Today I read an article about this woman with down’s syndrome and how she had got a job at her sister’s salon. When Jenna was asked what her favorite thing about working at the salon she stated that she didn’t have a favorite thing because she loved everything. Here was a beautiful woman just full of sunshine and she didn’t let her disability stand in the way of her being happy. Her sister is advocating for more businesses to hire those with disabilities especially those who have down’s syndrome.
The article made me think about my own disability and those with a mental illness. There is still a lot of stigma attached to having a disablity especially if it’s a mental illness. Whenever I tell someone new about my disability there is always this fear that I will be judged or they won’t like me. I’m learning to stop being a people pleaser but that takes practice.
Lately I’ve been spending my evenings sitting with my neighbors at the apartment complex I live in. When I first moved in I would notice a group of the residents sitting together and talking. At first I was a little put off by it, as I was very reserved and didn’t talk to many people, let alone people I didn’t know. They were always so friendly whenever I came to go swimming. It took me about a month and I started to join in on their conversations. Before long I became apart of the group and most evenings I’m outside with them talking about life. I love living here. These meetings give me something to look forward to, it’s really the highlight of my day. I’ve been very lonely lately and it’s really helped to fill that void. In the past I’ve always been very social so this has helped me blossom back into the social butterfly I use to be.
After you spend a good amount of time with people they start to ask questions and that always puts me in a very awkward situation wondering if I should tell them about my situation. I’m forty years old on disability. I have had this cover that I tell everyone that I’m a graphic designer which is true but it’s more of a hobby than anything else. What if I tell them and they don’t want to hang out with me anymore. Those are the things that go through my mind. Most of the residents are older and are on a fixed income as well but I know that some will wonder why I’m on disability so early in age. If I tell them I’m on disablity will they ask more questions as to what kind of disability.
My history with having a mental illness is not everyone understands it. Some don’t validate it as a disability because they can’t see the symptoms. If only mental health was treated just like general health then matters would be so much better. So if you have a disability that’s a mental illness you really have this stigma attached to you. People with depression and other mental illnesses are good at hiding it. On the outside it might seem that the person is happy but underneath is a lot of pain and suffering. I can see why some would see the disconnect but many of us have learned how to survive in a world full of stigma. Sometimes it’s easy to just pretend you’re okay.
If having a mental health disability wasn’t enough I also have the added stigma attached to being gay. I’ve always been really hesitant sharing that information with new straight people in my life. It took me about a month and it finally came up tonight. I’m in this new mode of not caring what people think, well I’m learning, so when one of the residents was talking about another resident who was in his 50s and not married implying he might be gay. She did the hand gesture to imply that he was gay. I started to cringe. I know she didn’t mean any harm by it but I couldn’t not leave the conversation without taking a stand. I didn’t confront her on it. I just made a couple of comments about that it’s not always the case about single men. Then another resident started talking about if you’re boyfriend is wearing nicer jewelry then you might having something to worry about. I replied well that wasn’t always the case, that not all gay people were fabulous like that. I then said that I was one of them but I said though I’m still fabulous. The one lady goes are you gay and I said yes. They laughed at that and we went on talking about something else.
In the back of my head I wondered were they thinking negatively of me now. Those are just fears and I can’t entertain them. Even if they did it has nothing to do with me. All I can do is be me and live the life the best of my ability. Some people will judge me and I really don’t need or want them in my life. It’s hard to let go of caring what people think of you. I’ve done it most of my life so it’s going to be a hard habit to break but I’m working on it. The same goes with having a disablity. Those who judge people with disabilities are the ones with the true disablity.
I think that’s the misconception that we’re half a person, were not able. I use to think my disability was just that. It made me feel like less of a person. I now see the value in myself and realize that my disability is what makes me special. Having to endure years of depression and PTSD has gave me the tools to help others who are walking down the same path as I have. I’m stronger and more empathetic for having to walk that path. I also judge life on one’s impact. You don’t have to have a college degree or even a job to impact other people. I know that I bring joy into people’s life. Just today I was talking with the complex manager and she talked about how she loved having me live here. She also talked about my joyful personality. It made me feel wonderful that she saw me for who I am. I don’t always feel that.
I think it’s important to not get caught up in those who don’t see you. Some people just don’t have the ability to see past something. That’s their flaw not yours. Sometimes you just have to let it go, which is tough as nails at times. Awareness is also important and something I’m working on creating with my blog. People can change and if other’s don’t take a stand and advocate for what they believe in, nothing will ever change. Some people don’t understand why I’m so public with my struggles. I know people judge me for that, even people in my own family. That’s just apart of the stigma, that you’re suppose to keep mental illnesses covered up. Being open about a mental illness will put shame and guilt upon the family name. This does more harm than good. They’re not living my life so they have no right to speak for me. They don’t have to fight the same battles nor have they had to experience what I did.
So I’m going to keep being me and live the life the way I want to. Being authentic will only help me to grow it will also give others the courage to do so as well. I will finish with one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson. We are all meant to shine…