I’m twenty years old and I can’t help but think that everyone thinks I’m stupid. I stutter, I feel slow, I say dumb things, and I sometimes catch people giving me judging looks. No one’s ever said that to me except maybe once or twice when I was much younger, but I can’t help be bothered by it. I feel like there’s something wrong with me mentally, but people don’t want to address it. I hate it. I’d rather be messed up and not aware of it than this. How do I learn to love and be okay with myself?
When you’re marginalized:
- No matter how nice you are, people will call you mean
- No matter how justified your anger is, people will tell you that you’re overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing
- No matter how polite you are, people will call you rude
- No matter how well you explain yourself, people will accuse you of speaking without thinking
- No matter how closely you stick to the facts, people will accuse you of letting your emotions make you irrational
This post is not about that, exactly. It’s about one consequence of living in a world where people treat you this way. You have to grow a fairly thick skin, and learn to disregard a lot of mean-spirited and unwarranted attacks on you.
The need to protect yourself this way comes at a price. The thick skin you have to develop to function at all can make it hard to tell when you actually *are* doing something wrong. And sometimes you will be. Because everyone is mean sometimes, Everyone overreacts some of the time. Everyone is rude sometimes, Everyone sometimes believes things based on what they emotionally desire to be true rather than the facts of the situation. Everyone gets outraged at things that don’t warrant it. Everyone is cruel sometimes.
And when everyone tells you that you’re doing awful things whether or not it’s true, it’s really hard to tell when you actually are doing wrong.
It’s important to cultivate friendships with people you can trust to care whether or not you are doing the right thing. Who share your values and won’t use false accusations of being cruel to shut you up, and won’t try to undermine your struggles against marginalization. Who will genuinely care about both the success of your work, and whether or not you are treating yourself and others well.
And to have friends who can trust you to do the same. It doesn’t mean that you always have to agree, or that you can’t ever do something your friend thinks is wrong. But it does mean that you listen, and take into account what one another thinks.
One of the awful things oppressors do to us is to make examining our actions difficult by flooding us with a lot of mean-spirited false criticism. It’s important that we find a way to counter that.
In Frozen, the main character accidentally injures her sister with her magic ice powers as a young child. In reaction, her parents teach her that she has to suppress and hide her powers at all costs in order to protect others. In a dramatic moment, she accidentally releases her powers in front of everyone. She gives up on concealing her powers, and makes dramatic and demonstrative use of of them. And, since it is a Disney movie, there is a song.
There’s a particular part of the song that I think is an important description of what it’s like to come to terms with difference:
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe.
I know I left a life behind but I’m too relieved to grieve. (quote ends here)
When you first start coming to terms with a stigmatized difference and talking about it in public and accepting yourself, as first it’s mostly a relief.
At first, you’re too relieved to grieve or to notice the price you’re paying for living in the world as an openly disabled (or whatever else) person. The price for trying to be normal was so, so high, and when you give up on that, the relief of not paying that price anymore is huge.
But the relief wears off. Gradually, you start to notice the price you pay for standing your ground. You’ve realize that you’ve left a life behind in order to stand your ground and be who you are unapologetically. And that some aspects of that life were good, and that you can’t get them back.
You’ve lost a lot, and that can be hard to take once it sets in and the relief wears off. Some of the losses are direct, concrete things, like people who won’t trust you around children, hire you, or talk to you anymore. Others are more ephemeral - like, giving up the hope that you’d ever have the kind of respect that those who live without stigma enjoy. There are a lot of things, and what they are exactly differs for everyone. But there are a lot of them, and coming to terms with that kind of loss hurts.
It is ok to grieve the things you left behind in order to accept yourself, hold ground, and be who you are openly. Grieving over this loss doesn’t mean that you’re backsliding in self acceptance. It just the price you pay for holding your ground often sucks, and sometimes that can loom very large. This is not your fault.
Honor your grief. You shouldn’t have had to lose the things you’ve lost. It should have been yours by right. You should have been able to be who you are openly without losing all of that. It’s horrible that you have to make this choice. You don’t have to have a sunny attitude all the time; you can have grief and regret and sadness and still be ok and on the right path.
The price is high, and you never really stop paying it, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it. We’re worth it. We can stand together and hold ground and support one another. Know that others have been through the stage where the relief wears off and the grief sets in, and found that the pain is bearable and that we can support one another through it.
Laura Hershey’s book of ADAPT poetry “In The Way” helps.