Dear 16 year old me,
I am so very afraid for you even though I know everything is going to be okay. It is going to be okay. Life is so much better than you ever hoped it would be, but you have also faced challenges that you can’t really imagine right now. It seems to be working out.
You still hate the term special. That hasn’t changed. You don’t hate that you are disabled anymore though. That is a change. You learn that there aren’t really good or bad bodies. That there aren’t good minds or bad minds. There are just bodies or minds, all trying their best. Yours is A-OK.
In fact the things that single you out, the things that make you different, are often quite good. It allows you to think about things in new and interesting ways. It means that you remember things in much greater detail. The way your body moves at the very least makes for good comedy!
Right now, your skin pricks when you hear the term special. You don’t quite know how to explain that. Special in some ways is a word that has opened a lot of doors for you. Special got you the assistive technology. Special got you the support you needed. Special got you out of PE (sometimes). Special is bad – and you know why now. You are not special – and your needs definitely are not. They are the same as everyone else. The label ignores that the reason you need “special things” are because the way things are set up disadvantages people like you.
A weird thing happens when you have a label – your voice counts for less. I still don’t fully understand why this is. Don’t feel guilty about the things that make you uncomfortable. Don’t ignore what makes you feel uncomfortable. You don’t learn to love everything about yourself, but you do learn to trust yourself. Trust your gut. Speak up.
You will find a tribe, a chosen family, of disabled women. You will figure it out together. You will do late night calls, cheeky texts during the day and long brunches. Texts are unlimited now on your mobile plan. The best support you will ever get will be from voice notes sent at odd hours.
Life is so full of adventure. Some years you will travel and do work beyond your wildest dreams. This year, you stay put at home with your partner. You will see why. You still do good work. Your partner is a woman, and your family are always happy to see her. That is for a different letter. I think or maybe not.
Learning to live as yourself unapologetically will take time. It will take learning, unlearning, pain, and joy. The things that you are desperate to run from now become your strength and pride.
You will be fine. You know your own mind. Listen to it.
Almost 30 Year Old Me
P.S. You do go grey early. You were right about that.