People with disabilities thrive to “fit in.” It’s human nature for an individual to desire to be a part of something, to “belong.” Some would say to be “normal” is the goal. But what if I told you that the opposite is more rewarding? Don’t fit in; stand out!
As a person with a disability, I spent most of my younger years wanting to fit in. It would be depressing if I couldn’t go to the beach with my friends because I was too exhausted and couldn’t expose my skin to the sunlight for long periods. I was hard on myself because I couldn’t explain something I couldn’t understand myself to them. My options were, one, I could be the odd one at the beach covered from head to toe, which was so embarrassing. Two, make up excuses and pretend I had something else going on. I was not willing to miss the fun. Or three, come along and pretend everything was fine; this would not end well. I would end up in the emergency room.
This scenario pretty much set the tone for the rest of my life, even in the workplace. I felt burdened; I was limited to doing specific jobs. The worst part was, “I didn’t look sick.” So, I would deal with looking normal but feeling like I was dying inside; therefore, I would pretend I was ok.
Not having been diagnosed at a younger age, my illness worsened by the time I reached adulthood. I realized that I could not live a “normal” life. It was hard for me to keep a job, let alone have a steady income. By this time, I had two children and going through a divorce. I tried my best to keep a regular job, but my illness wouldn’t allow me to. I’d become sick and would end up jobless. My health deteriorated as I pushed my body to keep going even when it couldn’t go anymore. I went through the process and was granted SSDI benefits-Social Security Disability Benefits. This subsidy allowed me to receive financial gain, but it was not enough to meet my and my children’s needs; I was now a single mother. I met many people and programs along the way. I tried returning to work, but something was missing. I could not reach independence. I realized I was trying to be “normal” all along. I wanted a regular full-time job. I wanted to have a career. A friend once told me to live my life “at my own pace” to not focus on what others, what I considered “normal” people, accomplished for themselves, and I realized she was right. I needed to stop aiming to meet unrealistic goals for myself. I learned to accept that working with what I have is ok. It is enough for me.
I decided to change things. I stopped trying to fit in and decided to stand out. Things changed for the better. I took a different approach and searched for opportunities based on what I was capable of handling. Regardless of what the “norm” could be. I shifted my focus onto my abilities rather than what my disability wouldn’t allow me to do. For instance, before, I tried working a full-time job and ran the risk of terminating my disability benefits and ended up quitting my job because I would end up sicker and back to where I started. The wisest decision I’ve made was to join the SSA Ticket To Work Program, where I have found the right Employment Network for me, Polishing The Professional. The employment network provides the tools I need to work my way to gain financial stability. All while my benefits are protected until I gain substantial financial stability. I work part-time hours. The program allows me to work based on my abilities, not my disability.