By Mark E. Smith
I did an interview recently, and both the interviewer and my public relations manager both expressed that if any of the questions were too personal, I should feel free to not answer them. And, so I tried to figure out what would be too personal for me to publicly address?
And, I couldn’t come up with what would be too personal for me to publicly answer, especially because the interview was for a mobility industry publication. I mean, it’s not like they’d ever ask if I’ve had sex in my wheelchair, right? But, if they did, I’d pull a Bill Clinton, and ask for a clarification of terms – and then reply with a resounding, Yes, and then share every sordid detail of each encounter that I could squeeze in before my publicist wisely censored me. …So, I was 20, and in the all-girls dorm at Santa Clara University one night, dating this really hot Psych major….
But, alas, to me at least, the questions were strikingly normal – just questions about growing up with my disability. And, then it hit me: I suppose some people do view speaking of their disabilities as too personal to discuss in public. But, not me, and as I got into the interview questions, I had no qualms about answering them, to an as-honestly-personal level as I could.
See, I know that everyone has differing levels of comfort and privacy. But, if you’re going to put yourself out there, don’t hold back. And, I believe that if someone – or, a readership – is candid enough to ask you a question, you owe it to them and yourself to give a completely candid answer, even when a lump develops in your throat and you have to say what you’re going to say in one breath or the tears will start flowing. After all, if you’re not going to expose yourself completely – your heart and soul, fear and shame – you’re lying to everyone, including yourself. It all comes down to a greatly underestimated trait called integrity.
So, I worked my way through the questions with what I learned about Gandhi. He never planned a speech. What he said, felt, and did were so congruent that he spoke solely from intuition and heart. To each question, I just strove to give an authentic answer.
The interview went great, and not thinking much about it, I left the transcript on my kitchen table. My daughter and sister were hanging out that eve, and began reading through it, par for the course, till they got to one specific question and answer:
What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
That I am worthy of love. I mean, I still struggle with it, but not nearly as much as I did in my teens and twenties. My father, till the day he died, expressed shame toward my disability, and my mother always blamed my disability for their divorce (which occurred when I was a toddler). My mother was also a life-long substance abuser and experienced mental illness, so I took the brunt of that chaos, much of which she blamed on my having a disability, as well. So, when you add that into the normal teen equation of wanting to fit in – but not fitting in due to disability – it was hard for me to look at myself in the mirror at, say, 17. Based on a lot of work on personal growth, and raising my daughter, I’ve come a long way toward truly feeling worthy of love – but, admittedly, I still struggle with it at times.
“Wow, that’s really brave of you to publicly share,” my sister said.
“It’s not brave at all,” I said. “It’s just being honest.”