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To those who are 'different'

I hear you; I validate you and I stand with you.

 

We fight silent battles to have even basic opportunities, we fight with everything we have against a system which is set up for those who are not us, many of us also have ourselves to battle whether that be our bodies or brains, all while being blamed, ostracised and told inaccessibility or ignorance is our own fault.

 

True inclusion is still very much a distant dream and discrimination is very much still present. Those of us who face this daily know of the pain and suffering this causes and the constant getting back up, brushing yourself off and keeping going despite it all. Everyone is ‘different’, no two humans are the same and we each have our own individuality and uniqueness but for some of us, our difference leaves the majority feeling so uncomfortable they feel the need to make us aware of our difference. When we talk about those who veer from what society deems as ‘normal’ and acceptable, we are talking about such a wide range of people. The differences may be in appearance, behaviour, beliefs, ethnicity, this list goes on. If you have never really faced any sort of discrimination you may find it hard to believe the battles those of us who are ‘different’ face on a daily basis just to survive. This is a whole conversation but, in this blog, I am talking to those who like me are different and for whom that difference is constantly used against us. It’s an isolating place, it’s exhausting and it’s so painful. It can make you doubt yourself, feel like you really are the problem and that you don’t deserve the life you want. I am here to tell you, you do. We know that deep down, but sometimes we need a reminder. I often need that reminder. A reminder that although like all humans I have many faults, I make mistakes and am by no means perfect- I don’t deserve to be discriminated against due to something that I can’t help and is just who I am.

 

After every knockback I can’t help but feel like I can’t keep doing this, I can’t keep not just fighting for myself but advocating for others too. The pain and suffering I feel is just too great and I just want to give up. I want to curl up and never put myself out there again. I decide maybe I am just too disabled to do ‘normal’ things. That the life I dream of is just not within reach for someone like me. That maybe others are right I am just not capable and just don’t belong. These thoughts come from years of being told I am not good enough, from societies beliefs around disabled people and from the lack of education around disability. As I lay there after each of these setbacks, usually with a suicide note in hand, all hope left my body and feeling totally broken I am left with a choice. I can give up, I wouldn’t really blame myself if I did, for those of you who have been there you know that feeling, it’s all encompassing. It fills your whole body, it causes physical pain, severe mental pain, sickness, and I just feel so tired. Tired of fighting not just the everyday battles we have as disabled people but also having to fight the system and fight everybody else to be allowed to join in. The pull of giving up is so strong, however for me I have no choice. I have to get back up; I do this not for me but for the mini-Hannah’s who are yet to come. My strong sense of justice prevails and I know that however painful it is, I cannot give up. I am not just doing it for me but I am doing for all those others too. You too are doing the same, every time you get up and just keep living, every time you choose to keep fighting, every time you refuse to listen to ableism, every time you stand up against discrimination and what is wrong regardless of the personal consequences. We are the oppositive of what they call us, the inner strength we have to find is something they could never even comprehend. I am so so proud of you for keeping going, I know how hard it is, how scary and isolating it is. The fear we face, the things we lose in the fight for equality. Not only do we battle the difficulties our disabilities and differences give us, we are also battling society and the systems to be allowed to live. Spending the little amount of energy, we have educating others, spreading awareness and battling for acceptance.

 

For me one of my biggest drives is having worked in a school, I see the little versions of us coming through. Some already struggling, others blissfully unaware of what lies ahead. They don’t deserve to go through this, no one does but we have to start somewhere. We are making that difference; I know it doesn’t feel like it now- it certainly doesn’t for me but we can’t give up. I won’t give up. Every door that slams in my face is a tool I put in my pocket, a spark that ignites the fire in my heart that drives me to never stop. As I have said before I believe discrimination comes from fear and that fear comes from a place of ignorance and lack of education. Of course, it is wrong, but for me I will be that education, I will patiently explain why it matters, I will stand up against those who abuse their positions of power, those who are unwilling to open their eyes to the diversity of the world. Like all battles in the past and there have been many, people have not listened, not thought it applies to them or is relevant. But just like woman being unable to vote, being gay was illegal, colour segregation, the list goes on, change is possible. Although many of these groups of people still face a large amount of discrimination, they fought and they continue to fight. They stood up for themselves and their people regardless of the consequences. It’s not easy, there are plenty of knockbacks but that is why resilience is key. I have had to be resilient my whole life and when fighting for change resilience is everything. Speaking up and being the voice for change is vulnerable and opens you to pain and suffering. But it also is so empowering and when you make even a small change, it is all worth it. These don’t have to be big things; we don’t need to jump in front of a horse or get ourselves shot- in fact please definitely don’t do any of those things! But by just living the life you want, not letting someone else dictate what you are capable of, by standing up to someone when they discriminate against you, saying hang on no that is not right, spending that time having a discussion with someone who is ignorant, being able to hold your own feelings and emotions so as to spend the time trying to educate them, you are part of difference. You are part of the change and you are helping to create a kinder and more equal world.

 

I will continue to be my unapologetic authentic self. Yes, I am autistic, I have ADHD, mental health problems and significant trauma however I maybe different but I am not less. I deserve to live a life, to have purpose, enjoyment and opportunities the same as every single other person on this planet. I don’t conform in the same way, my inclusion may leave you feeling puzzled or uncomfortable and my responses cannot be compared to those with a neurotypical brain. But when you are faced with these feelings of discomfort in the face of difference, of someone not behaving in the way you expect, search not to judge but to understand, to learn, to educate yourself or at the very least to mind your own business! To acknowledge that their experience is different to yours, that you will never be able to empathise from their perspective but that in reality they are not hurting you or affecting you in anyway. The way they are being is no reflection on you, they are experiencing the world from a different angle to you. There is no one way to be, if we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place. You never know if you actually spent that time to see beyond their difference, to see underneath what makes you initially feel uncomfortable you may be opened to an amazing and interesting world. You will meet people who are some of the kindest, most talented and clever people this planet has to offer. A disability does not mean someone is not capable, inclusion doesn’t mean we all have to do everything the same way, acceptance doesn’t mean any one side is allowed to hurt the other. A label of autism doesn’t make me broken, stupid, childish or incapable. I will need extra support, I will need accommodations, I will need to navigate situations in my own way, I will have meltdowns, I will struggle with my emotional regulation, I will struggle with change, I will struggle with forming relationships with other people, I am easily burnt out, I need people who are willing to see past the exterior presentation, the label, the difference and want to know me, for me. But with all this said I am just as worthy of being in the spaces I am in, whether that be a group, uni, work or any other setting. Everyone is different but for me I am an open book, I welcome questions on my difference, I want to educate and I am happy to help those who want to understand to understand. The best way to face your fear and discomfort when it comes to difference is to learn from those who are. To listen and to widen your understanding of what it is that makes us, us.

 

And to those reading this who are the ‘different’ ones, we are amazing. Like all humans we have our negatives but we don’t deserve the ableism and discrimination which comes our way. We must take each other’s hands and be there. Support each other, be the shoulder to cry on and be the crier. And those of us who can, we must band our voices together. We can and will make a difference, we will be a part of making this broken world, even just a little bit of a nicer place. Hold on to hope, our strength and the belief that fundamentally change can happen. Together we stand, alongside our allies, fighting for a world where disabled and difference aren’t dirty words but just the different ways, we each experience the world.

 



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