Why Advocacy Is Important (and Why I’m Tired)

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you are all, (at least for us Californians), enjoying the rainy weather and staying safe during these trying times. I come to you this week Continue reading “Why Advocacy is Important (and Why I’m Tired)”

Just the Square Peg in the Round Hole

Happy march, everyone. Or, as most young adults know it, acceptance/denial/graduation prep season. It’s that time of year where we feverishly work our butts off to turn in papers, study for midterms, spend loads of money on entry fees, and try to be academic angels, at least until September. Personally, I like to call this season, ‘find all the pieces and force them to fit… even if they don’t match’. This time of year is not my particular favorite, as like akin to a toddler trying to force a square peg into a round hole, I try to figure out my life and make sure all my corners fit and conforms to the standards of academia, all in the name of a piece of paper that claims I know what I’m doing. I’m already exhausted, if you can’t tell.
People tell me I should be excited. Junior transfer! New school! New opportunities! What I see that no one else sees are: new struggles, having to prove to everyone else that I deserve to take up this space, proving that I should be heard just because I can’t be seen, fighting with vocational rehab for financial assistance, wondering if I’m doing the right thing. All of this compounded keeps me up at night, wanting to reach for my phone to text my worries to someone who is most likely asleep and probably doesn’t want to hear it. It is very easy for sighted people to see new chapters as exhilarating new opportunities, but in higher education, I can’t help but dread it. People urge you to fight without knowing how utterly exhausting constantly fighting can be. If I could give you a taste of what I look at when it comes to new schools, the best is this.
While filling out an online form for disabled student services at the yet-to-be announced university, I came across several portions that just caught at me like thorns in a garden. When selecting my ethnicity, I had to choose ‘other’ because I couldn’t select African American and Mexican. I had to be one, the other, or simply go unidentified because apparently, we live in a day and age where mixed kids are still nonexistent. Later during this same form, I had to choose my disability. Blind, cool, that’s quick. Then I scrolled down… and saw that they listed mental retardation as a category all on its own. While I do not identify as this, what I’ve learned as being a minority in a sea of other minorities that words that have a history of being used in derogatory contexts do nothing but open anyone who has to tick that box to unnecessary prejudices. Not to mention that this isn’t a recognized term anymore, but hey, you’d think a disability office has sensitivity training.
I wish my visible recoil from my keyboard had been captured at that moment. Sensitivity training exists for a reason, mainly because we must teach the rest of society how to be aware of their behaviors towards persons with disabilities. It’s aggravating that the smart mouth indignant part of me that lies dormant wanted to rise up and lodge a formal complaint against this office… even before I set a foot through their door. Being exhausted does this to you. It eats at you and infuriates you when people don’t know better but hide under guises of disability representation.
I am still torn on whether I want to say something, because while I should be conserving all my energy to fight my own battles, I am reminded… I am constantly reminded of the boy who was bullied and harassed by my high school adapted PE teacher for being ‘different’ and getting on his nerves. A man who got a degree to teach disabled youth sports… was belittling and constantly being rude to a boy who couldn’t stand up for himself and who had no support from the other fully able-bodied adults in the room. I remember how he used words like ‘gay’, ‘retard’, and, in the case of when he saw my “I <3 boobies” wristband, (in support of breast cancer awareness), he told me that was such a lezzy bracelet. And then he laughed in my face.
I later went home and cried, tearing at that wristband until it was destroyed. It was only until later that I realized I was being silenced for making a grown adult uncomfortable with my identity. And every day I resolve to do better, to fight harder, to reserve my anger for the people who rightfully deserve it. But this same social justice warrior attitude I possess is equally as draining as clicking ‘other’ under my race. Having to force myself to identify who I am before I can even get a phone call in… it opens doors, sure, but it also opens the doors of prejudice that leaves me exhausted and crumpled in bed, sobbing with frustration. Do I want a degree? Yes, yes, I really truly do. But would I love to be able to obtain the same degree as everyone else without a barrier literally around every corner? Good lord yes please.
As I clicked through the form, they wanted to know all my medications, the things that hindered my abilities, and a proof of disability. Separately, they wished to know if there was any other issues they should be aware of, and here’s where I hesitated. In coming to terms and treating my anxiety, I’ve often wondered if I should inform the people at the DSS office that I got easily overwhelmed and in terms of heavy course loads, mentally checked out. I agonized, because until this point, I’d only told my current DSS counselor that I struggled so she’d understand why I struggled so hard, not just visually, but mentally in Statistics. This intense approach to figuring how to best serve me has left me extremely wary. Handing over a packet of information that I don’t even get to discuss in person has my hackles raised… and I haven’t even stepped foot on campus. That’s, exhausting.
I consistently feel the pressures to do better, to have better grades then last year. But what my grades don’t show is my deep sense and want to understand others, to unravel how we communicate and the best methods of communication. All that a paper will show is that I got a C in Math. And that, makes me proud. Higher education isn’t just about getting straight As. It’s about being able to make it through and said you did it. Disabled college students just… have it ten times more difficult. I’ve been in college for three years, moved out once, came back, and want to move out again, even if I’m only a stone’s throw away. Why? Because it’s the only way this square peg might fit into the round hole.
I struggle to find my place not only in academia, but in general life. I’m not a sorority type, I can’t commit to study sessions that aren’t broken by sporadic needs to declutter my brain and drink more caffeine. I don’t have a ‘dream job’, just a desire to help where I can. I want to be there to see my niece and nephew grow up, but I want to be out in the quiet edges of a city, in a mountain or just some log cabin in the woods with Wi-fi. (priorities, I tell you.) When everyone else chooses right, I always choose left. While I identify and struggle with being an HSP and anxious introvert, everyone is debating whether to go out and party right before an assignment is due. Does it make me responsible? Sort of. I’m no straight A student, so you can deduce a more accurate answer.
I fear that I will always be the black sheep, the square peg who shaves down her corners to feel like she belongs somewhere. I’ve only met one other person who understands my drifting, lost feeling. I know I want a degree, I know I’m exhausted by being the Disability Police, but I also know that feeling adrift is awful, especially when you are alone.
I break a lot of expectations, but I also crumble under all expectations. I’m either supposed to be perfect or a failure. And this notion has translated to my everyday life, where if I’m having a bad day, I apologize profusely. Ask around, someone would probably say I’ve apologized for seemingly small things that in my mind, were huge. I start texts, then erase them for fear of waking the person up. I feel incredibly guilty if I’ve forgotten something or said something wrong. It’s a constant fight to remind myself that not everyone will storm away because that’s what I’m used to.
So, this square peg thanks everyone who keeps me sane. It’s extremely difficult to find where I belong, and I’m currently awake this late wondering if I’m doing the right thing and missing my rock terribly. I’m restless, confused, and a public relations major. Please someone find the irony. I can and will continue floating about, trying to find when I can finally be put together in the right puzzle with all my other square pegs forced into round holes. /despair season, everyone. Be kind to each other.