One of my invisible disabilities speaking programs this week was to a group of students at a college. It was an in-person event, which is a nice treat these days, and it was a smaller, intimate group of just a couple dozen people. Their participation was awesome, with thoughtful questions and personal sharing. As our evening program evolved, a key theme stood out: fear.
There was fear of seeing a physician, fear of a diagnosis, discomfort accepting a diagnosis, self-consciousness of using modifications, and how exactly do we overcome it all?
Fear is indeed a big part of disability. It’s a big part of life! I stood there onstage presenting for the 140th time as a professional speaker, with hundreds of stand-up comedy shows, a few plays, and a half-decade as a classroom teacher under my belt, and the irony was that even in that moment, I was afraid of speaking in public. I shared this with them.
Then I shared how I continue onstage despite my fear. I wrote about this in Chapter 7 of my book, Talking Splat: Communicating About Hidden Disabilities. I talk about it in depth in my women’s empowerment program. There’s a clip of it here, from way back when I first started this speaking racket:
The fear never went away. It just stopped stopping me.
There is no magic solution to fear. At least not for me. I’ve just conditioned myself against it. And the way I did it is the way any physical conditioning is done. I started with the easy stuff, and when I was good at that, I did some more difficult stuff, and I stayed consistent so I could stay strong.
My best example is when I started touring as a comedian at 20 years old. I was so nervous checking into my own motel room for the first time. It may seem illogical, but I was afraid of messing up or looking dumb. But I did it, and I was fine. My next challenge was making my own hotel reservations, and I achieved that. After that, the challenge was finding a hotel on a whim, out on a spontaneous adventure, and I achieved that. Now, I’ve traveled to all 50 states and stayed in hotels in 20 countries. How about that?
To the person who asked me how to get through the fear of telling people about their diagnosis, I said, “Start with the easy people.” Start with the people you’re closest to whom you feel safe telling, and go from there. To the person who was pretty sure about a diagnosis but nervous about taking steps towards getting it officially, I said just stop and visit this one person who’s here at this event, who’s super nice and whose whole job it is to help you with that. Just one visit. Just the one step.
You can because you already did.
These questions came out after I shared with the whole group the shortest version ever of my go-to assurance: that they’ve already proven to themselves they can handle whatever may happen.
What do we fear? It all boils down to we’re either afraid of failure or afraid of what people will think. That’s what I was afraid of when I checked into my first very own motel room.
Well, there is one other fear, which is the fear of getting hurt or of hurting someone else, and that’s a good fear. If you find that fear stopping you from doing something, that’s because it should. Don’t do it!
Otherwise, ask yourself now….
- What was your biggest failure?
- What was your most embarrassing moment?
I’m sure neither felt good, but you survived them both. You’re here, reading this. Somehow, you made it through or are making it through. Whatever it is you may be afraid of, you’ve already experienced failure and embarrassment and proven you’ll survive it. I ask you to not let the fear of something you’ve already proved you can handle hold you back from doing anything you want to do, especially what you should do to take the best care of yourself and live your best life.
Watch this for a reminder of why communicating about disability is important:
Read these to help you with that fear of what other people think:
Read this to help you with that fear of failure:
Oh drat! I don’t have a great article on that! Well, now I’ll have to write one…. So for now, here’s an article (one of my favorites) from the context that during the pandemic, my business failed, and here’s how I handled that…. Weathering Your Epic Storm … On a Ship
Read or watch one of these to help make the world a space where no one is ashamed to reveal their diagnoses or seek services:
article: What is “Illness Shaming?” … and How to Knock It Off