This is a follow-up to a post I did a year ago, https://blogs.psychcentral.com/hidden-disabilities/2018/01/who-would-you-be-without-your-disability/. If you didn’t catch it then, it might warm you up for today. It’s about the extent to which our disabilities shape our sense of self.
I’m a big fan of Shawn Colvin’s music. One of her songs, The Story, has the lines,
“I was born to be telling this story
I could only be telling this story
I will always be telling this story”
When I was writing my book, I loved to belt out those lines with her. I was all about my book, the story only I could tell. As time went on, those lines started to make me uncomfortable. In a conversation with my friend Rosey, I realized why. Rosey was featured in my book with her husband Tom, and they celebrated my book release by taking me out to dinner when I visited. Before I left, Rosey asked me what story I was going to tell next. I realized what she meant—that this was only a chapter in a much longer book. It was time to live the life I worked so hard to regain and start being about something new. Rosey was cautioning me not to let my fixation on one story make me one-dimensional.
My dad found out he was adopted when he was 42, and the story that unfolded was fascinating. He did many talks to packed houses about it, speaking to high school classes, groups of adoptees, anyone who asked. Even though this revelation traumatized him and changed his whole sense of self, he still had many other stories to tell. It didn’t become the only thing that defined him.
Recently I was at the grocery store and pulled in behind an army-green Jeep covered with Vietnam war stickers. I didn’t care for the “Hanoi Jane urinal target” one; that tipped the owner from a respected veteran to an unbalanced conspiracy theorist in my mind (though the two aren’t mutually exclusive). I went inside and identified the Jeep’s owner right away. He wore jeans and a button-down denim shirt with a vest covered in Vietnam war patches—clearly a personal uniform. He had a military crew cut with a long, wild beard and mustache. He seemed angry in a tired way, like he had no off switch. I caught myself avoiding eye contact and asked myself why. It seemed unlikely that one could exchange pleasantries with this man; he would probably zero in on the war right away and I had a feeling he’d be spoiling for a fight.
For a few days I contemplated why this man disturbed me so. His Great Wall of Vietnam Memorabilia keeps people at a distance. This may be by design, or he may be lonely and isolated and not understand why. The thing I find troubling, though, is this: It’s been 45 years and he’s still only telling one story. He hasn’t turned the page in all this time.
Moving on doesn’t necessarily mean leaving a chapter behind. It’s okay to keep telling a story that’s ingrained in your identity as long as it doesn’t keep you from living new ones. I realized recently that writing this blog hasn’t gotten stale yet; I’m always finding new topics to write about. (I also invite your ideas—please comment if you have one!)
But… I’ve been wanting to write about other things too. Recently I got a job as a roving reporter for a community website that highlights events and businesses. It’s nice be able to write about something else for a change—to think about the ways I participate in this community instead of what potentially isolates me from it. I also finally moved into my tiny house after a 6-year journey to get to this point. I have a lot to say about that, and the company that built my house wants to buy my thoughts. This is what I’m mostly about lately—being a new tiny houser.
With a hidden disability, it takes a lot of energy to get through the day, much less do anything remarkable. It’s easy (and forgivable) to become one-dimensional. What stories are you telling these days? What stories do you want to tell? Are you keeping the content of your life fresh and new?