I had an anxiety dream last night about having had my purse stolen and then trying to get home on a city bus. I realized I didn’t have a metrocard or any cash to pay the fare but what was worse was that when I got onto the bus, there was a giant step that came up to my chin that I was expected to climb up in order to get on board. There was a large line of impatient people behind me and I was trying to tell the driver that I needed the lift because I can’t climb stairs and he ignored me, looking straight ahead through the windshield. I felt so frustrated, helpless and alone but most of all, I felt different.
Funny, I’ve always felt different my entire life. I never seemed to fit into a group or a category, I just marched to the beat of my own drummer, as my mother would say. I always felt out of place or like I didn’t belong. It’s difficult to feel that way as a child and it’s surprisingly not much easier to feel that way as an adult. I used to long to belong, to feel “normal”…whatever the hell that really is.
Cancer has its own unique way of making you feel different. For the most part, no one else can really see it. Yes, people can see that I’m crutches and if I’m feeling confident enough that day to wear something that isn’t ankle length, they can also see my scars, but that doesn’t necessarily make people think cancer. And yet you feel vulnerable, exposed, raw, insecure and fearful, because you feel like you aren’t normal. Because your body parts no longer resemble that of a typical person. Because the things that you’ve felt and experienced are not normal. It’s not normal for a 31-year-old woman to have a fake knee and have a prosthesis, to be missing pieces of her bones, muscle and skin. To not be able to climb stairs to get onto a public bus.
Maybe you start to long again to be normal, to be who you were before any of this stuff ever happened. But you’ll never be the same person again, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just as it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be different. When I was younger I was painfully shy, I was that way up until high school. I got made fun of a lot and I got tired of it. So one day, I just started to make fun of myself before anyone else had a chance to and people thought I was funny. I’ve carried that self-deprecating humor throughout my life as a defense mechanism. Because being different wasn’t a positive attribute in my eyes nor the eyes of my peers or society at large. It’s no wonder people spend so much time obsessing about their appearance after a surgery. They know that even the slightest physical abnormality will garner a fair share of looks and questioning so long as it’s visible.
In truth, there’s no such thing as normal. Sure, there are tons of people who easily fit into check boxes but are they any happier than I am? Normal is a relative term and really, it’s quite boring. Being a black sheep has it’s merits. Feeling different can be empowering if you allow it to and stop getting hung up on societal/religious/social expectations and constructs. Being different should be embraced and celebrated but it’s often criticized, ostracized and feared and that’s a shame. Coming to terms with differences in one’s physicality is not an easy feat by any means, but it’s one I’m actively working on coming to terms with. One day I will be able to take the stairs again and walk without crutches and one day I will forget about my scars and not think twice about showing my legs in public because they are a part of me. A part of me that I shouldn’t be ashamed of.