It wasn’t until I spent a three-hour university workshop examining “advanced organizers as a tool for ascertaining prior knowledge” that I managed to come up with a decent metaphor for my life at school. This metaphor synthesized the sometimes entirely disparate elements of my school experience. Namely, being the “typical girl” and the “girl with the disability.”
I was the center section of a Venn diagram — the jargonized term for the two intersecting circles used to compare and contrast stuff. I was wedged uncomfortably in the middle – I wasn’t a fully-fledged “special kid,” (the most innocuous collective noun to be found in the extensive invective of the teenage girl), but I didn’t always have the social skills and prodigious academic ability to blend seamlessly with the “normal” kids at my school. It was harder because I knew my high school identity was never going to be a static entity. I went between being the instrumentalist, the singer, the Francophile – the “normal” (if slightly nerdy) girl – and having moments where I would make an error in class because of my cerebral palsy, and I’d feel my carefully constructed veneer of normalcy start to slip just a little. So I found myself in that painfully transient space between typicality and difference, with heightened insecurities and no real sense of identity – a pretty dangerous combination in the social minefield that is high school.
Even though I tried my hardest to diminish any reference to the “girl with cerebral palsy side of myself at that point in my life, some days trying to juggle those two sides of myself – this dichotomy of ability and disability – was almost too much to take. Some days, I was almost tempted to ‘fess up about my CP just because it seemed easier. At least I’d fit somewhere, I told myself. Sure, I might have ended up on the bottom rung of the social ladder because of it, and sure, I might have had to deal with a confronting, explicit and entirely unique brand of stigma exclusive to teenage girls, but at least I’d have a place somewhere. Or it could have gone the other way entirely (I doubted it then, I doubt it now, but it was possible), and it might have been a total non-event. I might have worked myself up for nothing, and life might have gone on as normal. Well, as normal as high school life could be, anyway.
I’m obviously never going to know what would have happened one way or the other, but I know that – despite the challenges and fatigue and frustration of having two “sides” in high school – I learned more about myself and what I am capable of than I thought possible. And that, more than anything, gave me an identity.
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