I am not sure if I’d consider myself disabled. To look at me, you would not immediately bear witness to the complications and challenges that arise from living with a neurological disorder such as FND. So, if I don’t look disabled, does that mean I’m not? At times I felt the condition did not disable me significantly and could get on with daily life with relative ease. Despite this, however, I am interested in events that raise awareness. Still, I was surprised about the existence of Disability Pride Month.
“To look at me, you would not immediately bear witness to the complications and challenges that arise from living with a neurological disorder such as FND. So, if I don’t look disabled, does that mean I’m not?” Click To Tweet
A lack of visibility surrounding disability and issues related to it within society still exists despite efforts to change this. And perhaps a significant reason for my ignorance of the existence of Disability Pride. Disability advocates use the month and its celebrations, such as parades, for example, to raise awareness of the social inequalities that disabled people continuously face. To change how people think about and define disability. And to attempt to end the stigma that still surrounds it. From my understanding from my research and what I have read online such celebrations aim to promote disability as a natural part of human diversity. It is to turn shame into pride by redefining what it means to live with a disability.
Am I Disabled Though?
Despite living with severe and debilitating symptoms, symptoms that impact and reduce my quality of life, I failed to identify as a disabled person. And despite the continued experience of chronic pain, spasticity, visual disturbances, and severe weakness in the legs, I still didn’t see myself as a person with a disability.
The stereotypical view of disability is that of someone missing a limb, or someone needing the use of a wheelchair one hundred per cent of the time. The extent of the struggles associated with a disability easily seen and identifiable. Such definitions failed to embrace my circumstance and experience of living with FND. I still had full use of all my limbs, and only occasionally needed the use of a mobility aid. There were times when FND did not disable me significantly and managed quite well independently. There was a mismatch between my conceptions of disability and my own experiences of living with FND. And as a result, I failed to recognise disability as being part of my life with the diagnosis of a long-term neurological disorder.
A Person With A Disability I Was Now Becoming
But as I worsened and the need for a mobility aid became permanent, and a wheelchair became a fixture in my life; a person with a disability became something I now was.
It was hard enough to accept and assimilate a new identity of that of someone with a long-standing neurological disorder. Talking about my condition is such a monumental struggle; at the beginning, I didn’t fully understand it myself, so how could I talk about it with others? With the diagnosis, I could no longer deny that there was nothing wrong. It suddenly became real that I was dealing with a long-term condition and would be doing so for the rest of my life. I had to wave goodbye to me that existed pre-illness, and the hopes and dreams that I once held. Accepting the new identity also meant accepting the end of normality.
Disabled was an even more difficult identity to welcome. It felt that by accepting this identity, I was also embracing the idea that I was different, weaker than before. And by embracing the title, I was suddenly becoming a burden on those around me.
“It felt that by accepting this identity, I was also embracing the idea that I was different, weaker than before. And by embracing the title, I was suddenly becoming a burden on those around me.” Click To Tweet
The Narrative Surrounding Disability
The narrative surrounding disability is that it is less than desirable. For some, disability is possibly one of the worst things that can happen to a person; believing that it is a fate worse than death. A typical portrayal of disability is as an evil force robbing a person of their strength, ability and independence. Something not defined as different, but instead seen as less-than; and used as a source of pity or inspiration.
In the media, stories regarding disability and disabled people are either used to elicit sympathy and compassion or otherwise celebrating and applauding them when seemingly ‘overcoming’ their disability, designed to inspire such as in the case of Paralympic athletes. Remember the constant use of the term ‘superhuman’ when describing these athletes?
Is it surprising that those living with a chronic illness is apprehensive in succumbing to the disabled identity? And how can we learn to celebrate and be proud of such a label?
Confronted With The Reality of Being Disabled
I find myself always confronted with the disabled body I now inhabit. It is evident when trapped in bed as a result of my legs refusing to cooperate and function. My identity as someone with a disability is undeniable after collapsing on the floor after my legs have unexpectedly given way. My disability is indisputable when I am heavily reliant on a crutch to help maintain balance, and when every step is a struggle due to debilitating pain and weakness.
When the invisible becomes visible, it is painful. It is so because of the curious and often judgemental stares from others, especially after a fall. The looks of people wondering what it is wrong, and hearing the whispers that suddenly stop when you happen to look over. Once, I happened to listen to a stranger accused me of faking after such an incident, which left me upset and humiliated.
How Can I Be Proud of The Weakest Part of Me?
Such occurrences leave me feeling broken, humiliated and weak. Even more so on the days in which I am unable to get back on my feet. My only choice of having to sit or lie where I have fallen leaves me feeling more exposed and vulnerable; my brokenness and the abnormality of my legs on display for everyone one to see. These negative feelings such episodes evoke as well as the negative stereotypes surrounding disability causes me to want to rid myself of the label. I am unable to take pride or celebrate that which makes me feel more of a burden. How can I proud of that which diminishes me? The thing that which knocks me down again and again? And how can I be proud of the weakest part of me, that which many are afraid of and especially fearful of becoming?
“How can I proud of that which diminishes me? The thing that which knocks me down again and again? And how can I be proud of the weakest part of me, that which many are afraid of and especially fearful of becoming?” Click To Tweet
In the media, the disabled become celebrated for achieving even minor accomplishments. A disabled person getting out of the house or attending a party in the eyes of the non-disabled deserves fervent recognition. But I feel that I have achieved more worthy accomplishments than just getting out of the bed this morning or leaving the house – achievements like gaining a degree is surely more deserving of a celebratory parade.
What Disability Pride Is
Disability Pride, however, is not about liking your disability. Nor is it about pretending that difficult and painful aspects of living with one do not exist.
Disability Pride means not living with shame for my disabled body or disability. Disability Pride is dismissing the notion that due to disability, I am less able to contribute and participate in the world, or that I take more than I give. An opinion that the UK often likes to reinforce in the articles regarding disability and the UK benefits system. Or that I have less inherent value or potential than the non-disabled person sitting next to me.
“Disability Pride means not living with shame for my disabled body or disability. Disability Pride is dismissing the notion that due to disability, I am less able to contribute, or that I take more than I give.” Click To Tweet
Disability Pride is acknowledging that perfection in regards to the human body is unrealistic; instead, it promotes the idea that it’s perfectly normal to be imperfect and have flaws. I am encouraged to love my body, wobbly legs, and wonky brain included.
“Disability Pride is acknowledging that perfection in regards to the human body is unrealistic; instead, it promotes the idea that it’s perfectly normal to be imperfect and have flaws.” Click To Tweet
Becoming Disabled Because of FND
Living with FND, and becoming disabled has forced me to encounter endless challenges, obstacles and adversity. The uncertainty I face every day of never knowing what my symptoms are going to do. And not knowing where and when my legs are next going to give way on me. Or not knowing what the future entails with regards to the illness and disability. There is tremendous adversity in not being able to go out alone and becoming heavily reliant on others to leave the house. Something that makes me feel like a massive burden on those closest to me.
Since becoming disabled, I continuously come up against sadness, loneliness, and isolation. And at times, I have had to learn to advocate for myself and my needs. Such challenges have become so frequent they are a part of my life. I hate that it dictates how I can spend my days, and what I can or cannot do. A burden that weighs heavily upon me as it makes me feel weak and worthless. One I wish I could change, but despite my best efforts, I have found I cannot.
The Unexpected Gifts of Disability
Despite the challenges that disability continuously provokes, it has also given me unique gifts. Perhaps these gifts were more thrust upon me, and my circumstances forced me to hone them over time.
Life with FND and disability has given me resilience. Despite the endless hurdles and setbacks, I find myself able to get back up, dust myself off, and try again. This ability continues to surprise me as I do and achieve things I never imagined I could. Despite disability and its forced limitations, I can be proud of what I have attained.
“Despite the endless hurdles and setbacks, I find myself able to get back up and dust myself off. This ability continues to surprise me as I do and achieve things I never imagined I could.” Click To Tweet
It has taught me compassion and the importance of understanding the pain that others withstand. Perhaps without my disability, I would not have otherwise had the chance to develop my writing, something which continues to give me purpose.
Us all need to recognise the gifts that disability can present to turn the shame to pride. Because if we continue to feel shame for our disability or chronic illness, then we continue to contribute to the perception that disability is less-than. A notion that not only diminishes ourselves but others also living with disabilities. Once more, it continues to reinforce negative attitudes of disability and those living with them.
Disability Pride Changing How I See My Disabled Self
Yes, I acknowledge that because of disability, I have lost so much. I have lost the normal function of my body, my independence and my confidence as examples. But Disability Pride encourages me not to dwell on these but to recognise and celebrate that which I can still do, and the accomplishments earned despite the adversity created by FND that is a massive part of my life.
Yes, disability is a part of who I am, and at times a challenging one, but is one that I can still be proud of and should celebrate.