Has your life always been a fight? Erin Kelly has learned from good men to roll with the punches now more than ever.
It’s said that negativity is nothing more than a jumble of noise. It’s said that God never bears any more on one’s shoulders than they can handle—that it’s all in the way you carry the load that’s given to you.
I’ve never questioned that, and I’ve yet to find a legitimate reason to argue against it. However, I don’t think enough is said—nor can ever be said—about what happens when your life is the textbook definition of negativity by society’s standards rather than your own.
My cerebral palsy inadvertently makes me vulnerable to the craziness and dangers outside my bedroom window, perhaps more so than I’m willing to admit. I have no shield or sword to protect myself from that. However, I’d be foolish not to acknowledge that any disability—be it cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome, or the latter—puts an automatic target on one’s back. It’s clear and ever present, just like the labels and stereotypes that are associated with homosexuality, gender, or religious beliefs.
The one thing I learned very quickly as a kid—and am now seeing more clearly as an adult—is the fact that disability isn’t a matter of personal preference or choice. I think that’s the biggest difference between dealing with negativity brought on by the inner-workings of society, and dealing with negativity caused by something as personal and individualized as a disability.
While I may not be able to protect myself from society’s pitfalls, I can’t say I haven’t tried to change its perspective of me as a person—or disability as a whole. When I think about my life, I think about how many stories are on my schedule in a particular week. I think about where to put certain words on a page and how I can make each of my stories better than the last.
I’m always aware of my disability, but it doesn’t really hit me unless I’m waiting for someone to get me out of bed in the morning, trying to open or hold something with both hands or if I’m traveling even the shortest distance.
It would be wrong of me to say I think about those things out of habit. It’s safer to say that I think about them because the outside world has given me reason to. My immediate surroundings are like little islands of triggers that constantly put me on alert—the pitter-patter of shoes coming down the steps before walking over a threshold, the defiant rush of air that blows through my bedroom as my family shuts the door behind them when they come and go.
These small nuances test me daily to see if my shell will crack or if I’ll break completely. With an unexpected diagnosis of Graves’ disease added to my plate earlier this year, it often feels as if I’ve lost my grip on the key to my kingdom—the key that writing granted me before I was just scribbling words on the back of coloring books or whatever I could get my hands on.
Writing—and my job in general—helps me deal with the negativity that surrounds my life. It’s a powerful tool for me that has become even more powerful and essential to combat my diagnosis of Graves’. However, my pen also helps me make sense of negativity—from a personal standpoint as well as globally—in an unexpected way.
When I submitted my very first Social Justice story for The Good Men Project in 2012, I had no interest in social justice. My major in college was Creative Writing and Communications, so I didn’t know what the concept of social justice entailed or how many people suffered due to a lack of it. I admittedly felt a bit out of place, because I thought I had no business writing about something that was completely foreign to me.
As I found my grove at GMP and began researching information for my stories, I started to understand why social justice is so essential—and why I had to try to make the topic of disability be seen in a different light, in a way that it could be considered a relevant social justice issue.
In doing that, I had an urge to look at negativity differently. I started thinking about it and examining it with compassion. I thought if I looked at it with open eyes and a compassionate conscious, I could in turn write about it that way. I knew it wouldn’t change the subject matter or the sometimes violent nature of the stories I’m asked to report on, but I had the mindset that empathy could help me humanize stories about various topics, including disability—perhaps more so than they already were.
It remains to be seen if that mindset will help or hinder me in the long run. I do know, however, that it has served me well thus far—both professionally and personally. It’s definitely become more difficult to deal with my own personal waves of negativity, but since becoming Social Justice Editor at GMP in October 2014, I’ve made it my mission to keep the stream of goodness flowing the way my predecessor Cameron Conaway did before me.
There’s no denying that negativity is a part of life, regardless of who you are or where you are in the world. It’s a test to see if you’ll bend or break—but if you’re not willing to allow yourself to feel pain or displeasure, you’ll never know whether you’ll sink or swim.
It’s like the old expression goes—you don’t know how strong you truly are until you try.
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