Mental Health Awareness Week. Where do I begin? One of the major hurdles of having a disability that’s so visible is there’s no escaping it. It’s the first thing you notice and the foundation for first impressions. Naturally, then, in a room full of strangers, you, Society, make assumptions that I, the disabled person, must form a connection with my own kind. It doesn’t matter if we have absolutely nothing in common, there’s an expectation that within seconds we’ll be making friendship bracelets in the corner. Just because we both have wheels, doesn’t automatically make us kindred spirits. I understand that when you’re uneducated or faced with the unknown, you do your best to join the dots with the information you have. But I don’t like her; she’s irritating, and she thinks the world owes her a favour because she’s disabled. Please, don’t box me in.
And now, Society, because you’ve made me believe I’m not worthy of making friends with the outside world, I don’t know what to do when you thrust me into it. I’m used to forging relationships with my alien species. They have the same lifestyle as me, they’re restricted by schedules just like I am, and we talk on a level which requires no explanation as to why we’re different. And now you expect me to know how to act in a room full of strangers. You expect me to know how to break down those barriers and partake in conversation without feeling utterly self-conscious about my differences. You know, Society, I desperately need to feel normal in a world where you’ve set me up to feel the exact opposite. To make matters worse, you haven’t taught anyone to recognise the beauty of being different. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that you want me to go it alone. I’ll enter the room full of strangers and banish the elephant in the hope that at some point, I’ll escape the box you’ve put me in, and I’ll just fit in.
When I think I’m getting somewhere; when I’ve escaped the box you put me in, when I’m doing my best to fit in, you go and tell me I can’t. When I speak out and have my own opinion, you give me a disapproving glare and then tell me to shut up. You were the one that forced me to go it alone to begin with. I wasn’t going to sit there and allow you to push me into a corner in a room full of strangers, so I did something about it. Despite the anxiety of not fitting in, I made friends with the strangers and I did my bit. I did what you wanted. You wanted me to feel different and so I used my differences to make a difference. I will always respect those who think outside the box because it means they’ve climbed out of the box. Society, don’t you dare shout at us when we expect you to change – nothing can ever stay the same. Why should we have to live in a society where we’re made to feel ashamed of our differences? Please, don’t box me in.