The Journey of Acceptance
By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso
I think that many in the disabled community can relate to a point in life when you can’t avoid looking reality in the face. People in general go through a lot of ups and downs but when you have a disability the hurdles are a slightly different animal. You don’t always have the same options or the same set of of tools to work with when life gives you a crappy hand. It can make life seem especially hard when things are bad and make it hard to trust the good times. Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of reality, a lot of growing up, and a lot of clawing my way back up.
I’ve been through the process before but this time has been admittedly tough to recover from since I’m still adjusting to being an adult on the spectrum and suddenly have less resources and support than I used to. Let’s be real today,folks! I usually have more practical over personal but I thought a nice personal insight would be a nice break.
The Label of “Disabled”
I think something that can be confusing for people is what “disabled” means. How little or how much weight should be on the term and what does it mean? When you’re disabled the term is a little confusing to reconcile with because while you don’t want a label and prefer just being treated like a human being yet you have to accept being disabled to get better or move on with life. You can’t avoid labeling yourself if you want treatment and understanding but deep inside you kind of just want to be you and have people be okay with you as the person you are.
I know personally I’ve always struggled with accepting being disabled. It’s fun to try to go the “differently abled” route to soften the blow but at the end of the day you are in fact less able then some of the people around you and have to accept that as a truth to move forward with getting better. I think there’s a sort of confusion because to a non-disabled person trying to approach me it’s probably very baffling how to approach me. Should you treat me differently because to some degree I’m different and need some allowances based on that or should you treat me like a person because I’m still a person with thoughts,opinions, and feelings?
The answer is sort of both. I think personally the right approach is to treat me like a human being who is a little different. Yes, I’m disabled but it doesn’t lessen me being human. I might be sick but I’m still just as human as a non-disabled person. But I do also understand the confusing elements of this. It’s hard for human beings to comprehend things that aren’t tangible. When we can’t clearly see or touch something it’s hard to file it in our brains as being “real”. I think this is why the human mind in a lot of ways can’t always grasp things like some disabilities or conditions that are technically invisible to anyone outside the person with it.
Now as the person with the disability you might be surprised that making that distinction is just as hard for me. I wake up a lot of mornings and just want to be “normal”. To be fair, I’ve always been sort of sickly for various reasons so waking up healthy is an impossibility for me either way but I sure as hell wake up and want to be okay. Sometimes I’d push that feeling to not taking pills or trying to ignore symptoms still clearly being there. Any chronically ill person will probably tell you something similar. Denial isn’t really a stage you completely move on from for a lot of people.
I’m not even sure acceptance is a permanent situation. I think there have been times I’ve reached a level of acceptance and then had a backpedal from it for one reason or another. Some days I wake up and I can push forward accepting I’m not like every other person and putting in 150% despite that. Other days it doesn’t work and I just sort of crumble under my own weight no matter how much effort I put in. Acceptance comes more in uneasy cycles than a set of stages where I reach the top of a podium and stay there in recovery mode. I’m not sure how different this is for other disabled people though. Everyone is wired a little differently and handles adversity differently.
The Struggle to Find Acceptance
I’ve gone back and forth for years trying to find a healthy level of accepting my disability for what it is without doing it to a point I demonize or patronize myself. It’s a very delicate balance to be honest. At the root of everything I just want to be accepted as Melissa but I can’t completely bury the bond I have with my disability under a rug. It’s part of me and it’s part of what makes me who I am to some degree. I think just figuring out what that degree is is the missing part of the equation. With autism especially, I’m learning it definitely is part of me and shaping me. My brain is quite literally wired in a way that gives me a truly unique perspective on the world around me. There are no pills to change a chemical being off because there’s nothing to adjust. It’s just my brain being itself. But at the same time I’m existing in a world where people use a difference I didn’t choose to have to label me and reduce me as a person. It actually surprised me how many people made full turns in how they treated me when the term autism came up. They treated me like I was dumb to be very frank.
It may come out in my writing enough but I am definitely not a stupid person. I’ve always been a very bright person but a little lacking in people skills. I don’t wave this flag around a lot for a lot of reasons but the main one is that it’s not a big deal. Intelligence is kind of not a free pass like some people make it out to be. This is especially a fact in a society that puts considerably more emphasis on being people smart. There are a lot of things you can’t learn from books and a lot of doors being traditionally intelligent can’t open.
But here’s the interesting thing. The organizations and professionals looking for signs of disability think intelligence makes you less disabled. I tend to run into situations where medical professionals make too many assumptions based on my intelligence and the normal people around me are just kind of trying to ignore it and fit me into a labeled box. It’s morbidly fascinating in a way.
It’s very difficult for me to actually come to terms with myself because in a lot of ways I get penalized for doing so. I’d love to be able to hop out of bed and embrace every fiber of my being but doing so means people judge and label me a lot of times and will inevitably replace the truth with preconceived notions anyways. I think sometimes I get overly hampered by the weight of other people seeing me as a statistic or an illness and if I don’t leave my house with 200% confidence this can completely negate me accepting myself that morning. There are also times when my symptoms are so prevalent it blinds me from really seeing myself as more than a label or statistic. Having anxiety for a multitude of reasons can really mess with your mind and make it hard to see yourself through the symptoms. Whatever the reason is I definitely experience acceptance as a cycle and fight that battle fresh every morning I wake up.
I think even when I am accepting myself it can’t stick until we create a society that doesn’t shame being different. I actually saw a commercial with my husband a while back for Ebay clothing where the song they use talks about being unique but the whole commercial shows people ripping off other people’s style. In a way it was sort of deep. We have a society defining standing out by how much you fit in. This is shortsighted and stupid on a lot of levels but also perfectly in sync with human behavior. Humans crave acceptance more than identity in some ways. I think no matter who we are and whether we have a disability or not we have a sort of laser focus on acceptance that we don’t always want to acknowledge but can’t really ditch.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing because theoretically and psychologically not wanting to be accepted and completely being focused on standing out is bordering on unhealthy. Not acknowledging basic human behaviors or completely creating our own realities is kind of what makes a sociopath if you think about it. We should want to be accepted to some degree but until we also learn the value of truly appreciating differences I don’t think anyone is really accepting themselves.
I think disabilities in essence do create a hurdle to self-acceptance but maybe what really needs to be done is that people in general need to be okay with who they are. Self-esteem is something we all have issues with so maybe instead of trying to blend in when you get up in the morning try instead to give yourself a little mental hug for the person you woke up as,not the person you want everyone to see you as. It’s something we can all benefit from and the more we as human beings accept differences ,the more we can begin to see that people are just people and we don’t need to label,group, and blend in to feel okay.