Teenage (disabled) Dirtbag

I remember in middle and high school I always wished the world would stop spinning for just a second so that I could hop off and catch my breath. I wanted a break from the awkwardness, from the drama, the emotions, the pressure, the expectations, the anger, and especially from whatever the hell it was my body was (or was not) doing. 
In high school I tried hard to blend in but I also wanted to maintain and find some part of my identity that wasn't so apparent...something other than my very visually obvious disability. The weird, awkward, physically different, deformed, or genetic mutant isn't exactly the kind of 'unique' identity that is easy for anyone to embrace, never mind a teenager in the midst of an already changing body and emotional cooker. Needless to say I did everything in my power to ignore all of that 'stuff.' I think that these thoughts and their implications floated through my brain but I never really took the time to process them as a teenager, I don't think I even knew how or what to do with the thoughts I had in my head. They were just there and I quietly stored them all away somewhere, secretly wishing there was an adult who would show me how this 'stuff' all works -- but of course what teenager would willingly and openly admit to that?! As the only one in my family with O.I. and since I was the only physically disabled/wheelchair-user in school -- I really didn't have anyone to talk to about this 'stuff.' I never went to any camps that are offered today, and the only time I ever saw someone else with O.I. was on the off chance I awkwardly eyed someone with it in the hospital waiting room. 

My hope for this post is that maybe some other high schooler with (or without) O.I. might find this useful, maybe that young person will not dread another day of school, or maybe she or he will not be afraid of themselves anymore. None of these things will happen over night (no matter how carefully you read my advice!!) it will take days, months, even years of work within yourself. But I promise you, it can get better. But there's work and I'm sorry to say that the world isn't going to be handed to you, it won't always be ready and waiting to accommodate you every step of the way. 
1. Give other people a chance. 
Maybe most of your other classmates at school don't have a disability or have no idea what O.I. is. But that shouldn't matter and in my opinion I think it's unfair for you to expect them to know how to treat you or what not to do. If you don't want them to assume that you are stupid, incapable of learning, or unsociable -- then don't assume that everyone will be cruel, judgmental, and ignorant. Sometimes it might fall on you to take the initiative or to be the bigger person and go out of your way to be the friendly one first, but 9 times out of 10 (in my experience) being nice pays off! This also means to give other people a chance to HELP YOU. I have never been good at this but I am learning! Letting others know what you need assistance with encourages understanding, compassion, and teaches people how to treat others with disabilities. 

2. It's only a big deal if you make it one. 
This was one of my 'defensive' mechanisms for quite sometime and it probably still is. Until I began this blog I never made O.I. a large part of my life, I rarely even brought it up and just more or less pretended it didn't exist. Now, I'm NOT saying that you SHOULD pretend it doesn't exist -- but what I am saying is that the way you carry yourself, talk with others, the smile on your face, and your overall attitude has a lot to do with whether or not 'the outside world' will find you approachable. This can be difficult because if you're stuck in a long leg cast for half the year, it's a bit logistically hard to "pretend OI doesn't exist" or not make your disability a big deal. But even if on the outside it may appear that you are struggling - your personality, mental state, and your attitude can speak volumes and overshadow everything else. I know that this may sound like a phony magic trick but it's not!! Being able to turn an unfortunate event into a joke or making light of a situation are ways that you can level the playing ground for others and show people that if it's not something that bothers you, then by all means it should not bother them. 

3. Do what makes you comfortable.
Trust me, everyone else is just as awkward and uncomfortable as you are - it's just all experienced in a different way. This doesn't mean that you should dig yourself deeper into your comfort zone (otherwise you wouldn't be learning or developing yourself!), instead it's important to try new things and put yourself out there; however, do so within the boundaries that YOU know you are comfortable with. 

4. Talk it out.
In high school I had one or two teachers who I was able to be close with. Although no one else in school had O.I. or a physical disability, it was apparent to me that I had to find someway to get the thoughts that drifted in and out of my head 'out there.' I found that I didn't know how to talk to my friends about it, I was probably too afraid that they wouldn't understand or would just flat-out laugh at me. So instead I befriended my favorite teachers, and although I was never sure that they felt that they could give me 'proper' guidance -- I learned a lot about myself! Being able to verbalize what I felt or was going through helped me realize what the problems were or the issues that I was struggling with better; at the very least, it helped that my struggles were not just all tangled up inside my head and in my chest. Somewhere in school - whether it's your favorite teacher, guidance counselor, your aide, etc. I believe that there is always an adult who is willing to listen and pay attention to you, even if they can't give you the answers that you so badly want. 

I'm just a teenage dirtbag baby like you. 

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