reclaiming my disability
news flash: you don't have a say in my identity.
humanity is made up of a plethora of diverse & complex cultures, complete with different & generally enriching viewpoints—but still, the norm is this universal society where the majority of people are fully abled & being anything short of that is considered pitiful, or worse, taboo. being impaired, whether it be physically &/or mentally, is heavily stigmatized, to the point where it seems absurd that people would want to embrace that part of their identity & be called disabled. yet there seems to be an increasing trend—for want of a better word—of people wanting to & even yearning to accept their limitations—even (& perhaps especially) when society says no.
a big part of this seemingly newfound grasp at individuality seems to be the rise of all these ‘acceptance’ campaigns—being at peace with who you are—whether it be queer, fat, disabled—&, of course, these are great! everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin, regardless of whether it’s scarred or dark. however, another—barely acknowledged—part is the increase in diagnoses of ‘invisible illnesses’—which result in you looking healthy whilst your own self is working to tearing you apart.
this label neatly categorises mental illnesses. a nod to the canon; a disgruntled glance to all the demons, sharp-toothed & blood-soaked, clouding & enshrouding your judgement. however, there seems to be an unwritten rule that physical disabilities must come with the full wheelchair & lucy, stop staring at that person! package (hushed whisper comes free if you also order a disability pass card!) & that's just not true! whilst people unfortunately discriminate & oppress the disabled, disability itself does not discriminate: it can be part of you, despite the fact that you can walk or talk like abled people.
let me elaborate: it is mainly autoimmune disorders that are met with the but you don't look sick! exclamation, accompanied by an encouraging smile—but, of course, i can only speak of my own experience. whilst such a comment may seem complimentary, it really isn't. it undermines the sheer effort required for me to turn up to & interact in social spaces. it makes things awkward when i have a flare-up, when my legs decide to randomly give way. it makes me seem pretentious for publicly taking medication. it makes me question the decision of sitting in disabled spaces on public transport, because my condition(s) mean i can't actually drive, even though i may struggle to walk, & despite the fact that i'm partially sighted, being blind in one eye. it makes me think that because i can manage with just glasses, this means i'm not ‘disabled enough’.
because, as we all know, disability is some sort of competition, where mobility scooters & reduced/free treatment costs give you bonus points, as well as all the condescending smiles & nods!
i’m aware that, although most disabled folks don't have the same conditions as me, they certainly do have the same challenges—trying to navigate their illness(es) in a place where you are judged hugely by outward appearances. the fact that i feel the need to push myself past my physical/mental capacities in order to adhere to societal expectations is beyond stupid, & yet the world has normalised the concept that there is a certain way to be disabled or that all disabilities look the same.
it seems my countless hospital appointments, numerous medication charts, & fatigued muscles mean nothing if i don't have a mobility aid or a companion who is given all the heroic glances & the oh, it must be so hard! comments (because, of course, it's not hard being disabled—but that's a can of worms for another day). clearly my cough/breathing assistance machine is arbitrary if it is not constantly attached to me.
i am tired. probably because of my illness—which hinders my ability to do most things & therefore renders me disabled (in case you didn't get the memo)—but also because of the pressures forced on me (& others like me) to be forced into this continuous identity crisis—well, i can't do everyday, ‘normal’ tasks, so i must be disabled, but, well, but i don't look disabled enough!
clearly, society needs to change its viewpoint. don't worry, you don't have to look so uncomfortable—i want to be called disabled! please acknowledge the fact that you recognise my limitations, validate my struggles & illnesses—but, at the same time, don't just see me as my disability. i may have weaknesses surplus to the general population, but if i can walk generally unaided, despite my condition, then i can do so much more! i am a warrior, a monster, beautiful & dismantled & wistful & disabled: this is me, & i fight to reclaim myself. only i can do that. not you, not when you've never had to be rushed to a&e, thinking you're not going to survive; not when you don't have to take numerous medications daily. not when you think disability is a synonym for inferiority.
i accept i am disabled & you should too. i am disabled despite what you think & in spite of a heavily ableist worldview. i am disabled & i reclaim my disability—not to aggravate you, but so i can learn to be at peace with who i am.
i, a mess of shaking hands & side effects, know that recovery for me is but a dream, but at least i can recover my identity. again, i reinstate: i am wistful & disabled.
& only i get to decide that.