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This is a series I always hoped would catch on. Because hey, I can write about stuff that helps me live my life, but that’s only one experience. I would love to see a community full of people writing resource posts for other folks who are living our different sorts of lives. I know we all negotiate shortcuts in the process of getting through our days. I know we all have well-trusted tips and tricks for dealing with society’s demands of us — fair or not. And I think we can all share them — writing about our own experience, and letting it apply where it might, and not where it doesn’t — and not creating expectations of individuals to respond to individually-shared recommendations, with all the problems that can cause.
Anyway, there is a great range of experience within the world of disability, much more than is let on by mainstream narratives, and another reason I appreciate the chance for us to talk about it is that it exposes the nondisabled world to all the things that go into living with a disability, the way that disability can make life very different, and appreciating that in a more-than-superficial way. While knowledge of certain experiences doesn’t eradicate prejudice against them, ignorance certainly makes it more likely, and is one of the easier issues to address — we talk about our experience (among ourselves and for all listeners); they catch parts of it and get curious and start listening.
No one is required to educate those who hold privilege over them, but most of us do practice the art of education every single day, as our lives play out in front of those around us. We are used to explaining things. It is tiring, and it is wrong when people demand or expect it of us. But when we give it freely — that can do a whole world of good. What makes it bad is not the act of an unprivileged person explaining pieces of their life to a privileged person — what makes it bad is the privileged party’s expectation that we will explain. That is what sours the entire experience.
But sharing what helps us with our lives — hopefully helping other people in similar positions who might be able to use the knowledge we gain from our day-to-day struggles — there is room for great good in that.
There is no shame in doing things differently. There is no shame in taking a different route to reach the same end point. There is no shame in reaching a different end point, even! If it works for you, if it makes your life easier, that is what matters. Not your conformity to expected methods of doing things, but the fact that it accomplishes your starting goal or gets you closer to accomplishing it.
And, hey, part of disability is to learn to compromise, and change goals altogether. To realize that all the milestones you are “supposed” to reach aren’t necessary to a successful, enjoyable life. You don’t have to have a career, or even a job; you don’t have to complete or even begin higher education; you don’t have to find a heteronormative partner, get married and have kids. You don’t have to fulfill all the responsibilities heaped on you by a society built around the particular qualities of nondisabled people. You don’t have to shower every day. You don’t have to appear “normal.” You don’t have to have a huge local social circle. What you have to do is whatever makes the struggles of your life easier on you. That is all.
There is no shame in that. There is no moral value attached to a method of doing something. It’s a method, that’s all. Just a method. One method. Not the only option.
In that spirit, I’m going to try to pick this series back up, and I’m hoping that maybe other folks will pick it up too. Because I really do believe it has great potential for the disabled community. We already come together and share resources; maybe we can do that while communicating our fundamental humanity to the outside world as well. And they need to listen.
They’ve gotta learn at some point – they never know when we’re going to spring a pop quiz!
So please, listen and read, and write or speak your own experience. Let me know if this is something you’d like to do, and if you end up writing anything! I don’t want this to be my series. I want it to be everyone’s.
Here’s what I’ve written on so far:
Readers — what can you add to that?
Part 1 — Part 2 — Part 3
In the realm of disability, there is a lot of terminology like: assistive device, accommodation, care services, mobility aid, various sorts of therapy/treatment (physical/behavioral/occupational/speech/etc.); and so forth, about things/people/services which fill various common needs that people with disabilities share. The unfortunate thing about these terms is that they imply particularity to disability. But in truth, these things are not special to disabled people.
What are the needs being met? Things like: mobility and transportation, mental function, physical wellness, self-care. But we do not name the things abled people use to fill those needs as being special to abled people. This is because ability is an unmarked identity. That is, ability is seen as normal. The needs and behaviors surrounding ability fade into invisibility; they are not about ability, they just are. But disability is marked — it is special, notable. It can never just be; it is always about something, always representing and signifying something particular.
Along those lines, consider these examples:
- When an abled person wears shoes, they are not called “mobility aids.” Shoes are just things that normal people wear to do normal things. But canes, wheelchairs, and braces are special “mobility aids,” rather than just being things that normal people use to do normal things.
- When an abled person rides in a car, bicycle, or public transportation, they are not using “mobility aids.” They are just using transportation.
- When an abled person gets their hair cut, the stylist is not called their “personal care assistant.” Only disabled people need assistance with personal care tasks.
- When an abled person eats a meal cooked for them by someone else — a spouse or parent, a cafeteria or food court, a restaurant — the person preparing the food is not their “personal care assistant,” despite doing for the abled person the same thing PAs do for PWD every day.
- When an abled person uses a remote control on their television, this is not called an “assistive device.”
- When an abled person types out words on a plastic board with small key blocks indicating letters of the alphabet while staring at a screen, or speaks words into the bottom area of a plastic-and-metal hand-held electronic device while holding the top to their ear, this is not called “facilitated communication.”
- When an abled person is put through training at their place of work so that they can learn the tasks they will be performing for pay, this is not called “occupational therapy” or “vocational therapy.”
- When an abled person wears a bra, or a jock strap, or any clothing at all, this is not considered in the same category as slings or braces.
- When an abled person climbs the stairs, they are not considered to be a special device thought up just for abled mobility.
- When an abled person takes the escalator, they are not considered in the same category as the elevator or wheelchair ramp.
The trend evident here is that there are all sorts of things that help people live their lives. Having help to accomplish things — basic or beyond — is not special to disability. It is a fundamental part of humanity. Our society would not exist without all the little things we do, from products and tools to techniques and tricks to other people and relationships, to help us get through this world a little bit easier.
I want to emphasize this for a reason. A common trope in mainstream discussion on disability is that disabled people are helpless, and abled folk must take on the noble burden of keeping them alive, afloat. Disabled people need help with doing things, and it’s such a pitiable condition to be in, dependent on other people and things to get through life. Abled people pat each other on the back for the strength and courage and sacrifice they make in helping disabled people in their family or community. They often lament that would kill themselves before living as a person who needs help with things! And some of them take their considerable platforms to argue that because disabled people need help with doing things, their lives must not be good-enough-as-they-are, therefore their lives are not worth living at all, and we (the abled world) should withdraw all help and let them all die like they should have done as infants. (No, seriously, if your name is Peter Singer and/or you are the New York Times, this is what you say in all seriousness.)
In short, this idea of help-as-special-to-disability can be dangerous.
This is why I’ve come to like Things That Make My Life Easier: because that’s what they are. They aren’t super-special things that only people with disabilities can use. They aren’t super-special things that only people with disabilities need. They also aren’t things to be ashamed of. It shouldn’t be a hit to anybody’s pride to take shortcuts or to do things in an unconventional way. It shouldn’t be a possible insult to disabled people to associate themselves with icky, pitiable disability, and it also shouldn’t be a point of anxiety for disabled people who have concerns about admitting any sort of dependence or need for help. We can admit that we need things — or even just that those things are nice to have around — without it having to be a referendum on our identity, on our worth as a human being.
Or at least, I’d like it if we were able to!
So some of the things I post about are silly little things. Because they help me. Some of them are things that are particular to my disability — things that an abled person will likely not have to ever deal with, and may not be able to relate to — but that’s part of the human experience. I am a human being; there are other people like me who share these concerns, and they are human too. Part of the human experience is our experience. Because we are human. It shouldn’t have to be repeated like that, but it does. Disabled people have claim on the human experience. We can talk about our experience as disabled people, and it is not only about disability-in-particular, but about humanity itself. No matter how much it flames the insecurities of abled people, this is truth.
Next: An Invitation
I noticed something was wrong in the earliest hours of the morning, when my husband had disappeared from bed but I did not hear anything going on in the bathroom and could not see him anywhere.
Around 8, he got up to go to the bathroom and I lifted myself out of bed to use it after him. When he emerged, he was very clearly not well and said, in a seriously distressed tone, “I just had the most awful night” and stumbled around me back to bed.
It’s not emotional, he clarified as he curled up awkwardly on his side of the mattress, it’s just physical. He had problems feeling seriously sick to his stomach, which never culminated in anything, just churned on and on without relief, and had serious sharp pains in several places — shoulder, lower back, knees — and a generalized all-over ache that left him feeling miserable, unable to find a single comfortable (nay, just non-miserable) position no matter where he stood, sat or lay.
“This is how I imagine you feel every day,” he moaned, as he tossed his body into a different awkward position in an attempt to find some relief.
He needed the still, quiet, restful sleep so badly, but hurt too much to stay lying in place in bed for more than a few moments, and the pain was too distracting to be able to actually fall asleep — and precisely because of this, he was in no condition to be anywhere else but in bed sleeping. A familiar situation for me.
A few minutes later, already in his thirtieth position attempting to achieve some state of rest in bed, he pushed over to where I sat on my side of the bed and asked, “How do you do this every single day?”
Staring at my nightstand drawer, I smiled a bit and replied, “A lot of medicine. And you to help me.”
Short background: Rush Limbaugh (link goes to Wikipedia article) is a US conservative radio talk show host who has risen to prominence in the US by inciting “controversy” after “controversy” with hateful rhetoric. He also went through an ordeal some time back for addiction to prescription painkillers, an incident that the US left likes to use against him. Recently he was rushed to the hospital again, which has spurred a new round of derision from US liberals.
Rush Limbaugh isn’t exactly a sympathetic character. His politics are vile and he makes a career out of escalating white male resentment into white male supremacy. And that causes real harm to real people who don’t meet the requirements to be part of Limbaugh’s He-Man Woman-Haterz Club.
How did he end up abusing prescription painkillers? I don’t know. Was he taking them for legitimate pain due to injury, surgery or a medical condition, and the usage got out of hand? Was he consciously using it as a recreational drug? I have to say I am still somewhat bitter about people who use the stuff I need to be able to get on with my daily life as a quick and easy “high,” ultimately making it harder to access needed medication. (But that is argument from emotion, mostly; I would posit that the real problem is a medical field and larger culture which does not take seriously the needs and concerns of chronic pain patients and is eager to punish people who step outside accepted boundaries.)
But even if he was just out for a high, I still feel unease when I see people use that angle to criticize him.
Because, here’s the thing… the same narrative that you are using to condemn this despicable figure is the narrative that is used to condemn me.
You are feeding, growing, reinforcing the same narrative that codes me as an abuser, that makes me out to be a good-for-nothing low-life, that makes it difficult for me to access the medication I need to be able to live my normal daily life.
When you laugh, joke, or rant about Limbaugh’s abuse of narcotics, you are lifting a page from the book of people who would call me a malingerer and interpret my behavior (frustration at barriers to access, agitation and self-advocacy to try to gain access) as signs of addiction. People who would, in the same breath, chastise me for “making it harder for the real sufferers.” (See why my bitterness about recreational use isn’t actually serving the right purpose, in the end?)
Maybe you don’t really think this way. But maybe the people laughing at your joke do.
And maybe, you just made them feel a little bit safer in their scaremongering about “addiction” and deliberate attempts to make life harder for us.
Scoffing at Limbaugh’s hypocrisy is one thing — but when your scoffing takes the form of a very common, quite harmful cultural prejudice — even when you don’t mean it to — it has real effects on real people’s lives. Sort of like that casual incitement that we hate Limbaugh for.
I am quite fond of the pharmaceuticals I keep organized in my nightstand drawer. But I have to be careful not to drop them, so that the cats don’t find them and try to eat them.
But now, there’s a pill I can drop on the floor and let my kitty chew on all he wants! And if he tires of that, he can roll the bottle cap around the kitchen floor for awhile.
(A screenshot of the Etsy page for a pill-shaped cat toy. Several pictures are shown of a long-haired ginger tabby cat enjoying the catnip-filled, half-red half-blue felt toy, and the plastic orange pharmacy bottle with a prescription label reading “Catatonica.”)
The item description:
These jumbo pills contain a healthy dose of extra strength cat nip – just what the good doctor ordered.
Each pill measures approximately 3″ long and each vial contains two.
So get to the pharmacy STAT! You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of “mothers little helpers” on hand.
Take one down, bat it around, kitty is sure to have a ball.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS:
Temporary ants-in-the-pants followed by extreme drowsiness. Increased appetite not uncommon.