In Frozen, the main character accidentally injures her sister with her magic ice powers as a young child. In reaction, her parents teach her that she has to suppress and hide her powers at all costs in order to protect others. In a dramatic moment, she accidentally releases her powers in front of everyone. She gives up on concealing her powers, and makes dramatic and demonstrative use of of them. And, since it is a Disney movie, there is a song.
There’s a particular part of the song that I think is an important description of what it’s like to come to terms with difference:
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe.
I know I left a life behind but I’m too relieved to grieve. (quote ends here)
When you first start coming to terms with a stigmatized difference and talking about it in public and accepting yourself, as first it’s mostly a relief.
At first, you’re too relieved to grieve or to notice the price you’re paying for living in the world as an openly disabled (or whatever else) person. The price for trying to be normal was so, so high, and when you give up on that, the relief of not paying that price anymore is huge.
But the relief wears off. Gradually, you start to notice the price you pay for standing your ground. You’ve realize that you’ve left a life behind in order to stand your ground and be who you are unapologetically. And that some aspects of that life were good, and that you can’t get them back.
You’ve lost a lot, and that can be hard to take once it sets in and the relief wears off. Some of the losses are direct, concrete things, like people who won’t trust you around children, hire you, or talk to you anymore. Others are more ephemeral – like, giving up the hope that you’d ever have the kind of respect that those who live without stigma enjoy. There are a lot of things, and what they are exactly differs for everyone. But there are a lot of them, and coming to terms with that kind of loss hurts.
It is ok to grieve the things you left behind in order to accept yourself, hold ground, and be who you are openly. Grieving over this loss doesn’t mean that you’re backsliding in self acceptance. It just the price you pay for holding your ground often sucks, and sometimes that can loom very large. This is not your fault.
Honor your grief. You shouldn’t have had to lose the things you’ve lost. It should have been yours by right. You should have been able to be who you are openly without losing all of that. It’s horrible that you have to make this choice. You don’t have to have a sunny attitude all the time; you can have grief and regret and sadness and still be ok and on the right path.
The price is high, and you never really stop paying it, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it. We’re worth it. We can stand together and hold ground and support one another. Know that others have been through the stage where the relief wears off and the grief sets in, and found that the pain is bearable and that we can support one another through it.
Laura Hershey’s book of ADAPT poetry “In The Way” helps.