I would give my life to be human . . .
– Ellie Goulding, ‘Human’
The first boy I ever dated had a stutter. I felt horrible for him and it broke my heart when he stammered. It was painful for me and I found myself wishing I could help him and make the stutter disappear. Several years after he and I broke up, his speech impediment came up in conversation. He said to me, ‘I’ve never seen it as a problem.’ I realized then that it was only a problem because other people perceived it as a problem or difficulty.
I didn’t know I was different until I was three and other people responded to me in such a way that I knew that I wasn’t like them and didn’t fit in. I have always considered my disability a problem (and other people have considered it a problem). I was not raised with other disabled children or made part of a community of people with cerebral palsy and, frankly, I have never felt accepted in either the ‘normal’ community or the ‘disabled’ community because I have always been stuck between one or the other. I don’t believe I would have grown up seeing my disability as a problem if I had been raised – or at least surrounded – with others who were like me, but my disability was never severe enough for me to need the assistance that many people with cerebral palsy require.
I now see my disability as a ‘problem’ in a different way because I can fight my way out of it and ‘become normal’ but I don’t think anyone will ever consider me normal and I will never consider myself normal. Considering my disability a problem is self-destructive in some ways – in that I don’t consider myself ‘good enough just as I am – but it motivates me to work hard.
When my ex boyfriend told me he did not think of his stutter as a problem, I stopped thinking of it as a problem as well. I still felt bad for him and his stammer still made me sad, but I ceased thinking that it was a problem. I think I could do myself some good if I could express that to other people: that I have a disability but I don’t consider it a hindrance or problem (even though I do) because it might alter the way they consider me and treat me. If I don’t find it problematic, perhaps they won’t either.
I never mentioned my disability to the people who turned me down for the internship I wanted. I think that, if they’d considered it a possible problem, they would have brought it up at some point and asked me if it posed any challenges (because it’s certainly visible). They did not make any mention of it, so I don’t think that it factored into whether or not they hired me and I don’t think they considered it a possible barrier or problem. I understand why I wasn’t chosen – and completely respect it – and the feedback and experiences gave me life lessons and awareness that I have carried into new job applications (and the way in which I express what I like and want in terms of work).
I do think of my disability as a problem because of the challenges it presents every day, but I think I might be gentler on myself if I didn’t see it as a problem (or at least considered it less of a problem). I wouldn’t be so self-critical if I didn’t see the day to day obstacles and challenges as problems or as personal reflections of my own worth, but just as part of being human.