Kenny Fries was my first advisor when I attended Goddard College to get my masters. When I walked into his office he smirked at me and said, “You can guess why we were paired up.”
This was the first time I spoke to someone with a physical disability who knew I was disabled. It was the beginning of my education about disability.
There have been a couple times when I have been obviously physically disabled – when I had a stroke and brain surgery I used a wheelchair and then a cane. And an eye patch, because something got messed up with my eyes during the surgery. I was also temporarily physically disabled when I was pregnant from SPD and used a cane or a walker.
But for the most of my life? I’ve looked like everyone else. Mmm, maybe Jewishy and redheads aren’t totally common, but, no one would guess the hell I was going through in my mind. I’m diagnosed with bipolar 1, PMDD and OCD.
I remember telling Kenny how something was difficult, and I didn’t understand why it was so difficult or why I felt different than everyone in my class. He shrugged and said, “You have an invisible disability.”
He called me Flamingo Girl in the summer. Someone had put those plastic flamingos in the grass. My eyes are still a little wonky and so on the way to his office my eye sight made it look like there were dozens of them, moving. It startled me each time.
I read disabled writers, I got hip to the vernacular, I started accepting myself — but somewhere during my pregnancy I forgot that I was disabled– or maybe, maybe I never really accepted it? Maybe I just have to keep accepting it daily? Some of my friends tell me I’m not disabled.
They think disability is a level you get to, or the way you look. They can do an impression of it. They say, of course you could get a job at the market.
Well. I could. I could probably get the job.
When I go to sleep, I don’t really know if it’s going to work. The next day might be a day of catching up on sleep because I was unable to sleep off my medication or I had to take more medication than usual. I can’t apply to a job at the store and then show up every day. I might for a couple of days, but there would be a time I would be unable to do it. That’s just one of the many, many, annoying and real reasons I can’t get a “normal” job. My disability shows itself daily to me. I need to accept it. I need to accept it before my baby can understand words. I can’t teach her self hate.
But how? How do you embrace being a Flamingo Girl?
How do you forgive yourself for being different, maybe especially when you don’t look different?
For my daughter’s 4 month birthday I made her a dress with flamingoes on it and visited my hometown of Rainbow California. I started writing.
I’m trying to figure this out, Elro. I swear to you I am.