I spend so much of my time feeling like I have to prove myself capable that I forget sometimes not everyone views me as incapable. The notion I need to prove myself capable is not without just cause. I can provide numerous examples encountering people who have treated me as incapable in one capacity or another. I had a supervisor once who would get onto his knees to talk to me. I had coworkers assuming I was almost 10 years younger make statements to me about not knowing what it is like to be a “real adult.” I have had people tell me, “well, you probably can’t do that…” The list goes on, but the fact remains, most people do not treat me as incapable. Enough people have and enough people do treat me as incapable regularly, but most people do not. Nevertheless, I stand on guard for the unexpected moment when I need to overcompensate or protect my dignity. How then, am I supposed to know when to feel confident and put my shield down?
The answer is the common cure for most social ailments: Leading by example is the best way to “prove” anything. I tend to keep my shield up at work. In other words, I put a lot of energy into actively proving myself, not as an individual with a disability, but rather as a professional who wants to be good at my job. Thus, my focus is not specifically on promoting my capabilities as an individual with disabilities, though I ensure the message is an added bonus by simply feeling good about the work I am doing. When I focus on doing my best, other people notice and the image colleagues and supervisors have of me reflects what I am doing as opposed to what I might not be able to do.
Remember those bad days I talked about? The bad days are when insecurities I may be harboring inflate the shield and result in misinterpretations of how others think of me or view me. I become more easily defensive or insulted by comments, jokes, or glances that may have had nothing to do with me at all. These moments of negative self-talk combined with instances when individuals truly are discriminating make it difficult to feel like I can put my shield down even for a quick rest. However, resting the shield needs to happen, because constantly standing guard ready for attack is just not healthy for anyone.
So when does the shield go down? AT HOME. Your home needs to be the place where you can be as able or disabled as you choose. Your shield should be up at work, because you should be doing your best at work regardless of any disabilities. Home is your place to rest, just as it is for anyone else.