Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Learning to Let the Light In

Five years ago, as an angsty little high school graduate, I created this blog as a platform on which to talk about my life as a person with dwarfism. At that time, I needed a place to vent about all of the ~problems~ I had, because when you're stuck living at home with your parents in Small Town, Illinois and attending community college, every little ~problem~ felt like the end of the world. And then there was my disability. WOE WAS ME.

Anyways, it served me well for a while. I got to meet so many great people who read my blog from all corners of the world. And whenever I was feeling a little needy, I could just log on and complain about my life, and y'all would flood my inbox with your kind words. The attention I got from my blog brought me a really warped sense of confidence and righteousness, and I ended up using it to serve my own needs more often than educate other people about dwarfism. College came and went, and while I tried to use my blog to document the growth and change I was experiencing, I lost sight of my purpose. Those years brought some truly dark times, and because I was getting a lot of attention for my disability, I found it easy to also blame my disability for all of the things that were wrong. Over the last several years, I let myself become a very bitter person and my blog reflected that. If you scroll back now, most of those posts are gone because I'm learning that it's ok to not like who you used to be.

Since I last logged on here, I have been diligently working through a lot of personal things. But I decided to come back and try this again as a part of my journey of forgiveness of myself and others. I am working on developing a more positive identity as a woman with a disability. Sure, awful things do and will still happen, because we live in a really broken world that does not value people with disabilities. And awful things do and will still happen because of a million other reasons in my life, no thanks to my dwarfism.

But good things happen too. Like, really, really good things. So I want to share them with you. Not to boast or build some shiny fa├žade that I've got my shit together. I just hope to change the narrative. Because if there was anything I needed growing up, it was to see a woman with a disability who was happy with the things that went right in her life. So at the risk of embarrassment, I'm willing to share, should it be a light to someone else. And if no one reads this but my mom, well, then I'll do it for myself.

If you signed up for email alerts from my blog in 2013 (seriously, y'all get a gold medal because I've been weird) or you met me within the last few years and had no idea I had a blog, I hope you stick around because I think good things are coming. Recently I completed a challenging clinical placement, traveled to Mexico, and have met some truly incredibly people-- all which have shaped my journey into coming home to myself and settling in with my identity as a woman with a disability, among other things. I can't promise that I won't ever talk about the bad stuff, because that does have an important role in advocacy. But I finally finally finally feel as if maybe life has hit me just enough times to teach me that those cracks are where the light gets through.

I can't pinpoint the moment things changed. I don't know the recipe, but it happened somewhere between a lot of coffee, poetry, and really forgiving friends. If you've figured it out, I celebrate with you. If you haven't, I've been there, and your feelings are valid. But the sunshine feels good. And I promise that no matter how unfair life feels, it's coming.

Goodbye for now. Love to you. Take care of yourselves.

Friday, August 7, 2015

5 Things You Absolutely Do Not Get to Say to Me

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a peacekeeper. I'm pretty quiet and I typically try to fly under the radar-- especially in public. I hate causing a scene, because I know that my appearance alone draws enough unwanted attention, so I usually try to balance that out with a calm personality. However, I use the words "typically" and "usually" because there are always exceptions. And this is one of them. 

Since turning 21 earlier this summer, I have come to learn about the whole new world of the bar scene. Like any other senior in college, I enjoy going out with my friends on weekends and catching up over a drink or two and dancing. Always dancing. But along with the fun comes a lot of intoxicated people and I know all too well the results of combining alcohol and dwarfism-- or any difference for that matter. At the beginning, I learned to just accept people's rudeness and move on and try to focus on having fun with my friends. My parents raised me to not let my disability stop me from enjoying life and going to the bars is definitely part of enjoying life-- can I get an amen from someone in the back? 

This whole new experience has brought a lot of ups and downs, but for the most part the good has outweighed the bad. And I believed it always would. And then last night happened. Some friends and I set out with the "work never ends but college does" attitude, determined to have a great Thursday night. But it was ugly, due to some unwanted and rude people saying very inappropriate things. I have spent the day reflecting on the things that happened and that I should not have to accept. 

Here are the 5 things that you (read: probably not actually YOU, but people in general) do not get to say to me anymore:


Not one single conversation that has started with this line has ever ended well, yet people keep using it. On any given weekend night, I hear this line shouted from across the dance floor or bar as a sad attempt to gain my attention. Don't even bother asking, because no, you cannot take a picture of me to put on your snap story. I came to have a drink with my friends and have some fun after a long week of work. I do not care to hear about how much you love Little People Big World. And no, for the love of Jesus himself, I am not a cast member from Little Women: LA. Also, might I add that there would be a problem if I entered a bar and approached a group of people, shouting, "I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE!"? It is not-- and never will be-- ok to refer to people only by their appearance. When you acknowledge me only for the fact that I am a little person and you, for some reason, think that's awesome, then you have objectified my physical disability to mean more than the other things that make me who I am-- my personality, my dedication to my education and future career, my friendships and willingness to meet new people, and probably my really embarrassing laugh. Yes, I do wholeheartedly believe I am an awesome person who… also has dwarfism. You can leave it at that. 
On the other hand, if you enter the bar, see me from across the room, and run towards me yelling, "Oh my god it's Courtney!!!!" followed by a hug and more screaming, chances are you're one of my sorority sisters and we haven't seen each other for like the last 18 hours, so we're about to take a photo for Instagram. That's fine. 
Otherwise, goodbye.  

Alternative option: Wave, ask my name, and come dance with me and my friends. We are some great people who know how to have a great time and it doesn't really matter that I am a little person.

#2 "You're every guy in here's dream." 

Nope, I'm just going to stop you right there. I don't want to hear about your fantasies of having sex with a little person-- or midget, the term you probably used. You only feel that way because of the disgusting things that you have seen in the media. Having sex with someone who is smaller than you will not make your penis appear larger. Your comments are objectifying, offensive, and way beyond intrusive. In response to any variation of this line, I will probably just turn away from you and towards my friends, because I really suck at coming up with something to say to your face. Please don't offer to buy me a drink if I've already stopped conversation, because then I'm really going to have to find something to say to make you leave and you won't like it. You'll get a little butthurt and that leads us to #3. 

Alternative option: If you want to approach me at the bar and tell me that I'm beautiful, cool! I already know that I am, but it doesn't hurt hearing it respectfully from someone else. Introduce yourself. And if we vibe well and you care to offer to buy me a drink, I'll probably accept. I'm not scary. 

#3 "What, you don't like me because I'm (insert a race, religion, or other identifying group here)?" 

Yes, exactly! I'm trying to end this shitty conversation with you because you're Mexican! No, actually, I don't like you simply for the fact that my asshole meter is alarming right now and you stink of complete, utter bullshit. I like to consider myself a very friendly person. I will carry on a conversation with literally anyone-- people waiting in line at the grocery store, my pharmacist, cute elderly people at church, the mailman, you name it. I got that trait from my mom, the lady who will tell her life story to anyone who will listen (even if they didn't want to hear it). THEREFORE. If I am acting in anyway that indicates that I do not want to talk to you, you probably did or said something to piss me off, whether or not it included points #1 or #2 and NOT because you have purple hair, are Atheist, speak a different language, are wearing a Packer's jersey, etc. Last night a man approached me at the bar and said some of the most disgusting and inappropriate things I have heard in a while. I declined, looked away, and my best friend even stepped in to indicate my disinterest. He immediately shot back with, "Oh, so you don't like me because I'm black? Because I have dreads? You're so goddamn racist." I was extremely offended. I don't think I even said anything back to him. But if I could have, I would have said something similar to the following: 
"How DARE you assume such a thing about me. I have friends of many different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and I love each of them and what they bring to the table in my life. Your skin color and hairstyle have absolutely nothing to do with why I have turned you down. YOU, SIR, are the one who came in with your creep flag waving. I was offended by your comments such as, "I'm going to steal you and make you come home with me," and, "I've never had a sexual fantasy before, but now I do."
You need to leave. Right now. 

Alternative option: "I'm very sorry that I offended you. Can you tell me what I did wrong so that I may fix it?" I'm a super forgiving person and I understand that some people make mistakes due to being uneducated. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt if you seem sincere.

So if you're like my mom, you've probably read this far and are thinking, "Gosh, Courtney, maybe going out to the bars is not the greatest idea. How about you find somewhere safer to hang out?" 
I'm just going to hit you back with a big NO. Because I have heard this line too many damn times:

#4 "Well, that's what happens at bars." 

No. I refuse to believe that. I will not believe that. Saying such a thing puts the blame on the victim-- ahem, me-- suggesting that I shouldn't go if I don't want to be offended or violated. As a 21-year-old female college student, I have every right as the next person to go out with my friends on the weekend and grab a couple drinks, dance, and maybe even talk to a cute guy or two, then eat leftover pizza for breakfast the next day with my roommates and binge watch Netflix as we recover. 
So, no, the things I have experienced is not what "happens at bars." That's what happens when people are uneducated, rude, and haven't been raised by their mamas to love and accept other people for their differences. I won't stop going out with my friends because of my bad experiences. I do not have to sacrifice my fun weekends because of the actions of others. Instead, I will fight against it and hope that maybe one day, these people will understand that I don't have to take their shit.  

Alternative option: "How about we try a new bar and see if we can meet some new people elsewhere?" You can't run from bad experiences, but I am always up for trying something new. Even better? "Hey, I know when we go out tonight, there may be some rude people out there, but we are still going to make it a fun night." Damn right we are.  

Last, but definitely not least, here's the kicker of them all. As my friends and family and people who love me, you have probably said this to me as an attempt to help, without realizing that it's not helpful at all… but that's ok. We're all learning. In the future, just try to please take this off your List of Things to Say to Courtney When She's Upset:  

#5 "Don't let it bother you" / "Those people don't matter." 

It bothers me. That's why we're here. That's why, at 10pm on a Friday night, I'm laying in bed writing this instead of hopping on the bus to The District to order another Funky Monkey at Daiquiri Factory or dancing on the speakers at 2nd Ave. I'm not going out tonight. I'm speaking out tonight. 
Unless you are a 4'2", blonde hair, blue eyed, 21-year-old, female, Communication Sciences and Disorders major at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois with Achondroplastic Dwarfism, YOU do not get to tell me that I shouldn't let it bother me. Unless you are Courtney Lynn Simross, YOU do not get to say that those people don't matter. You've never cried on the bus ride home because you overheard guys laughing about how they'd love to "f*ck a midget" but that they'd make sure to wear a condom because they "don't want one of those kids."   

Alternative option: "Yes, this hurts and it's unfair. What are we going to do so that it hopefully doesn't happen again?" Hint? Education and awareness. Always. If you love me, you'll join me in this fight. It's not fun. But I know that one day people will catch on and stop being so rude. One day.     

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Please Don't Call Me an Inspiration

For whatever reason, people have always felt the need to tell me how inspiring my life is.
How I "overcome so much."
How I am "so brave" for doing this or that.
How I am "always smiling despite the hardships."
Or how I am "so strong."
(And--oh wait, my personal favorite…)
How I "live just like a normal person."

Please believe me when I say that I appreciate these comments! I know that the person means well, even if that's not how it came out. Sometimes I want to say something back like, "Thanks for noticing!" Or, "I'm glad someone understands!" Or, "Oh shoot, do you really think that of me? I'm flattered!" 

But most of the time, I would just like to say... 

No. Thank you, but no. 

You see, I was not born yesterday. I know that when people take the time to tell me how "inspiring" my life is, they aren't just referring to the grades I work for or the new mile time I just beat on the treadmill. (Believe me when I say my mile time is anything but inspiring.) I know this because just about anyone can be smart or run fast. Instead, I am apparently "inspiring" because-- oh, that's right! I have dwarfism and don't always act like I do.

To be more specific, here is collection of some of these comments I have received in just the past few weeks or so:

"We think you are really brave for going to Augustana, despite… everything, you know?"
"I look up to you so much. Well, not literally. But you know what I mean."
"I don't think I could be as happy as you are if I was in your shoes."
"I'm surprised to see you here (a party). I wasn't sure if you did these things like everyone else."
"Courtney I am so happy to see that you're not letting your dwarfism stop you from joining a sorority."
"I always tell my friends how awesome you are for being a little person and still doing everything like us."
"You sure don't dress like a little person."
"You're so strong."

I guess to the average person, the diagnosis of dwarfism also implies a terrible life. As if I was expected to stay in bed all the time, sheltered from the real world, and be hand-fed by my parents. School isn't necessary, forget being social and making friends, parties are a definite no, what is a car and how would I ever drive one-- just no, dwarfs can't play sports, cute clothes are impossible to find, I should just blame God for this because why would I have faith in someone who made me this way. I have heard it all.

Basically, I should have given up a long time ago.

But wait. I didn't, so…. I'm an inspiration!

No. Please stop. Just no. 

Because do you know what happens when you call me inspirational? You put me on this unnecessary and unwanted pedestal. Believe me when I say that I do not need another thing to separate me from the people I so desperately want to be associated with. Thank you, but I don't want to be seen as better than anyone else. I don't need to rise above. I just want to walk along side the rest of you. I am not extra special just because I do things despite my dwarfism. Please forgive me for not wanting to be treated differently, because I don't see myself that way.

Also, please forgive me for not wanting to be the strong one all the time. Because if I've learned anything while being "inspirational," it's that no one ever asks how you are doing. You're just expected to have your shit together.

Don't get me wrong. 99% of the time, this girl is on fire. But the hot mess that makes up that last percent is nothing that I should be inspiring anyone to be.

Yes, I have earned every single thing I have in life. I have sweated and cried and considered giving up a few more times than I would like to admit. I have taken risks and faced my worst fears like it's my job. I have learned to force a smile when I feel anything but happy, and I have been polite to people who have destroyed me with their words. My faith has been tested and I have had to argue the existence of things that I sometimes can't even see for myself.

But do you know what? There is someone out there whose 3rd Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor on their 4th chromosome is not mutated, doing the same. damn. thing. Where is their round of applause? Where is their award? Oh wait, that's right. That would just be considered "normal" behavior because he or she is a "normal" person. (I puke a little bit in my mouth every time someone says the word normal. Stop trying to make normal happen. It's not going to happen!)

Yes, I have dwarfism. But I still can attend a prestigious college, maintain good grades, be an active member of a sorority and many other clubs, have a job, know how to have a good time with my friends, and keep a positive attitude, like anyone else. I'm not trying to be inspiring or amazing or extra special.
Just happy. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

OMG My BFF Sarah

I was on vacation this past week in Vermillion, Ohio on Lake Erie for my annual family reunion.

Yea, we're pretty cute. 

And this isn't too bad either.

I swear, every year is better always better than the last. There is something truly remarkable about spending a week with 40 family members in an old cabin with only 3 bathrooms and no air conditioning or TV. No, honestly, it's like... kinda fun. Kinda really fun. 

But anyways, why I am posting about my trip is because during that week, I had some of the strangest/ most hilarious encounters with little kids while I was there. 

I love children. I am a nanny for two families. I have countless weekend babysitting jobs. I will be teaching a Vacation Bible School preschool class this summer for the second time. My Instagram (@clynnsims) is full of pictures of my mom's daycare kids. I love children. 

It's not the snot or poop or hair-pulling or screaming that I particularly love, but how kids react to me. Out of all the great things that come with being a little person, watching how children comprehend my differences and interact with me is my favorite. And my absolute favorite experiences I have had with kids happened while I was on vacation last week. (Rest assured, the first one is a little rough, but they get better as they go.) 

About mid-week, my BFF Sarah (story to come) introduced me to her friend Ava. I have met rude kids before, but this one was a real winner. She did some hardcore staring and then just blurted out, "Why are you so small with a big butt?" For about .01 seconds I considered tossing her into the depths of Lake Erie. But since I am a loving, forgiving person, I gave her the nicest answer I could think of in that moment. "Everyone's a little bit different. I'm just like this." Nope, not good enough for Ava. What came out of her mouth next has made me reconsider everything I thought I knew about the intelligence level of 3-year-olds. 

"Well maybe you should take your sunglasses off and take a look at yourself. You look pretty different." Yup, that happened. Almost a week has gone by and I have still been mulling over this. Did she really think I do not know that I look different? Did she really think that she is smarter than me, as if she knows something about me that I do not know about myself? Girl, please! I have been analyzing my physical differences for 19 years! Luckily for Ava I have learned to laugh at this story. Oh, to have the honesty of a child. 

This isn't Ava but we'll pretend it is.
One evening, my family gathered for our traditional softball game in the park where strikes do not count and males over the age of 10 have to bat with their non-dominant hand. Katie, one of my little cousins, "helped" me in the outfield... and by help, I really mean picked flowers. Regardless, we had a really fun time goofing around and she is honestly one of my favorites. 

You see, to her, I am just Courtney and nothing is wrong with me. For as long as she has lived, I have been small, so why question it? Occasionally she will say or do things that make me believe she thinks I am only 4 like her, but I am alright with that. I like being her cousin. But I love being her friend. 

The night of the softball game, we went out for ice cream afterwards. Most of us walked, but Katie's mom rode her bike and pulled Katie behind in one of those child bike wagons (do those things have a name?). While we were packing up the bats and gloves, Katie approached me and asked if I wanted to ride with her. I respectfully declined without laughing too hard, but when she assured me "there is plenty of room, I'll scoot over," I lost it. Oh, to have the innocence of a child.

Earlier in the week, my cousins and I were laying on the beach, attempting to soak up the few rays we could find in the otherwise crappy weather. A family who was staying at the cabin next door to ours was also on the beach, sitting probably 20 feet away. While I had previously seen the parents in passing, I had no idea they had a 3-year-old daughter named Sarah who would melt my heart. I had fallen asleep listening to music when my cousin tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that I had a friend. Sure enough, I looked up to find the most adorable little girl I had ever seen in my life, staring at me from about 3 centimeters away from my face. 

Sarah had wandered over to my towel and laid down on her stomach, mimicking me with her hands folded under her chin and just silently staring. I waved hi and asked her name and age, to which she did not reply but just stared at me, inching closer and closer to my face until I could pretty much see her tonsils. After some time she finally started talking and we have been BFFs since. She asked me to go in the water with her, and after telling her that the water was cold so I only wanted to put my feet in, she told me she would hold my hand so I would not be scared. At the water's edge, the inevitable question surfaced: "Are you a child or grown-up? Because you kinda look like a child." 

I expected the rest of the conversation to be a little rough; most kids do not understand why I am different, and do not always accept my simple answer of: "I am little, but I am an adult." Usually they spit back a deafening "But WHY?!" at me before I can finish, to which I reply: "Because everyone is different. Some people are tall, some are short. Some have curly hair and some have straight hair. This is just how I am." Not Sarah. She accepted my answer like I had just told her that the sky is blue or the grass is green- it made sense. That was not the end of our conversation, however. She (still holding my hand) went on to explain to me that if I would just eat my vegetables, I could grow up like a mommy. In all the years I have joked around, saying I might use the "didn't eat my vegetables" line on someone one day, I have never had that line used back at me. I laughed so hard I cried. 

After that, talk of my size never came up again between Sarah and I. Once our feet were sufficiently cold, she ran back to my towel and plopped herself down. It was hard to leave her when I had to head back to my cabin to take a shower and get ready for dinner, but I knew I would probably see her again. Sure enough, that evening, I ran into her and her mom at the candy store where she asked me if I wanted to share her lollipop. The rest of the week, I saw her various places and she would run to me screaming my name. Oh, to have the faith of a child. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sooo, like... What happened?

To the outside world, I am different. Something is wrong with me. I am not normal, and that can't just be. People can't just settle with that. They need an explanation. They need a reason. Simply existing is not enough. Something must have happened. 

I can always sense when this question is going to surface. Someone who I am meeting for the first time is having troubles with wrapping their brain around my appearance. They stumble across the words like "disability," "short," or "difference," but then out it comes like word vomit-- "So.. what happened?" 

I didn't eat my vegetables.
I sneezed too much as a baby. 
A heavy object fell on top of my head. 
I'm under a spell. 
I sold my growth plates on the black market.   

Actually, nothing HAPPENED. I feel like breaking out in Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" when someone asks that stupid and borderline-rude question. Asking what happened infers that I WAS normal, and now I am not. This actually reminds me of when a doctor of mine met me for the first time, reviewed my chart, and said: "So I notice that your height seems to be a little shorter than average. Has it always been this way, or is this recent?" 

There are a million better ways to ask me what happened, besides "What happened?" How about...
"Is there a reason for your short stature?"
"I'm curious. Would you mind explaining your condition to me?" 
"Is your condition genetic?"
"Is there a specific name for your disability?" 
(But whatever you do, if you have any sense of self-preservation, do NOT begin with "No offense..." No. Just no. Later post.)  

Any variation of any of those questions will convey to me that you would like to know about my dwarfism. I honestly understand. I get it. Some people have never experienced dwarfism outside of fairytales and Disney movies. I may be the first little person they have ever seen, and I am more than willing to educate them. Believe me, after 19 years, I have the speech down. 

I was born with Achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Over 200 types exist, and mine is the most common. I have short arms and legs, an average torso, bowed legs, limited extension of my elbows, and other minor joint issues. My family (shoutout to my parents on their 30th wedding anniversary today!) is average stature, and actually about 80% of dwarfs are born into average families as well. During conception, a mutation occurs on Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 3, which is located on the 4th chromosome. On average, this affects about 1 in every 14,000 births. I can pass my condition onto my children, and those chances vary depending on who I conceive with. I live my life similarly to anyone else and can do just about anything I want, with occasional accommodations. 

That's what happened.