I want to tell you a story. I have spent a majority of my life dreaming of the future—dreaming of college and all of the things I would do there. As a kid living in New York City, I would spend some of my free time going on college tours around the city. I had an entire library of college brochures and course catalogues in my bedroom. I was eleven, I hadn’t even hit puberty yet. I knew everything I wanted to be. I was going to be a trial attorney (probably too much time spent watching Law and Order or reading Mary Higgins Clark books). I had even successfully lobbied my parents to let me go to law camp for the summer (yes, I was THAT nerd).
I graduated from high school as a strong student and headed to college with my plan intact. I was so excited. I was geared up, I had read all of the necessary materials and couldn’t wait to start.
I wasn’t prepared for how difficult school was for me. I worked hard, but couldn’t seem to land the same grades that came easily to me in high school. I began to spiral mentally, but couldn’t bring myself to ask for help. I couldn’t let people see me falter or fail. Too many people believed my life story to be their inspiration. I couldn’t afford to be less than that. I was even awarded to that affect at my high school graduation.
My depression spiraled to the point where I decided to drop out shortly after my first year, I had been snowed into my room for nearly two months during the blizzards in 2009 and my professors couldn’t understand that I couldn’t walk through ice on crutches. I was privileged enough to have family come and get me, I couldn’t bring myself to reach out for help. After all, I was the inspiration.
I spent about 6 months out of school before returning. I (at the behest of family) sought therapy and wound up graduating with my bachelors in 2013 and (as many of you know) my Masters (in Paris!) this year.
I tell you this story, because I don’t want any of the people that follow this blog, or my twitter feed, to think that the strength in my voice now, never wavered or went without needing to be nourished. I grew up believing that my successes were only meant to feed the lives of the people around me, but that notion nearly killed me.
College is, for many, the first time students are without the direct supervision of their parents, but for disabled students, the responsibility thrust upon one’s shoulders is compounded. Disabled students are confronted with the need to advocate for ourselves in every single aspect of our lives which can be overwhelming.
If you’re scared that this pressure may get to you, I want to let you know that you deserve the ability to be vulnerable. You are deserving of the help you need no matter how it might look to anyone. Society has a habit of making disabled people the beacons of hope and possibility for a world that constantly makes us jump through hoops just to access public spaces, but you owe no one your successes who cannot tolerate your vulnerability and humanity. Your goals and dreams should be your own to fulfill and not carry the weight of an ableist world. I smiled and grinned my way through thirteen years of schooling because I believed that that was the only thing I was of use for. People rarely asked me about my bad days unless there was physical evidence.
I hope that in writing this, you come to the conclusion sooner than I did that you are in pursuit of you goals for you and what you want to accomplish in this world, not because people need you to be a hope trophy. You’re in school to reach the star with your name on it, not so everyone can stop and stare on your way there.
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