What’s in a Name? Labels Matter

February 14, 2012   Opinion

Faces Archive | Source

Holdin' Out for a Hero | Original Post

[box size="large" style="rounded" border="full"]Marissa Meleske, 25, went to high school and did a semester of college before, as she puts it, “life got in the way.” While she pays off her student loans, she remains focused on obtaining her life coaching certification. She loves music, going to concerts, watching chick flicks and comedies, and loves the beach and New York City. She is passionate about helping people.[/box]

Guest post, Marissa Meleske

I was born with Spina Bifida. I’ve grown up in a wheelchair. It’s been all I’ve known all my life. I sympathize with those who once had the ability to walk, but were in an accident or something and had that taken away from them. I can’t say I know how that feels, but they have every right to go through every emotion possible, as long as those emotions end in acceptance of their new life they’ve been dealt. No sense in wallowing when you need to find ways to enjoy the time you have left and be thankful for that opportunity that so many people don’t get. For my personal situation, the way I look at it is, you can’t miss what you’ve never had. All the memories of walking that I have consist of tears, clunky braces that went from my waist to my toes, and a huge walker to drag around. No thanks, I’ll stick with using my wheels as legs, thank you very much!

Labels run rampant. We live in a world where no one is immune to being labeled and judged. Blondes are apparently dumb, boys are apparently stupid, big breasted girls are apparently sluts, drug addicts are apparently dirt bags, people in wheelchairs are apparently disabled, handicapped, gimpy, retarded…the list goes on. Even though terms like “disabled” and “handicapped” are traditionally acceptable terms to refer to people with physical and even mental challenges, that doesn’t make it right. I, for one, hate any term for people with Spina Bifida or any other health challenge, other than just that…physically challenged. The true definition of disabled is:

“Having a physical or mental condition that limits movements, senses, or activities. Specifically designed for or relating to people with such a physical or mental condition.”

Unfortunately, the negative connotation of “disabled” or “handicapped” leaves us with a feeling of “this doesn’t work”. I function fine the way I am. It may not be the same way that people walking around function, but I make do with what I’m given and I wouldn’t change a thing. Furthermore, the phrase “confined to a wheelchair” really bothers me. I’m not “confined” anywhere. The chair moves!

Unfortunately, many people with physical challenges play into the labels and myths about themselves. They feel like they aren’t as important and able as the rest of the people walking around them. But whose fault is that?

I’ll tell you…it’s their families’ fault. When my parents found out I had Spina Bifida, the hospital put them in touch with a mother of a child with Spina Bifida. It was supposed to help them know what to expect and how to deal with what may be to come in my life. Well, that turned out to be the worst mistake imaginable, because all the woman talked about was how she and her daughter cry together about things she can’t do and how she won’t ever feel it when she starts her menstrual cycle. Well, thank God my parents never listened to that lady! Let me say this…I was raised never to use the words “I can’t”, and as a 25 year old woman, I sometimes wish my Spina Bifida came with not being able to feel cramps! In fact, I’ve actually told my mother that quite a few times…that I wish for a few days per month I didn’t have feeling in that general area!

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that never treated me any different than as if I were up running around like a “normal” kid. I was not pitied, nor was I coddled or any more spoiled than my brother who walks. My parents were told I would never sit up, crawl, that they’d be lucky if I was able to slither around like a snake and that I’d, and I quote, “be a shitty baby” because of the bowel problems that come with Spina Bifida. Today, I not only sit up straight and slide around on my butt if I’m too lazy to get in my chair, but I have trained myself to go to the bathroom and use a catheter otherwise. The only time I’m not a mover and a shaker like everyone else is when my wheelchair’s breaks are on, which is a rarity.

The trick to dealing with life as a person with physical challenges, is to first realize you are just as human as everyone else. You have different challenges, but everyone has their own challenges to overcome in life. Don’t think of yourself as any different or less important. We’re all different in our own ways and we all have an important purpose in life. If people don’t accept you as you are, that’s their problem, not yours! As the Backstreet Boys song says, “What Makes You Different, Makes You Beautiful.”

You can follow her on Twitter: @MarissasMadness