Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Happiness...Bitterness...and stuff.

Remember how I said this blog is changing?

Well this is change number one. Please be advised there is some mild cursing present.


There is always a question of how to perpetrate characters with disabilities. It's a question that I often get asked because well I have a disability. I'm not an expert and I don't try to speak for a whole population, because as a population we are a diverse group. Our experiences are not the same and in some cases we're so different we can't even relate to each other.

I am however an expert in my experience. I was born disabled and have lived as such for the past 25 years. Also, I will freely admit that there is a level of privilege in my life. I went to a premier medical facility as a child. I saw the best of the best. I have high expectations for doctors in the medical field. I am what might be termed a prima donna patient.

For years I have searched for a character who is just and was just as messed up as I am currently/was as a teenager. While not completely fucked up as a kid, I did have a fair amount of anger and bitterness to the world. It's at this age that I finally realized the world isn't fair, and it's especially, heinously unfair to me.

The one thing that is always discussed is the amount of bitterness a character is allowed to have. I've seen people on twitter request that we stop using characters with disabilities who are bitter. That if perpetuates unrealistic stereotypes. The story of these characters is always how quickly can we--meaning the author--fix them. Take away those nasty feelings and replace them with self love and happiness. Remove the intrusive looks and back-handed compliments and make the character fit perfectly into the world.

Every story, I've read involving a character with a disability tries to remedy them that way. Mostly because most of those stories are about those who become disabled. They are bitter and angry at the world. They are different and the world looks down on them because they now fail to live up to that impossible feat of normalcy. Slowly, usually through a boy or girl--a love interest--they heal. They become a whole person by joining someone else. Their half life is grafted onto someone else in order to make them a bearable part of society. But that's a lie.  How do you heal bitterness?

You don't.

I'm bitter. I can say that after twenty-five years, a year of therapy, happy drugs, and more issues than you can shake a stick at. I am bitter and please, don't take that away from me.

Now, am I going around, verbally lashing people with my extreme hatred 24/7? No. Do I perpetually languish in self-pity and self-loathing and general anger at the world. No.

Still, I am bitter.

I am not 100% bitter, just as I am not 100% anything. Think of it like this: I am 10% bitter and 90% everything else. This 10% is not always alive and kicking. Somedays its buried so deep beneath everything else that no one, not even me, notices it. Then somedays, it rears its ugly head and I am a pill. A horrible, dark cloud of doom and gloom who will verbally take you all the way down town. Then somedays still, I am a pleasant mix. One part bitter to two parts happy--stir until frothy and serve over ice.

You might wonder, Gretchen, how are you bitter? You don't seem bitter. You're a happy person. I have even been called a bubbly butterfly. And again for the most part, I am a happy person. I do love my life and I do have a great time, but it's those times where I stumble and the world around me stumbles that I struggle.

I struggle because as a person with a disability, I experience a different world than most people. I'm told not to be bitter. The working theory of society-and by society, I mean literature--seems to be that I can magically erase these feelings and never have to deal with it ever again. That an ounce of self-love and a boy by my side will change the world. I've read the fairytales, and as my mother used to remind me as a child: I am not a fairytale princess and this is not a fairystory.

For years, I shoved my bitterness away. I acted happy because I was expected to be happy. Society doesn't like unhappy, bitter disabled people. Much like the virgin/whore dichotomy for women, disabled people have a similar dichotomy: you can be "the saint" or you can be "the angry bitch." There is no middle ground and when you try to find that middle ground you get slapped.

No middle ground for you.

I was forced to choose between bitch and saint and for years; I chose saint. Now bear in mind this is not a real question. There was no person standing over me asking me whether I wanted to be this or that. It was simply an expectation by people around me and by society.  I don't blame them for this expectation, but it is an unfair expectation all the same. It makes me ashamed of my bitterness, of the anger I had at an unfair world. And so when I'd have these feelings I'd shove them down, hide them away.

I was perfectly happy going 120% just to be considered normal. When I failed, it struck me big not because everyone fails, but because so often I felt I failed because I could not be better than everyone else and therefore judged on the same level. It was hard and when I let my feelings out, when I showed my friends my bitter side, I got slapped back into my position. So I did what I do best, I compartmentalized! 

People, especially friends, don't like to hear that you are unhappy and unhappy in ways they cannot change. Most of this comes to boys--men, people of the opposite gender, who I happen to find attractive. Because, well society works against me finding a date, finding love. I don't look normal, and trust me in the dating scene, as much as society would like to pretend it doesn't matter--it does. 

When I would start to break down, my friends would say things like: you'll be the girl who at 30 finds the love of her life and then gets married and we'll all be jealous. Or, oh, god, she's starting this again. Or Gretchen, you just need to love yourself. 

I do love myself. I do. But let me break this down for you: this is not Penelope, an act of true self-love does not make you a perfectly normal Christina Ricci. I love my fingers and my missing bones. I even love the cadaver bones that have been implanted in me. I love me. But loving me, does not make me attractive to a society trained to think supermodels are the norm. The discussion of beauty culture is for another post, so back to bitterness!

Playing the saint is tiring. I have listened to people tell me, it's impressive that I work. That I'm their idol. That I'm so strong. For doing what? What am I supposed to say to that? I shelve books for a living, that is not a feat worthy of idolatry. 

This year, I started breaking down my sainthood, letting the cracks in my armor show, being vocal about stupidities in society. It's been hard. It's meant talking very seriously with a people close to me. It's meant being vulnerable in a whole new way. It's meant becoming, at least in part, a bitch.

And I hated myself all the more. 

For 25 years, I was the happy child. The child who could do anything, who didn't mind the constant uphill battle for approval. I am still, mostly, a happy adult. Are there things in my life I would change if a genii suddenly appeared with three wishes for me. Ab-so-fucking-lutely. A new job. Getting rid of my student debt. Healthcare. Notice me not saying I would change who I am--or as society sometimes likes to think of it--what I am. I don't want to change me, I want to change the world's perception of me. To fight this battle, you can't be the happy go lucky girl. You have to have some bitterness, some anger to last in this fight.

I started my road to being a bitch, and that opened up fissures I wasn't sure I could handle. I slipped back into old ways of faking happiness and sinking further into depression. Why couldn't I just be like everybody else? I tried to cover up my new problems, the taste of power that came with anger and bitterness. It wasn't until my therapist told me: it's okay to be bitter and you don't have to let it go, that I began to feel comfortable in my new self. 

Finding the middle isn't always easy. I can slip back into happy-go-lucky Gretchen easily, but bitterness will not leave me. It gives me passion to change the world. Fire to keep telling new and interesting stories. Lives to change, including and most importantly--my own. 

I am 10% bitter and damn proud of it. 

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