While growing up with muscular dystrophy, I was aware that my body behaved differently from others' bodies. I walked differently. I got up from chairs differently. There were times I felt like all eyes were on me because I was different. Eventually I got past that feeling, but once I started using a wheelchair I began to feel self conscious all over again.
What I forgot during those times in my life is that we're all different. Even people without muscular dystrophy have things about them that make them feel different from others. It's how you accept your differences, or "own" them, that can help you maintain a positive attitude.
For example, there was a girl in my elementary school who had brown hair except for a small streak of blond in the front. It made her self conscious to the same extent that I was self conscious about the way I walked. She could have easily dyed her hair all the same color, but her mom wouldn't let her. Forced to deal with it every day, eventually she got over that feeling of being different and "owned" her blond streak. She became proud of it. She knew it made her different and made her special. The other girls eventually wanted a streak in their hair just like hers!
In college, another friend of mine had one eyebrow much higher than the other. It really bothered her and she had surgery to fix it, which failed. She had to accept that it would always be this way. But what's interesting to me is that eventually I stopped noticing it. People who see her for the first time notice it, but those who see her again and again eventually forget all about it. The only time I am reminded of her unique eyebrow is when someone else points it out to me. It's funny how our brains work once we focus on what's important – the inside. We almost forget any differences on the outside!
Even people who don't seem to have anything physically different or challenging can easily come up with something that makes them feel uncomfortably different. I've heard people tell me how they think they're fat, or that their eyes don't line up, or that their teeth are too crooked. In hearing them talk about their traits, it's as if they feel as different and self conscious about themselves as I did.
After hearing this over and over again, I realized that as humans, we have a tendency to examine our differences under a microscope. We think that because we're different, there must be something "wrong" with us. What I have learned, however, is that we have the power to move past these feelings by accepting what makes us different and embracing it.
Accepting what makes you different is what I call "owning" it – being proud of your differences and not letting them get you down. Here are some ways to own your differences:
- For me, it's easier to own my differences by reminding myself that the people who know me best are able to look past my disability. Even though I'm using a wheelchair now, some people forget that I have any disability at all, even when I'm sitting right in front of them.
- I also own my differences by reminding myself that even though I can't run a marathon, I can do a lot of other things that people who can run, can't do. For example, I'm pretty good at math and trivia. I know many people who would love to have those skills. Remind yourself what you're good at and what you like to do. This is a great way to start understanding that you're different in a positive way.
- Another great way to own your differences is to look at people who already own theirs. I was at a festival a few weeks ago with some friends when I saw another wheelchair user coming my way. It was a woman with no arms and no legs. She cruised around with two friends and all three of them were tan, wearing sunglasses, and dressed up for a night on the town. The woman seemed as confident as could be. She clearly has reached the point where she owns her differences and rolled through that fair park like she owned the place. Think of people who know who have confidence despite their differences. Eventually you'll be one of those people.
- Remembering how you're alike is also a good strategy. As a person with muscular dystrophy, remembering that there's a community of people with whom you share a common physical difference can make you feel less alone and less different. But even among people without muscular dystrophy, you have a lot more in common than you think, whether it's physical traits, skills, or common interests.
So yes, you are different. We all are. You might move differently or look different, but there's nothing wrong with being different. The only thing wrong is when you let those differences get you down. Celebrate what makes you different. Own your differences! It will have a great impact on your life and also on the people around you.