Through most of my life, I’ve been afraid of public speaking. I always found more comfort in the written word; there’s a relief in the solace of the craft, and it gives me time to construct the perfect sentence. Getting my job at Easterseals forced me into public speaking, mostly over the phone. I facilitate conferences between our organization and potential influencers, report my progress during our department meetings, and hold one-on-one chats with my boss every Friday. All of these things would have seemed impossible to me a few years ago. Now, I still feel that twist in my stomach as my voice shakes, and my mind goes blank when asked questions. But with over two years of working there, I learned to find that confidence to speak, and to (mostly) not care if someone misunderstands me or notices how nervous I am.
Building that energy to speak publicly also affected my work here at The Geeky Gimp. I’ve branched off and made a podcast, hosted live events on Google, and now stream regularly on Twitch. I even appear on Geek Girl Riot, a show on Idobi Radio with over 20,000 listeners. Being forced to approach my fears led to other opportunities that I enjoy, and different ways to express myself. I’m able to reach out to more audiences about disability inclusion and accessibility. And more importantly, I’ve made some amazing friends through these projects where I would otherwise feel isolated.
Streaming games and chatting with folks on Twitch, in particular, has helped me be more comfortable in my voice and being open with my disabilities. When conversing with someone in the chat, I use the game I’m playing to take the focus off my spiraling thoughts – it helps me refocus on words that eluded me because of anxiety-induced brain fog. I also game with friends, and we talk about our plans to take out the enemy team and make inside jokes; having other folks to stream with alleviates some of the pressure of keeping the stream entertaining and engaging by myself. And meeting other disabled gamers, seeing how they play, and having that instant bond of understanding has made me more open to putting myself out there. I know we have each other’s backs. The community we’ve built in the Twitch space has acted as a crucial support network that we go to when we struggle with our disabilities or the ableism we experience. Together, we learn how to be more resilient, and hold each other up when that resilience is not enough.
Video below: Fellow disabled gamer Steve Spohn (of AbleGamers Charity) and I combo our ultimates in Overwatch to get a team kill. This happened live on Twitch.
Me from five years ago would not recognize the person I am right now. And I’m proud of myself for that, proud of myself for doing these things I never expected I could do. My anxiety is still there, and always will be, but I am learning to work around it. My resolve is not bulletproof – I continue to say no to opportunities and events I know would tax my mental health, like being on a panel at New York Comic Con or hosting an RPG campaign. And I’ve learned to be okay with missing out – I have to be okay with that. I speak and write openly about my anxiety. My limitations are nothing to be ashamed of, and I’ve stopped caring if others don’t fully understand the symptoms of my disabilities. These feelings are the result of surviving 34 years in an ableist world.
Not everyone can push through, though, myself included – and I want to make that clear. There is a belief from abled people that if we just try hard enough, we can do anything. That mental illness is something we can sleep away, that we only need to “get over it” to exist in society as a “normal” person. That self-care with Netflix and a cup of tea is all we need. These assumptions are false. Mental illness doesn’t go away with inspirational memes or go-get-‘em attitudes. The pressure from society to conform to abled norms, which usually entail being productive (yay capitalism), is an added burden we take on unwillingly. This burden is especially important to remember when talking about people who are forced to have multiple jobs regardless of their health; our terrible healthcare system and lack of supports for low-income families only makes living as a disabled person harder.
My anxiety doesn’t negate the emotional fulfillment I get from my various jobs and projects. The fact that I am uncomfortable and can’t do certain things because of anxiety does not hinder my goals or aspirations. In some ways, my anxiety propels me to do more creative work; I create through insomnia and hyperactivity. I create to get my mind off things and for the much-needed outlet.
And anxiety makes even small accomplishments feel like triumphs.
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