Contemplating getting older and societal pressures, Meghan also dishes out helpful advice for 15-year-old girls with a disability.
I’ll be thirty-five in June, and it’s totally messing with my head.
I feel so guilty even admitting that because my little brother didn’t see his 17th birthday, and my best friend died just shy of her 30th as well. So, I know that I’m lucky to be topside. That’s not what this is about, it’s about the traps that society sets for us that we all inevitably fall into.
A big portion of my personal trap is life doesn’t look at all like I thought it would when I was fifteen. Yes, I started planning things out at fifteen–I’ve always been a little bit more mature than people my age. I guess it’s a side effect of being disabled, dealing with life-altering surgeries, tedious physical therapy sessions, and understanding that life isn’t fair and certainly isn’t going to stop and ask your opinion. Life made an already pretty seriously dispositioned kid into a pretty mature person all the way around.
Anyway, I had goals. The same ones as anyone else.
Job. Marriage. Babies.
There are multiple reasons why I don’t have any of those things at 35, but I think one of those reasons is that society doesn’t even expect me to want those things. So the world for the vast majority of the disabled community is not set up in a way that we can feasibly attain those usual life goals.
I would love to have a job, but in order for me to have the medications, doctors, caregivers, and equipment I need to survive? Well let’s just say, I’d have to become Nora Roberts level of extremely successful writers first.
Marriage? (Ok, I actually just laughed out loud.) You would too if you’ve had my experiences in online dating. The whole idea of marriage seems so far out of the realm of possibility for me, that now I’m letting go of the marriage thing in hopes of just finding someone period.
Finding someone in today’s world of instant gratification is difficult for everyone but it’s definitely harder for disabled people. There are things that work against me that don’t work against the average woman.
One of the last conversations I had with my dad was about the fact that most men, himself included, balk at being caretakers. It’s not malicious on their part, it’s that being with me isn’t ever going to be the gender normative thing they’re taught to look for. It’s not just that I can’t cook them dinner, or do laundry, it’s that they would physically have to care for me at times.
That’s not even taking into account having to knock down their walls of prejudice that come simply from sitting in the wheelchair. People make judgments about my intellect, just because I use a wheelchair.
There are tons of obstacles in my way when it comes to finding someone, but I’m trying my hardest to stay positive about it and doing my best to believe that there is someone out there for me. Because I don’t believe my God would put that desire in my heart to leave it unfulfilled.
Babies? This is the only box I feel I’ve ticked to any valuable degree.
I’m not a mom, but I am an Aunt who tries her best to make a valuable impact on each of my tiny relative’s hearts and minds. I want to have an effect on – not only how they view the world but – how they move through it as people.
Job. Marriage. Babies. *Disability
I still feel the pressure of that societal checklist. As does every other human being regardless of disability or otherwise.
Though I had a realization about a quarter of the way through writing this post, what’s really more important? Having everything checked off on the list and looking normal and put together, or is it to lead a happy life overall?
Oprah Winfrey used to ask certain celebrity guests “What would you tell yourself if you could go back and talk to your 15-year-old self?”
I’m not sure that I would ever tell myself anything because without every choice I made I wouldn’t be who I am today so I’m going to do something a little differently.
I’m going to give advice to the 15-year-old girl with a disability who might be reading this. The girl who needs the guidance from someone who has set in her seat, stood in her leg braces, the girl who has felt alone before.
My Advice to the 15-Year-Old Girl with a Disability
1. Set your goals.
Whatever they are, big or small it doesn’t matter. What matters is to choose something for yourself. It doesn’t matter how you reach it, or really even if you ever reach it at all the important thing is to give yourself permission to do something of your own choosing.
2. In the words of Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
I spent a lot of years pursuing friendships and or relationships that were only as real as the other people needed them to be. In reality, there was nothing real to be found in about 90% of those relationships. Though in my loneliness I accepted crumbs because all anyone wants is validation. Hindsight really is startling clear.
Here’s a hard truth. It is better to be lonely than to lower yourself for fair weather friends or to be loved in half measure. It might seem unfathomable to the person reading this who does feel that depth of loneliness, but I promise the people who matter they’re going to show up right when you need them.
3. Choose happiness.
Decide to find happiness no matter what it looks like. Unless you have a chemical imbalance in the way of depression or mental illness, making an intentional effort to be happy changes your perspective and can save you a world of heartache. This was the hardest of lessons for me to learn and continually manifest in my life but I do it, every day with varying degrees of success.
For those who are counting, I don’t have a job or a significant other, I live with my parents, I don’t have children, and my life looks nothing like I thought it would. Some days that sucks and that’s ok. Sometimes, it’s not even an issue if I ignore the boxes life tries to put me in.
The realization I had while writing this piece? Perfection and expectation are illusions meant to chain you to unhappiness. Break the chains and do your own thing.