The Green-eyed Elephant in the Room
Let’s talk about the green-eyed elephant in the room.
I’m a naturally jealous person. The therapist in me is convinced that my childhood has something to do with it — all those hours on the playground watching the kids on the monkey bars, wishing quietly for a body like theirs, a body that worked. I was always apart. On the outside looking in. And it showed. I had everything a girl could want, but I still wanted more.
I wanted normalcy.
I wanted the sleepovers. The nervous first dates. I wanted makeup and prom dresses, best friends and skinny jeans. I wanted to pretend, if only for a little while, that I was like everyone else — that I would graduate, marry, have kids, retire, and die, in exactly that order. But it wasn’t in the cards. I was different, which meant my life was different, which meant I would never have exactly what everyone else had.
Over the years, my jealousy has manifested in different ways. First, it was material — clothes that wouldn’t flatter my awkwardly shaped body, picture-perfect parties that belonged on Instagram. Then it was existential. The people I grew up with were moving across the country for college. They were embarking on the great ride of adulthood, and I was where I always was: stuck in my parents’ basement, probably watching “Stargate SG-1” for the umpteenth time.
There was a disconnect between my peers and me. For the longest time, I was the girl in the wheelchair at the back of the classroom. Then we graduated from high school, and I was lost in the chaos of graduation parties and freshmen dorms. I was happy for the people in my life who were achieving things they’d dreamed of since kindergarten. But I couldn’t deny my jealousy.
It wasn’t just that I wanted what they had, though I did. I wanted the impossible. And I was angry with myself for wanting it in the first place. I knew it was coming, the rift between my peers and me. I’d seen it coming a decade away and had spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy preparing myself for the inevitable. And yet.
We often talk about jealousy in the disability community, though we call it by a different name. Sometimes it’s discrimination — we’re prevented from engaging in X activity because of Y, and we’re jealous of the people who sidestep that roadblock. Other times, it’s simply a matter of growing pains — our abled friends are getting engaged or having babies, and we’re still working on our bachelor’s degree. But we rarely talk about the jealousy we feel for others in the disability community.
The people with significantly higher lung function.
The people with spouses or significant others. The people who are active on dating apps, who have no trouble asking for what they need.
The people who are eligible for a specific treatment. Who don’t struggle with side effects or chronic pain. Or that one caregiver who can’t be on time to save their life.
The therapist in me knows that jealousy is valid. A normal human emotion. But I’m not always a therapist. Sometimes I’m the third grader at the edge of the soccer field, swallowing a surge of frustration. Sometimes I’m the sophomore in the library, staring not-so-subtly at the couple two tables down from me. (They’re holding hands, and I want more than anything to swap palm sweat with a pimply junior.) Sometimes I’m the college grad, scrolling Instagram and unfollowing people who make me feel insecure.
Sometimes I’m me, advocate and writer and desperate for a larger following on social media. The jealousy never goes away — it just morphs and shape-shifts, a different skin for every era of my life.
The green-eyed monster in me wants to end this column with something inspirational. Proof, maybe, that jealousy isn’t forever, that we can hack away at the undesirable parts of ourselves until we’re perfect. I’m a go-getter. I want a 10-step action plan that will take me from jealous to kindhearted in 30 days or less.
But the therapist in me knows better. So I leave you with this:
Jealousy is normal. You are not broken for wanting things that others have. You are not a miserable human being for looking at your life and thinking, “This isn’t it.” Jealousy is an emotion, just like anger, or happiness, or sorrow, which means it will pass. You are not defined by your feelings.
Don’t beat yourself up for being human. The therapist in me promises that you’re not alone.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.