I met with my doctor Karen a week ago and we discussed the idea of universality in experience. What is unique to people with disabilities and what is simply part of being human?
I wrote down so many things that I thought correlated to my disability: alienation, rejection, feeling unsafe, and a lack of trust in my body. I realized that these are things that everyone feels and goes through. Nothing is unique to any one person or any group of people. Every feeling and experience we have in life has been felt by someone else, and feelings of depression and despair happen to everyone regardless of the cards they’ve been dealt in life.
I used to monopolize conversations. People gave me space to talk, so I took advantage of it and took up all of that space. I never realized that this was socially inappropriate, alienating and, frankly, boring for other people. It wasn’t as though I didn’t care about people. I did – and I still do, deeply – but I always related anything back to myself and I talked much more than I listened.
I’m very different now (because I learned to think critically, listen attentively, show interest in other people, and not instantly relate anything back to myself). I’m actually very quiet around others and let them do most of the talking. I’ve actually been criticized for being too quiet, and a boy whom I absolutely adored rejected me because I wouldn’t open up to him enough. In fact, two boys have turned me down for being too quiet. It’s difficult to get that feedback when I’d spent most of my life being criticized for too much openness.
Talking too much is certainly a symptom of being sheltered and excused, but I’m not the only person who does it. This is what I mean about universality: even though people didn’t like how much I talked – and how personal I could get too soon – there are loads of other people who do the same, whether or not they have a disability.
Someone just told me this afternoon that he’d spent all of last night in the company of another person who completely monopolized the entire night and didn’t even stop – or pick up on those cues – when he tried to divert her and to change the conversation to topics that were neutral rather than personal. It shows me that I’m certainly ‘not the only one’, especially since the woman who talked a lot was far older than me. Some people just like to talk a lot; if a person’s certain way of being causes discomfort or requires a lot of work, the people surrounding have two choices: adapt or leave. In this case, people choose to adapt. I’ve experienced both sides: people adapted to my loquaciousness or people grew tired of me and left.
Everything you ever feel, go through, think, want, need, or experience has been felt by someone else, and one hundred percent of what you go through comes back to universal experience. The most personal things – feeling like we don’t belong, feeling like other people have it easier than we do, feeling like we’re an aberration, feeling like we can’t get things right – are things everyone experiences.
‘What is most personal is most universal.’ – Carl Rogers