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How I'm Pushing the Envelope on Anxiety With Osteogenesis Imperfecta

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Push your own boundaries — you’ll be surprised by what you can do, after all the years you’ve spent focusing on what you can’t do. Since I was a child, I was told there were a lot of things I couldn’t do, and that there were an infinite number of things to fear. This is because I live with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a rare collagen disorder that mainly affects bones by making them prone to fracture.

This means I couldn’t play sports as a kid. I couldn’t use the monkey bars on my school’s playground or run with the other kids when they played tag for fear of breaking something. Most of the time I understood, but that didn’t mean I accepted it. My mom was incredible — no one in my family had ever had OI, so it was a pretty stressful thing to raise a child with different needs, but she did it with a strength and a love that kept me safe. But as much as I appreciate her protection, keeping me as safe as she did shielded me from gaining an independence and a comfortability that comes with discovering the world on your own.

I never realized until I got to college that I had grown afraid of so many things because of how I’d been protected as a child. My anxiety was larger than I’d expected being on my own. For example, I couldn’t go outside without watching every step I took, for fear of tripping on a crack in the sidewalk, on my own feet or the air. It was even worse while I walked the stairs. Every time I did these things, I knew these acts that were considered so “normal” and inconsequential to others could lead to a single misstep, and one that could potentially harm me. It was a well-founded fear, but one that felt limiting. There was a lot more, like going outside at only 9:30 p.m. to get free food in the campus center, that scared me.

I go to a small college — one that’s close to everything, but only if you drive. I’ve been fine not going off-campus often, but I will admit that even walking to the coffee shop down the street with a friend fills me with anxiety. There’s no one except yourself protecting you, and that’s scary. But I found from all those years watching my mother the superhero protect me that I’ve learned a thing or two from her, and am more than capable of going off-campus and discovering the world on my own (though for me, “on my own” always means with a friend or two).

Lately, I’ve been pushing the envelope on the limits of my anxiety — an experiment I think has been successful. For instance, I went to a free movie night, which lasted until past midnight, with my two best friends and roommates. Nothing bad happened, even though my mother warned me against going. I know it may be incredible to some considering how sheltered I’ve been, that these moments such as going to a late-night movie seems like an adventure, a new and frightening experience, but I know there are those who will understand. There’s a whole world out there to experience. All we have to do is find it for ourselves.

It’s hard as someone with a disability to go against your family. They’ve protected you, shielded you from the hard things, and have loved you even when you didn’t love yourself. The guilt that comes with asserting your independence against them is strong, but you’re stronger. It’s hard, becoming independent. But it’s doable, and necessary, and I’ve found that it takes baby steps.

Push your own boundaries — you’ll be surprised by what you can do, after all the years you’ve spent focusing on what you can’t do.

Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash.
Originally published: January 3, 2020
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