Hide and DON'T Seek My Disability

Standing at roughly 3 ft, cruising around in a power wheelchair, bowed arms and with other key features of O.I. it's pretty obvious that I have a disability. Despite all of those visible clues I still find myself trying to hide my disability. My futile attempts occur less frequently as I have gotten older and as I have become more comfortable with myself; when I was younger though, I went through all kinds of ridiculous extremes. Whether it was out of embarrassment, shame, awkwardness, or just a strong desire to fit in - hiding my disability came about in various phases and stages. At first it was hiding physical differences, then it was about hiding my limitations, and as I got older it was all about over compensating for my handicap - pushing my other abilities to draw attention away from the O.I.
As a kid I went through a phase where I spent months getting around in my tricycle only. I rode it around the house, around the neighborhood, even begged my parents if I could take it to school (they drew the line there - but I think I took it to show and tell one time..). Realizing that I couldn't walk without the assistance of leg braces and a walker -- contraptions that no other kid I knew needed, I loved the tricycle because not only was I able to get around without anyone else's help, but other kids used bikes too! In my eyes I could look 'normal' for once!
This was looong before I got my power wheelchair. My physical therapist was still working with me to teach me how to put my leg braces on, how to safely climb in and out of my wheelchair, and gaining the muscular endurance to push myself for longer distances. I wasn't interested in any of that though. I just wanted to pedal away to my heart's content.

Beginning around the third grade through high school - I never wore shorts or skirts to school. During these years was when it looked like I had two knees on each leg. My tibia was incredibly bowed and after one particularly annoying day of kids whispering and pointing at my shin - I refused to show my legs ever again. It didn't matter how hot it was, whether or not the school's air conditioning was working, or if we had gym class - I was adamant about never wearing shorts again. In fact these were the days when I would force the shin guard of my leg brace over the almost 90 degree curve of my tibia; it was common for me to come home with bruises on my tibia from where I had tried to flatten the bone down with the plastic piece from my leg braces. By the time I was in high school I had already had several rod operations and though it no longer looked like I had two knees, the surgical scars on my legs bothered me. The scar tissue ran the length of my shin, from my knee to my ankle and being a fairly private person about my body and the way it looked, I wasn't interested in entertaining the curiosities of my classmates and friends. I didn't think I knew what to say, how to say it, or knew how much information to give. Besides at this age everyone's mentality is to fit in, to not be ostracized, to not show weakness or at least... if you could help it hide your vulnerabilities and oddities.

High school was also the time when I took off with my passion for writing. My English teachers took special interest in my ability to write - be it poem, newspaper article, short story or just a plain old essay. With the guidance and encouragement of a few teachers in high school I found something about myself that was not only hidden, but something (unlike my disability) that I had full control over. I chose which words to use, how I wanted phrases to flow, what images I wanted to conjure in my readers mind, what problems I wanted characters to face, and how everything would be resolved. Immediately (and this is still true today) I recognized the ease at which I am able to express myself through writing - on paper there is no judgment or questioning stares from strangers or my peers. On paper everyone starts with the same blank page, the same capital letter, and ends with the same period. To this day I am painfully cognizant of how I am able to connect with people on paper in a way I haven't found out how to do in person... but I think I'm getting there. So it was, that during high school, I began to 'learn' how to hide my disability behind the things that I am capable of. I taught myself how to draw attention away from what was obvious and became known for the girl who wanted to be a writer instead of "the small girl in the wheelchair." It wasn't long after that I became involved in the student newspaper and the literary magazine, with some persistence and work I changed the way my peers and the student-body came to see me.
I think that every person with a disability goes through something like this. At least I hope everyone does. For me it was a time to discover what I am capable of, what I enjoy doing, and learned more about myself that went beyond the day-to-day challenges I faced. So much of the time the disability might consume our lives that we forget there is a person underneath all of the medical care. And so when the day comes that we finally find something that we can do well, that is safe for us, something that WE CHOOSE to do and to be, and is something of a 'gift' - it almost seems to propel us to some other high that we will cling to and throw at others who don't know us very well, as if to say "here. This is the real me. Not the person you see before your eyes. This is who I choose to be and who I want you to know instead." This self-discovery was like a catharsis 18 years in the making, a relief to know that I had an option about who I wanted to be and what I could be capable of.

On Hiding Myself:

  • I think that because I was the only OI'er in my family, and the only OI'er I knew in my life growing up - my attempts at hiding my disability were inevitable. 'Hiding' my disability was my survival technique so to speak, it was how I was adapting to the world and everyone around me
  • It wasn't until recently that I came to realize why I did the things I was doing as a kid/teenager. It is one thing to realize your behavior and something else to change it, the latter is what I am slowly working on these days
  • Aside from me, my parents have two other children - my two brothers who are unaffected by O.I. My parents didn't cut me any slack because I have O.I. or because I was in a wheelchair; I had the same expectations as my brothers and that was to first and foremost do well in school. With that in mind I don't think my parents realized what I was doing by 'hiding' behind what I discovered I was capable of - instead they just encouraged my skills and strengths!
  • I don't regret the way my parents raised me in this way, I've certainly come quite far in what I have accomplished and am proud of all of it. I'm glad that they pushed me and didn't allow my disability to be an excuse and so many times my only options were "yes you can do it" and "you must do it well"
  • A part of this entire process, I think, is becoming more comfortable with yourself. Not just what you see in the mirror but the implications of what having O.I. or any disability means. I'm beginning to learn that this 'meaning' won't be set in stone for as long as the status of your disability / O.I. changes and impacts who you are as a person over time. Being okay with this fluctuating and changing status is definitely key     

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2 Responses to Hide and DON'T Seek My Disability

  1. Sometimes, what makes us strong is that something that we lacked. Our imperfections can be our guide on how can we live a normal life. The only problem that we usually get is that some people around us magnify it and make it a big issue. The best thing that you can and SHOULD do is go on with your life and be the best that you can be.


  2. Yes, you are right we all hide our imperfections. Wow, I think you are brave for telling the world about your disability. Mine is just my arm from an accident and I feel like the scum of the earth at times. This makes me work harder but the seclusion hurts the most. I bet you can feel things others ignore. The key for me is getting out of the house and into the open air. I found some good reading on the Internet which helps to explain the inclusion of people with disabilities. It has been going on since the beginning of mankind. They are cowards who don't even see their own flaws. What kind of god would rewards people like that? It may take a couple of more lifetimes to change the world but in the mean time don't give up. I will ask for help from a much higher source and let them be the judge of mankind. Shame is a terrible emotion. It is best sometimes to forget and forgive the waves of ignorance.


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