In excruciating detail, I can create a voluminous list of all the ways it is communicated to me that I am of less value because I am disabled. I can then offer explanations and arguments to counteract each item. My skills are sufficient to convince you that I have worth.
Now if it would only work on myself. Reason is a wonderful tool that is not adequate to the challenge of conquering the emotions of irrelevance and devaluation that currently rule my insides. My reason lacks the tensile strength to overcome the indomitable force these negative thoughts and emotions wield.
The depression I’m experiencing because of current life stress and mental health issues definitely saps reason’s strength. It does not, however, generate the need for reason to be so powerful. the might reason would need to surmount the negativity is defined by the power of that negativity.
What is responsible for negativity’s capacity to overpower reason? Society in general and the individuals that act out its beliefs in particular.
The thoughts and feelings an individual has about disability informs their actions and those actions transmit those beliefs to people with disabilities. Complimenting a mundane task demonstrates the lower expectations used to judge the person with a disability. Refusal to accept a “No thanks” to an offer of help illustrates devaluation of the disabled person’s judgment. Even running up from behind to hold a door for a person with a disability conveys the assumption that the person was unable to do it themselves.
Whether it is meant or not, whether it is intentional or not and whether the intricacies are understood or not, behavior communicates beliefs and those beliefs have power. A lot of power. Counteracting them takes a significant and constant force of will. It is a battle people with disabilities engage in each and every day. It is a war without an end in sight where victory is never possible because the “enemy” has an endless supply of assets.
There are a lot of battles I’m currently fighting and they are consuming vast resources. I have nothing left to wage war against the societal devaluation that comes at me without end.
Words and deeds matter. Take care that you are not unintentionally contributing to the strength of the negativity people with disabilities must beat back each and every day. And, if you need self-interest as motivation, remember that non-disabled people become disabled each and every day. The negativity you put out there might turn on you down the road. Do you want to battle it?
Sometimes I can engage reason to battle depression, but more often I find emotion and action my better allies.
Yesterday I was picking up a dropped hairbrush from my wheelchair. I’ve got a system shuffling things over to a vertical surface with my feet, then wiggling up within hands’ reach. Another disabled person asked, “Need a hand?” and I said “no thanks.” Her respect for my style of autonomy relaxed my shoulders and sweetened the air I breathed.
So totally know exactly how you feel.
While I don’t exactly want to blend into the background so that it seems like I don’t exist, it would be nice to get noticed for something other than my disability. In a way that’s a true compliment not one of those “You don’t act as badly as I’d expect, so I’m going to be impressed” way.