In this episode of the Feel Good Effect, we’re talking about reframing what it means to fit in, reclaiming your voice to narrate your own story, and the power of resilience with Rebekah Taussig.
Reframing What it Means to Fit In: The Power of Resilience & Reclaiming Your Voice with Rebekah Taussig
Importance of inclusion
So much of what brought Rebekah to write this book was growing up in a world in which books like hers didn’t exist.
Rebekah grew up in the ’80s and ’90s with paralyzed legs, using a wheelchair to get around.
At this point in time, the world hype was about Friends, the Spice Girls, Wayne’s World, etc.; many stories were represented, but none that Rebekah saw herself represented in.
She started to see herself as existing outside of a world, which appeared to exist for those whose stories were more represented.
There was a sense of not belonging or fitting in.
As she got older, Rebekah started reading more, meeting new people, and realizing how destructive it was for her to not feel part of this world.
Being able to see that your stories matter and that you are a part of this world in a meaningful, beautiful, exciting, complicated way is very powerful.
This book is what younger Rebekah desperately needed to see the power in the perspective that she does have.
Throughout the earlier chapters of Sitting Pretty, Rebekah teaches readers about disability studies, something not many of us are educated in.
There is a lot of diversity within disability.
Being an individual with paralyzed legs comes with a different narrative than a mental disability; it’s something that people can see versus one that is invisible to others.
Cultural narratives are wrapped up in and reinforced by the literal stories we tell through media, on-screen, and in books.
It’s the idea that as members of a group, we have a script in hand that we are following without necessarily recognizing it.
We have roles in these scripts and an automatic flow that we each bring.
For Rebekah, as someone who visibly fits into the role of a helpless, disabled character narrative, the people around her naturally gravitate toward the role of helper or inspirer.
The impulses and roles that we have are very strong.
Cultural narratives are wrapped up in the stories we tell each other, the books we write, the screenplays that are written, we continue to put people in specific roles that we play out together.
The cultural narratives and the stories we tell reinforce one another.
Intersectionality + the power of your narrative
Looking back on it, a lot of Rebekah’s younger years were trying to fit into that script, leaning heavily into the role of an inspirational girl with a disability.
But, there were more expectations of Rebekah based on her other identities as well.
For instance, where she grew up, young women were generally expected to get married and have babies.
Yet, at the same time, disabled people aren’t necessarily seen as viable romantic partners or parents.
Rebekah moved around in that space, between the expectations of being a girl and those of being a girl with a disability.
She did get married young, but found herself miserable, trying to thrive within the narrative that had been dictated for her but ultimately did not work.
Rebekah ended up finding fulfillment in spending a number of years as a single person, and has now found her way back into a partnership and recently had a baby.
She’s holding onto and resisting narratives from every angle.
There has been a lot of turmoil against that expected narrative and figuring out what is actually a good fit for her.
What is being expected or denied because of this powerful narrative that’s already been written?
Identifying your narratives
The first step in identifying your narratives is to acknowledge them.
Of course, for many of us, that is not how we learned for our metacognitive processes to work.
Many of us grew up not thinking that we even had a narrative, but that it just was the way it was.
In starting to realize that these narratives are powerful forces but not necessarily true is like a giant curtain being lifted.
Reclaim your voice
The narratives we hold lead to the decisions we make: what we do or do not accept.
You can reclaim your voice and narrate your own story.
Rebekah started to recognize the narrative placed on her by reading academic work on disability studies and personal narratives from others with disabilities.
These readings opened her eyes to her position in the world.
Connecting with people who had similar experiences became important, especially those who were rethinking and redoing some of that work.
People who were rethinking what their bodies meant to them or the stories they had been told about their bodies over their lifetime.
Seeing images of and learning about disabled people with thriving lives was like a filing system in her brain, like she needed to see a certain number of images of another way of looking at this body to start to shift what her body could be and look like.
If you only see a sad or sterile depiction of your body and all the bodies who are living beautiful, vibrant lives don’t look like yours, exposure to something different and inclusive can be powerful.
Invite fresh angles and personalities into your mind.
If you sit still, the default narrative will wash over you.
It does require some effort to seek out resistance, but once you do it’s like a magnet to more resistance.
A false dichotomy
For the most part in life, it’s not one thing or the other; we can allow for two things to be true
Despite this, in the past Rebekah found herself sharing the inspirational, positive version of herself while keeping the darkness and loss separate and private.
Creating a false dichotomy around how she presented herself wasn’t sustainable.
At the same time, while it was important to acknowledge the things that were painful and hard, she navigates a balance to avoid falling into a narrative of misfortune that is expected from disabled individuals.
She holds onto both closely; it is always both.
Balance + parenting
This sense of “both-and” is very relevant to being a new parent for Rebekah.
Although there is grief for her old life, she is enamored by her months-old son.
It is completely both things, loss and love, at the same time.
Allow yourself space to feel both positive and negative; to not feel at home while also feeling like you’ve just found home.
Balance + a pandemic
A similar theme comes up in regard to changes in livelihoods due to the pandemic.
Rebekah, a teacher, noticed students sharing dialogue about being grateful and focused on silver linings or miserable and suffering, but rarely balanced.
But when it comes down to it, there are so many emotions that we are experiencing simultaneously, despite that it feels like we need to fit into a certain camp.
Fitting in versus belonging
Thinking about the identities represented in media and reinforced through social interactions, Rebekah didn’t feel like she fit in or belonged.
It’s as if the people who are well-represented are the real citizens of this world, and she didn’t fit into that.
Fitting in would be belonging to that hub.
Finding the people outside of that hub, those who also recognize they don’t fit in there, is a process of finding belongingness.
It’s finding the people who are also on the outside, who actually see one another as valuable.
Together, they forge a rebellion, and in that rebellion is belonging.
The world tends to not make too much space for disabled bodies; belonging has to be on the margins.
Fitting in requires that we constantly maintain ourselves for external reinforcement.
But a sense of belonging within a community on the margins is internal.
I know myself where I fit and I fit within myself.
What is the damage I’ve done to myself, trying to fit in?
Rebekah feels very vulnerable about releasing her book, Sitting Pretty, into the world, which is very different than it was when she wrote it.
Had she known the future context of the world, she would have written it differently.
At the same time, the book indirectly speaks to the state of the world, being in a global pandemic and the racial injustices being brought to the surface in a more profound way.
Despite the vulnerability of not having control over the outcome, Rebekah hopes her book sparks conversation around these complex topics.
What it really means to be healthy
Health is belonging… It’s being able to hold onto the “both-and”, recognizing your space in a messy universe. It has a lot to do with understanding within yourself, recognizing what you’re doing, who you are, how you fit into that, and being gracious with yourself… health is not attained through contorting yourself to fit into something that is impossible to ever arrive at.
Order Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body from your local bookstore
Connect with Rebekah on Instagram @sitting_pretty