Blogging Against Disablism day will be on Saturday, 1st May. This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people will blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made.
The fact that I’m posting this means that it’s been a year since I started seriously educating myself on disability activism in general and the disabled blog community in particular. It is part of my journey to better educate myself on a variety of issues (most notably LGBTQ rights, feminism, racism and, obvious from this post, disability rights) in order to become a better ally to marginalized groups and a better advocate for those groups that I’m a part of myself (as you can tell, I believe strongly in intersectionality). While with most minorities it is easy to decide whether I am on the inside or outside, reading and thinking about disability and disablism has not been quite that clear cut.
I’m a straight, white woman – and I consider myself at least disability-adjacent, so to speak, because I have a mental illness.
I have always lived with various health issues, but nothing serious (allergies, hayfever, a weak immune system), nothing that truly affected my ability to function ‘normally’: ie. going to school, having a regular social life, pursuing travel and other interests and planning a full-time career after university. However, about 8 or 9 years ago, my health declined – until I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder and realized mental illness was the cause of many of my problems (as opposed to my health being the cause for feeling depressed). I was so relieved to finally have a diagnosis (which in the meantime has been amended to depression, as it’s worse but not really limited to winter) that from the beginning, without really thinking about it, I decided to be open and honest about my ‘condition’ and the challenges I face (which aren’t very big – I have never been seriously depressed – but I currently don’t have enough energy to work 100%).
It’s a testament of my privilege as a well-educated, middle class Western European that I have been able to do this, that I’m living in circumstances that allow me to assume that other people will accept my experiences and words as trustworthy. Of course not everyone “gets it”, not everyone can imagine what it feels like to live with depression, and sometimes I feel misunderstood even by friends who have known me for years – but even then, I can still count on a general benevolence and effort to understand and accept me. I also had an online support network of people with similar experiences to rely on while learning to accept and adapt to my situation.
Only once have I experienced someone (the husband of a friend of my mother’s) telling me to my face that he “doesn’t believe in depression”. I was at a rather low point and broke down crying. But overall, my privilege has enabled me to push some boundaries, fight the stigma and isolation of mental illness by opening lines of communication. So, even before I discovered the disability blogosphere I discovered that there are many more of “us” than we might think, and that it’s important to speak out in order to make our presence known – to the outside, but also to each other.
So why don’t I call myself disabled? Because I don’t want to claim an identity that isn’t entirely mine. Yes, I experience some difficulties and have to live with less battery power (my equivalent of spoons) than a ‘healthy’ person, but first of all my depression is invisible and is it also quiet mild (these days – I have had ‘dark times’ but these were during university, when I was still living with my super understanding family, so I didn’t have to fear job loss or complete isolation). I pass without problem most of the time and can thus avoid the ‘second shift‘ with little effort (unless I’m having a very bad day, which is rare thanks to anti-depressiva and two afternoons off work). I am completely mobile, not in pain and need little in the way of accomodations – and the ones I do need (rest, time away from people) I can usually get easily.
For these reasons I had never even considered myself part of the disability community – but when I started reading last year’s BADD posts, I saw the parallels immediately. If I encounter confusion and lack of understanding, it wasn’t a big step to realize that many people with disabilities encounter active and passive acts of discrimination every day. My long-time support of GLBTQ rights as well as learning about my own privilege while educating myself on issues of race helped me in this. But really, it all seems to boil down to one and the same thing: Treat people like people, no matter if they’re different from yourself. Should be easy, no?
Okay, this is treading the line to cliché and overgeneralization, but I’m afraid it’s the best I can do at this moment, and I wanted so badly to contribute to BADD. For people familiar with the disability community, this post won’t say anything new, for those who are new to it, it’s probably a bit of a mess of unfamiliar thoughts and concepts.
This is what my brain looks like, a lot of the time. We have a strange relationship, my brain and I: I sometimes hate it for the strange chemical and hormonal imbalances it imposes on me, but I will defend its (and my) right to exist and live our life, to the best of my abilities. I hope to be able to do the same for others. And if my rambling makes a difference in how a single able-bodied person looks at someone with a disability (visible or invisible), it’s already been worth it.