From time to time I will receive a message asking me about improving confidence, and as someone who still struggles with self-esteem I never know quite what to say. The “secret” to my improved confidence isn’t so much a choice I made as a result of circumstance – I just stopped caring.
Imagine if you will the standard nerd; crooked teeth, frizzy hair, glasses, good grades, and totally afraid to so much as nudge the boat, never mind rock it. Believe it or not, that nerd was me. Even after I contracted viral meningitis I remained timid, until about a year later I began using a wheelchair following an M.E diagnosis and being subjected to the dangerous Graded Exercise Therapy. I was subjected to injustice after injustice after injustice during that time, and once I was visibly disabled it escalated as I was forced to come to terms with ableism and inaccessibility. My patience began to wear thin.
It was about this time that I started my A-levels and began to specialise in the sciences. I was surrounded by individuals with shared interests and made new friends, so naturally my confidence started to increase. It wasn’t until university however, that I started to really come out of my shell.
In my first few weeks of university I quickly came to realise that I could no longer rely on others to fight my battles for me and would have to start advocating for myself. The first fight was obtaining support in the laboratory (no one had considered the possibility of a cripple being allowed to do experiments), and then the accessibility of various buildings on campus became my pet project. I annoyed the estate managers no end with my persistence and the fact that I was willing to quite literally kick doors open to get where I needed to be. My peers soon realised I wasn’t given a place on my course out of pity either, and I seemed to have their respect.
Towards the end of my first year at university I realised that I no longer minded sticking out, nor was I desperate for everyone I met to like or even respect me. I’d learnt a lot of science, but I’d also learnt that not everyone’s respect was worth having. As my degree progressed I found myself surrounded by people who supported this personal growth, and a few months before graduation I finally had the confidence to address something that truth be told had bothered me for years – my sexuality.
After graduation I came out as bisexual and was very open about it, and a couple of years later came out as non-binary, changing my name to Dax. By this point I was also able to openly embrace my love of nerd-culture having made a few tweaks to my appearance; after all, naming myself after a Star Trek character made a pretty obvious statement, as did writing professionally about tabletop gaming. Now I apparently ooze confidence and do not shy away from any aspect of my identity.
The truth of the matter is that becoming confident was not instant nor was it even a conscious choice on my part, but a series of (some unfortunate) events that gradually changed my outlook on life. I’m not completely invulnerable, but I’ve gained far more respect for being honest about who I am than I ever did by trying to fit in with others. If you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb whatever you do, you might as well do it with style.