Friday, October 26, 2012

Disability and me: Who I am

I could never match the expectations people have when they meet me. Quite honestly I have long stopped trying to. The image that they have when they hear or learn about me is never the complete picture and for many it is a problem. You learn about my disability, my wheelchair, my struggles, my fight and my plight, you focus on one aspect of me and you figure you know what I'm all about. I found it strange, but painfully reminded of it in this election cycle as well, how we choose to reduce others to those one or two things that they are like they are poster children for causes. We assume we know what it's like to be other people, how they should feel, what they should stand for and what should matter to them most. I've dealt with a lot of serious issues in my time. Life with disability is no laughing matter. I've faced surgeries, pain, self doubt and exclusion. Since I moved to America, I've dealt with a lot of rejection, misunderstanding and  neglect. I've fought for disability awareness, accessibility and things like my own law school and immigration. And I do think about those things plenty, I tend to over-analyze and I share my experiences on my blog. Before that I've had stories written about me in the local press. None of it is manufactured and I have a lot of passion for things that matter to me most, but there's more to me. And I've had people meeting me over coffee because they felt inspired by something I have said and written wanting to get to know me, leaving disappointing.

They were expecting to see a hero, a champion of human rights and all they get is me. The idea is is that I always am this highly focused, deep thinking intellectual, branded by life experiences like some form of otherworldly being. Someone sad, somebody serious, broken perhaps? Sometimes you can just see I'm not who they've hoped to meet.Many times I've been told by people they expected me to be different. That's why I don't even meet people excited to meet this media persona based on me anymore. In one way or another, if you think that's all there is to me, you're bound to be disappointed. And I don't think it's fair to put that burden on me.  If I can make you understand disability, I will do it but it is not my job to live up to anybody's expectations and it's not my fault if you don't like what you see. The truth is, I have a wicked sense of humor and I like having fun. I'm sarcastic and I take after my dad. Back in Poland he had a very risque way he would joke and when I first got here I found I'm very much like him to my own surprise. I've had to tone it down since. Humor to me is the most basic way I relate to people. Think about it. What an awful existence it would be if I just contemplated Cerebral Palsy and how I'm excluded from the world on daily basis. I'm not good at forcing conversation and I don't feel well around those who are square.

Having said that I'm serious and driven when I work and I always try to be respectful and mindful. Back in the law school I used to dye my hair blond and my mother would be concerned about my image. And to an extent she has a point. But if someone is not going to hire me or not like how I come across it will not be about my hair color or if I shaved that day or if I wore a tie that day honestly. Because I'm already different and I stick out. And I don't want to go through life apologizing for who I am or that I'm not as you pictured me to be.

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