More than a disability

It’s no secret in my small circle that I have several diagnoses that range from developmental disorders to a number of co-morbid mental health disorders, all the way to a lifelong genetic immune system disorder. Sometimes managing my health issues can seem like all I will accomplish that day, other days I forget I even have 3 different specialists.

Part of my neurodiversity means that I need to choose my clothes hours before, or even the night before I am to wear them. This helps me mentally prepare for something that I have struggled with my entire life. Getting dressed in a timely manner, without frustration and being comfortable. Before I discovered this coping method getting dressed often ended up in a sensory overload. This was one of those times.

A regular day began great, I got to sleep in a few minutes, had time for my morning routine, and was feeling generally content and peaceful after my coffee. My next step was getting the younger kids ready for school and then getting myself dressed.

I went off to get dressed, picked one of my two dozen screen printed t-shirts and a pair of jeans. I was in no hurry that day and had no spare time in my schedule for many outfit changes. This ended up being a big mistake that I have made far too many times.

I pulled my jeans up, and they fit wrong.  I immediately started feeling overwhelmed. I practically ripped my jeans straight off my body, you know, like those 90’s style sweatpants that had buttons down the sides, and threw them in the closet. I tried several more pairs with no better success.

I did not know at the time but it did not matter what I had tried to wear, nothing would be comfortable to change into for many hours. I had gone into sensory overload, and my entire body felt like a pillowcase full of angry snakes. My skin was crawling, my mind was racing, I squeezed my eyes shut, flopped down on my bed, curled up and started crying.

As a child when this would happen I would rip at my own skin, trying to tear off the feelings of a sensory overload. Pressure from under my skin, crawling and itching on top of it. My hair tickling wherever it touched.

I am not sure how long I was that way for, long enough the time crunch I was facing became a cancelled appointment. I felt terrible about myself, how stupid am I?” I thought, “I can not even manage to get pants on.” I berated myself a few more times, I felt I was broken, worthless and defeated.

My alarm went off, I did not have the choice to get dressed now, I had to leave the house. I walked to the bus stop in my pajamas. I felt conspicuous, ashamed and frustrated still. My kids did not notice my clothes. They did notice my upset and questioned it.

While I was trying to explain it to my younger kids in simple terms, it occured to me. The Earth did not collapse in itself. No one cornered me on my street and yelled at me for not dressing myself ‘appropriately’ (whatever that is anyways). I didn’t even notice any stares or whispers. My middle child expressed jealousy he was not able to leave the house in pajamas as well.

When I got some alone time, naturally, I spent the it reflecting on my day and how much I had struggled. I began the same thought process of defeat, failure, frustration. Then it came, the smile my son so willingly passed on to me, “Wish I could wear pajamas too Mommy!” A small light bulb lit. This was all about my attitude toward myself. I was not bested by a pair of pants, I was bested by my attitude, and I didn’t have to be. I actually think I laughed out loud at this point, I could only picture myself physically wrestling with my pants and losing.

I decided that just because I am different, does not make me worthless. I am not a failure because I need to dress myself a little more casually, a little more gender fluid, or not get dressed at all, some days. My diagnoses and challenges do not make me weak, they make me different and stronger.

I took that day, and decided that I no longer give anyone or anything the power to make me feel worthless for being different. I went through my closet and took advice from Marie Kondo, I tossed every article of clothing that did not bring me joy.

Only I took it one step further. I threw away every item of clothing I wished were more comfortable. Every item I bought to look ‘average’. I ended up donating 5 giant black garbage bags of clothing. I was left with a few dozen outfits, my wedding gown, and a date night outfit and a growing sense of self identity.

I still have more problems getting dressed than someone who is considered neurotypical. There will be days I am not going to change out of my pajamas. Now I won’t feel bad about those days. Instead I will proudly walk around looking what a lot of people would consider trashy, hot mess express, lazy slob and other asinine assumptions.

My family will be proud of me those days, and I will be too. I know that I chose happiness on that day. Instead of discomfort, irritability, and an eventual meltdown. I know that many people will make judgements, and those judgements do not make me.

Many parts of my life are more difficult for me than other people, many other people have a life much more difficult than mine. Each person you see holds a life just as deep and complex as your own and it is not your place to determine if other people are living to your standards.

When you see someone at a store in pajamas and mentally berate them, ask yourself what they went through to leave the house that day. Did they just leave the hospital? Did they spend two hours sobbing on their bed, because their waistband hurt too much to wear what you think qualifies as normal? Why wouldn’t you go out of your way to be kind to someone who looks a little worse for wear?

From childhood we are told, treat others how you want to be treated. Yet I rarely see this in action. In fact, I usually see the opposite. People whispering, giving looks to each other, laughing at people with unconventional clothes or hairstyles. No ones disabilities should have to be obvious for your opinion to remain humble and kind.

I did not choose to be born different, no one does. Each day I face unfair judgements from strangers on my manners, clothing, and behaviors, I don’t get to choose this. I do choose each day to do things society thought was impossible for a person with my disabilities. I choose each day to live my happiest, most fulfilling life despite any looks or whispers. I am grateful to choose joy, love and kindness no matter what challenges the universe throws my way.

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