THIS-ABILITY: On Disability And Why I Used To Hide It On Social Media
I took a deep breath before placing my fingers on my lit-up keyboard to begin writing the words you’re reading on a screen somewhere right now. Taking a deep breath isn’t my normal pre-writing ritual at all, although it probably should be giving the amount of uncensored truth and thoughts I share on this blog.
I don’t even think I have a particular thing I do before writing, but if I did, it would for sure involve a cup of my favourite four red fruits tea and a slow ballads playlist on Spotify playing on a close-to-silence volume. This time, I haven’t made any tea though, but I do have the sound of a tender voice keeping me company.
I took a deep breath because I’m finally doing the thing I told myself I’d do a while back, but somehow never got around to it; either that or I was just super hesitant or maybe not fully comfortable with this amount of vulnerability living on the wild web forever.
A guy I was chatting with on Facebook once told me I didn’t look disabled at all in any of my pictures. It was back in the day before Instagram took flight and WhatsApp had a tab for 24-hour stories. Back then, I was that type who updated their page with new pictures almost every day and I cringe now whenever I go on trips down my feed, back to the times that keep me wondering why a 14-year-old girl had access to a personal account on such a public space. And the answer is yes, I have since then gone down the rabbit hole and wiped out as many embarrassing pictures as I possibly could!
There are so many similarities between me and the girl I was back then. Both she and I still love to pose for the camera for longer than necessary, we always welcome a bright red lip and we are easily bribed with pasta or anything sweet to be completely transparent.
Once I read that message, I’m sure I must have smiled from ear to ear. I took pride in the fact that I had accomplished the one thing I wanted to be good at; not look disabled. I was glad that all my attention to detail had paid off. It meant I had cropped my images to perfection, leaving out the wheelchair on purpose and taking pictures in front of plain walls, as in my eyes that made it a lot less obvious. It also meant that he would have never known if I hadn’t spilled the beans during our lengthy chats. Most importantly, however, it meant that he saw me first; before the chair, before the scars on my knee, before it all.
In the years that followed, I kept up with the cropping and white walls that left paint stains on the back of my t-shirts. I was keeping up appearances and somehow, I got validation from it. I told myself I wasn’t defined by the chair, which was my justification for not putting it up online… ever. The people that needed to know already knew and those who didn’t weren’t necessarily entitled to the information anyways.
At some point, which I can’t really identify, I began to
question my decision to crop it all out and never show or in some cases even
tell. Why was I deliberately going out of my way to hide a part of me? Was I
really doing it to avoid it defining who I am or who people think I am? Was I
doing it for the right reasons?
I came up with this conclusion: while I didn’t want to be seen in a chair all the time and that be the main thing everyone remembered, I was also ignoring, or more like, excluding a big part of who I am in order for me to paint a more ‘perfect’ picture. I wanted to paint a picture that was closer to the one I had of myself in my head and maybe that was okay too.
The more I questioned what I was doing, the more it bugged me and made me a little more uncomfortable each time I tried to avoid the subject in thought. The discomfort with myself was what led me to then post my first unedited photo that included my wheelchair. I posted a picture that showed me in reality, the version of myself I am when I’m out and about in real life. Doing that didn’t make me feel any less of who I was if anything, I felt a little more real, a little more authentic. I felt like I wasn’t trying too hard.
Truth is, I’m not always in a wheelchair in real life, but I am on one a lot of the time too. I’m also more than a disability, but I also have one. I had to learn to understand that while I wasn’t entirely one thing, it didn’t mean I wasn’t another. In other words, while I was so sure it didn’t completely define me, I also know my story would be totally different without it. It would be incomplete and inaccurate. It would be someone else’s story and I know the person I’ll turn out to be will also be, to a certain degree, as a result of it.
I guess in a sense we all do it; try to filter out the parts of ourselves that we deem imperfect. We all add filters and crop the parts in the picture we try to hide or the ones we think will be misunderstood. As I grow a little older (and hopefully wiser), I learn more and more that those parts we sometimes wish we could erase are the ones that make us who we are. They may come in ways we might not always like or expect, but those are what make you special and allow you to stand out from the crowd… or at least that’s how I choose to see it. In other words, I chose to not see it as the thing that ruins a perfect picture.
Your restless romantic roamer