To the Director Whose Comment About ‘People Like Me’ Saved My Life
Six years ago, you changed my life. You didn’t know it then, but you simultaneously crushed my dreams, broke an immense part of my core and unknowingly cracked open the door to my ideal life.
That fateful day we met to discuss and plan the upcoming semester courses. We started a conversation about why I chose music therapy. Having disabilities, I already innately knew and understood how music therapy was beneficial. I saw the importance the work has on others with disabilities, and I felt as though I’d provide a different perspective, much-needed value and insight in the field. The only thing I distinctly remember was the blow you delivered: “People like you don’t practice music therapy. Music therapy is done to you.”
It left me in complete, utter shock. Since it’s my nature, I was stubborn and continued to plough through as much as I could. Substantial discord ensued that affected other parts of the school and my functioning rapidly decreased, both from those situations and outside personal events. After a few months, under unjust rationale, the administration felt my involuntary removal was best.
To say it affected every facet of my life and being is an understatement. By the time I could surface from the damage and shock, start to briefly acknowledge it and file a federal complaint for discrimination — four years later — the agency stated the statute of limitations had passed.
I cried a lot that summer. Deep, body-heaving, energy-draining cries for the loss of who I was, the discrimination I received for what was wrongly viewed as my “inabilities,” and not being able to take a stand.
But I’m not one to back down in letting my disabilities ultimately define me.
Self-healing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a continual, ongoing process. For years there was constant questioning and denial in my abilities and self-worth and numerous struggles and setbacks. I had weeks or months when I felt on top of the world, but as I continued to peel back layers and delve deeper (sometimes without intending to), I’d be pulled down again. And there you still were. Your words tinged and permeated everything, always there, subconsciously whispering behind my shoulder. I refused to see or acknowledge it; better to bury it. For the last year, it’s finally been a twitch.
Then a few weeks ago, it quietly came out of the blue in the recess of my empty mind. The revelation was so clear — I was viewing it completely wrong. I was continuing to look at it from a victim mindset, when really, why and how could I continue to think of myself and live my life in that way? What good did that serve? Instead, those words were truly a gift over the years, leading me to where and who I am today.
Had I continued on the initial path and goal, I might never have known the fire and creativity that lay dormant, hungry for seedlings of knowledge and experience that can only be learned through heartfelt, tough instances. I wouldn’t have realized my soul yearns for and thrives best with an inventive life. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know the depth of my strength and resolve that is a crucial, core part of myself. It wouldn’t have given me further gentleness and compassion. I wouldn’t have gained greater patience about how and when things unfold. It wouldn’t have led me to finish my education elsewhere, where by happenstance, I took a class I absolutely fell in love with, becoming so engrossed that it became my foundation. I wouldn’t have been able to take back the definition of who I am and start my healing journey.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to find and discover my strength, worth and essence. Thank you for your cynicism; it ultimately inspired and invigorated me to tenaciously believe in myself. Thank you for helping me see that I was, can and will be so much more than I could’ve ever been otherwise. If there’s one pivotal significance I’ve gathered, it’s that I need to fully express, live in and be all of me — autistic, hard of hearing and all my other equally unique, amazing and monumental aspects — for me to truly feel alive, fulfilled and real. Anything else would be inauthentic and deceiving. And that’s not how I can nor want to live.
Your words incited me that taking a stand doesn’t always have to be loud; it’s also honoring yourself and making that partnership with yourself a much-needed priority. As a result, my self-worth has grown and multiplied boundlessly. It allowed my true passion and purpose to come through — helping others, with and without disabilities, to realize, embrace and shine their own light as well.
You didn’t know it then. Six years ago, you saved my life.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story used the word “professor” in the title. It has since been updated to “director.”
The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
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