The most popular reaction I get from adults when they find out I coach high school debate is, “I always wanted to try that. I just didn’t know if I was good enough.” In talking to other debate coaches, I learned that they also get the same reaction. On the second night of my family’s three-day reunion (maternal grandmother’s side) last month, I was the DJ on our formal night. (I’ve never DJ’d any event before and, I now have a newfound respect for DJs. I will never criticize a DJ at any future wedding I attend.) Adults would request songs and then not dance to those songs! At first, I was befuddled by this. Why would anyone request a song and not dance to it? Then, I noticed a pattern: people who requested their favorite songs would dance once they saw twenty other people on the dance floor. In many instances, the song was over by the time they hit the floor.
Contrast the adults’ behavior with my nieces and nephews. My nephews did a number, a dance to Gangham Style complete with Dirty Dancing-style lifts. My nephew, Mikko, and niece, Alani, brought the house down with their impromptu performance of Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk. Sometimes, adults care about what other people think of them to the point of depriving themselves of happiness. My nieces and nephews didn’t care; they danced all night and enjoyed themselves.
What I Learned About Being Self-Conscious From Illness
I tried to remember the first time I became self-conscious. I think it was junior high. One reality of being sick is embarrassing moments. I remember a time at Millennium Park when I was about twenty-years old. When I got out of the bathroom, a bunch of women indignantly yelled at me for taking a long time. They didn’t know I took a long time because of a flare up of polycystic ovarian syndrome, which has sometimes been the bane of my existence. There are other people with invisible illnesses who report similar experiences–strangers yelling at them when they park in disability spots. My other illnesses–both visible and invisible have also come with embarrassing moments like the time I got into “the ugly cry” before entering my therapist’s office after a car accident. I have bipolar disorder and the accident that happened (on the day of my scheduled appointment) was a trigger. But by that point, I didn’t care about what people thought. The ugly cry happens to people with and without mental illness.
Not Going to Stay Down
I have been through many treatments for Myasthenia Gravis (MG). I carry a cane for MG. I started a nutrient therapy program in February that comes with six months of nausea. The first few months of my treatment coincided with the last few months of the debate season. I remember asking my mom, “What if I vomit in class while I’m at the chalkboard?” She responded, “Then, I think you should go to the bathroom.” A couple months ago, I gave a TEDx talk on how to get stuff done when you’re depressed. It was fifteen minutes long. For the first time since 2008, I gave a whole speech standing up! Sometimes, I have moments where I can’t feel my legs or one whole side of my body. I remember being worried before the speech that I would fall down. I asked my mom, “What if I fall down during the speech?” She answered, “Then I think you should get up.” I could always fall or have some other unexpected problems during my speech but I’m not going to give up the chance to give a TEDx talk just because of that. Similarly, I’m not going to quit my job because of the chance that I might vomit in class one day. I’ve learned that falling down, literally or figuratively, isn’t making a fool of myself. I know not caring about what other people think is easier said than done. One surprising thing I’ve learned from illness is to not give a damn about what people think. I might care for a moment but I won’t let that get in the way of me dancing or pursuing a new hobby (even if I’m not sure I’ll be good at it). I won’t allow other people’s opinions to get in the way of my happiness. That is an unexpected blessing that comes with illness. I’ve learned to appreciate life with a childlike wonder.
–-Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno