SLICE OF LIFE: I yam what I yam
I enter the lift, push my floor number and wait. Another girl, a stranger to me, stares at me for a while.“You know, you look kind of funny” she says conversationally.
Well, I had noticed that as a matter of fact, thank you very much. I am Robyn, and I am disabled. I have Möbius Syndrome something to do with cranial nerves and my development in the womb and shit (as a BA kid, I reserve the right to not know what doctors and so-called experts are talking about when they get into the biology of it all).
Basically, my face looks funny because my muscles didn’t develop properly before I was born. It led to partial facial paralysis, meaning I can’t make all the same facial movements as you, and my speech can be unclear at times. Only about one in every 275 000 people are born with it, but I guess I was just really, really lucky. My whole life, I’ve received the funny looks, snide comments and unbearable staring. It used to upset me. (It still can sometimes, if I’m honest.)
When I was 10 I cried for an entire night after some jerks in a line at an amusement park laughed and called me “some sort of Pokémon”. And then I grew up and decided that, in the immortal words of Popeye: “I yam what I yam”. As I got older I finally realised things were the way they were, and I could either spend the rest of my life being miserable, or face the facts and try to find a way to move on. God knows I would change it if I could, but these are the cards I was dealt, and I have to play them as best I can. But isn’t that something that all people do, not just the disabled ones?
Everyone is born to a set of circumstances they didn’t choose. Everyone spends their life fighting a battle against how people see them versus how they really are. I don’t want your sympathy, or expect you not to blink the first time you see me, or to be a model for Vogue magazine. All I want is for you to take my experience and use it to inform your own.
People aren’t all that different from one another really. The next time you see someone who is disabled, or comes from a different race or socio-economic class, or has some other little thing that we, as humans, use to draw a line between us and them, take a moment to remember that you are more than likely united in more things than you are divided.
Yes I am Robyn, and I am disabled. I’m also left-handed, and heartily dislike olives, and can sing all the words to the Frozen theme song with my little sister. Being disabled is a part of me, but I will not let it define me any more than my green eyes or my hairy toes do. Be careful of the aspects of people that you allow to define them.
Originally published in Wits Vuvuzela on April 25, 2014 (12th edition). Also available on the Wits Vuvuzela website