Anyone who knows me understands that I am very confident with appearing different, whether that involves wearing bibs, a helmet, nappies or a harness on my wheelchair. These are all devices that assist me and help me have a comfortable lifestyle. More importantly, these are items I have chosen to use as I have the confidence to stick two fingers at the peer pressure to conform.
But this was not always my story. At 18, I went to University, living away from home, a very different person, far more ‘normal and conformed’ than I am now. No bibs, nappies, or helmets were in my everyday life as I was as mainstream as my peers, as much as I could. As someone who mostly walked at that time, the extent to my difference was to use a normal spoon, instead of knife and fork, at meal times, and velcro shoes! This was not a conscious decision but just the way it was, as no one offered me any other ways to live.
As I went into my 20s, I realised slowly I did not have the energy levels to complete on the same level, and I had to look after myself, as I got cold easily, and I was then prone to chest infections, because I did not know how to manage them. I slowly picked up ideas like wearing a swimming hat when I went swimming, even in the splash pool. For a man, even something as simple as using a swimming hat in some swimming environments can push the boundaries of social conformity and peer pressure, and it can take great courage to break the norms, however harmless it is. With confidence you realise no one really cared anyway, and those who do look at you funny are not worth your time. The confidence I was building enabled me to try verruca socks, which I now use all the time for swimming to stop athlete’s foot.
I was very active in canoeing in my 20s and I wore a wetsuit and booties because it gave me confidence not to fall in, even if I did not get wet. A wetsuit also was good to avoid bruising when I was man handled in and out of the canoe. However, despite the many good reasons to use one, I still have to fight the many good willed instructors insisting I do not need one, as disabled people do not need to get wet! But I actually always wanted to get wet!
So over the years I slowly tried a wide range of disabled equipment to find the stuff that has now become a part of my everyday living. It is about slowly building up my confidence to not care what I feared other people may think, and now there is very little I would not consider wearing in public if the need arises. I still have my funny rules on my own set of norms like I won’t wear a bib walking around in public, although at home I wear it all day, even for important meetings. I would wear an apron with sleeves before a meeting to keep ultra clean, but never during lunch at a meeting, wear I would wear a normal bib.
I am sure everyone has their own rules of what clothing is for what purpose that is unique to them. Daring to be Different, is not about breaking the rules like an anarchist so much, but the ability to be an unique individual who is comfortable and proud of how they live, regardless of what anyone else may thing. Many people with high support needs will benefit from using a wide range of equipment that may been odd, and even babyish, to some, but would actually provide them with a better quality of life in terms of health, comfort, effectiveness and enjoyment. It can also take courage to break social norms and dare to do things differently.