I have been considering the idea of inclusion a lot recently, so when asked to write a post, I decided to write on the subject with reference to someone else’s life, thoughts, ideas and research. However, I changed my mind and then my post, because I know a thing or two about inclusion.
So here goes…
This is my story.
What I've come to realise is that inclusion, or lack of it, has had a huge impact on my way of being and on whom I have become.
Before sixteen, I was going to be whatever I wanted to be. My future was an open book. Things were easy for me. Good at school, good at sports, good at making friends. I was a fairly ‘normal’ teenager with little care for any possible struggles amongst some of my peers. I was too busy making my own way. Being popular. Doing well. Becoming something. Inclusion wasn’t a consideration. I was able to participate easily and naturally in anything I put my mind to. The path I was on was clear of any foreseeable barriers. I was quite simply included, quite simply.
This was the person I was.
At sixteen, I had a berry aneurysm (stroke) that paralysed the left side of my body. I lost the use of my left side, my hair, my boyfriend, my schooling, my clarity of thought, my identity and my way of becoming. I stopped being quite simply included and became someone completely different in the matter of minutes and then years.
This event created a new pathway that led towards the person I was to be.
I quickly became good at other things, like re-learning how to stand, walk, use my left side and be what I perceived as ‘normal’ again. Not ‘disabled’, but ‘able’ to participate. To be included. Certainly not different.
Actually, I was very different. Because my left side was and still is partially paralysed. And it wasn’t just the physical difference that made me different. My entire demeanor, my personality, my outlook, essentially most things about me had changed. But I was still determined to participate in everything. I had big ambitions and I knew what it was like to be quite simply included. I wasn’t going to miss out on a thing.
However, I also learned how to assimilate. I deflected. I disguised. I tried my best to blend in and make myself invisible so people wouldn’t notice anything different about me. Any attention might have made me stand out for what I thought were all the wrong reasons and therefore leave me vulnerable to rejection and criticism. It might make me different. I think a lot of this anxiety stemmed from the fear of being labelled, because in the 1980s, if you were ‘differently-abled’, you were possibly called ‘a cripple’, ‘handicapped’, or at the very best, ‘disabled’. I felt that any label would have a negative impact on my capacity to achieve, or become, or simply be.
This terrified me.