Have you ever been bullied because you have a disability? Although I am an adult now, I remember just turning 15 and not wanting to return to school. Why?
Here is my story. My disability is not one that is visible. At age 15, I was pretty selective in telling people I had diabetes (Type 1, insulin dependent). Some of my friends knew, but that was about the extent I wanted to keep it. However, bullies being bullies, and it doesn’t have to be guys—girls make great bullies too—said some strong words. The words I remember hearing, were all too familiar to me. Yet, I was not sure how these bullies were able to say the same things my family said to me in the same derogatory way. It was this phrase, “I know…you just think you are SPECIAL because you have diabetes—don’t you? DON’T you?”
It may not sound like much of a bully statement, but it was constant and the emphasis on the word SPECIAL and the way it was used put it in the bully category. Not to mention, I only heard it in one other place—and that was in my family. I truly did not understand why my family treated me this way. It wasn’t until one of my sisters explained that when I was diagnosed with diabetes, my mom and dad took my sisters (and possibly let my brothers know—but I think they were out of the house), to treat “Jackie special” because of my diabetes.
Was I treated differently than my brothers and sisters? Yes, I was treated differently, but I never equated the different treatment with my diabetes. I equated it with being the youngest. Kind of sad really. In fact, I was even blamed for having this special treatment…blamed? Blamed for having diabetes? I asked for it? No one, no one asks to have a disability. We are dealt a hand and we have to make do with what life gave us.
I didn’t know that the reason I was treated “special” was because of what mom and dad had said when I was first diagnosed. I grew up with a lot of resentment from my sisters and even my mom. I heard that “you think you’re so SPECIAL” phrase quite a lot. It was meant to sound mean and cruel. Eventually it wore me down. It’s one thing to be bullied by peers but another to have this stuff hanging over my head with my family too. Luckily, I had a support network when this occurred.
I was tired and I didn’t want to live with my diabetes anymore. I wanted to be a normal adolescent. So, I stopped taking shots and screwed myself over. I ended up in the hospital and my doctor yelled at me, “Keep this up and you’ll end up dead in three years.” That’s all it took to get me moving as I realized I wanted to live longer and I was being stupid for letting these girl at school get to me. When I got back to school (a three week journey back to school), I had a lot of stuff to face…including the bullies. I still had not figured out how these bullies knew about the “special” phrase and it bothered me.
I got back to school and sat down with my Guidance Counselor. Basically, it was determined that I could not make up three weeks of homework. I missed too much. They didn’t want to hold me back either—so, my teachers agreed that if I could keep up with all my classes, those three weeks would not be counted against me. I don’t remember having any problems and I did pass into the next grade. Two of the girls who bullied me even apologized. I have great respect for those girls, even to this day.
As an adult, I finally was able to connect the dots and figure out how those bullies knew about the “special phrase” and how to get under my skin. Yes, one of the moms of a bully was friends with two of my family members. That was all it took…and the rest is history.
I don’t like having diabetes, but I have come to live with it and know that I control it and it doesn’t control me. I wish my family would have talked more about it with me. It might have made a difference in the outcome. It was something that was not discussed. I would have loved if it was discussed because my family and others might have then learned that I didn’t want to be treated differently or special—I just wanted to be accepted for me. I was told growing up that I was a “show off.” Umm….why? Why would I act this way? Maybe it was for attention and hearing that I was loved. Instead, what was perceived of me was totally distorted to that “special” category.
Today, I realize that I was and I am special. Not because of my diabetes, but because of who I am…I am healthy, active, and doing well. I had a change in mindset the day the doctor yelled at me. Any person with a disability whether it is visible or not, wants to be treated and respected as an individual—NOT treated special because of a disability. Yes, the disability may be something the person has to live with, but it’s not the disability that makes the person special—it is the person behind the disability that makes the person special.