrible chronic illness one could ever imagine is still a whole person, definable by so much more and in so many other ways than whatever ails her.
I’ve wanted to write a blog that includes this quote for a long time, but I hadn’t found the right opportunity to use it. Hannah Jones of Cycle 16 of America’s Next Top Model kept being critiqued for being unmemorable. Eventually, she melted down because she felt attacked and unable to be memorable. She said, ‘I don’t know how to be memorable. I feel like who I am is not enough. I don’t want to be the girl next door if it means I’m just the girl next door. [Because] I’m more than that. I’m so much more than that.’ She was. She is.
I have a disability but I’m more than just a disabled person, and I would rather talk about things that allow people to get to know me for my intelligence and my compassion rather than my impairment.