Friday, April 30, 2010

Blogging Against Disability Day

Today, May 1st, is Blogging Against Disability Day.

I am technically disabled.  By "technically," I mean that most people who know me don't know that I have an autoimmune disease, and that people who do generally wouldn't consider it a disability.
Certainly, in terms of the way that I have a disability, and the ways that other people do, sometimes, I feel guilty when I think, "I've got something, too."  But then I remember when I was a college freshman and I felt guilty claiming the identity of sexual assault survivor.

I struggled a lot with the feeling that I was an imposter, as if what happened to me not only wasn't really sexual assault, but also wasn't even that bad at all.  I sometimes worried that I was just clinging to the identity as a way to feel connected to the anti-violence movement, as a way to say, "Hey, I know what I'm talking about because I was assaulted."  I also fell into the incredibly unhelpful and pointless habit of comparing and competing, i.e. "Well, my assault wasn't a rape.  It only lasted a few minutes.  It's worse for other people.  So-and-So is much more entitled to the identity and the activism than I am because So-and-So was brutally assaulted at gunpoint by an abusive partner," etc. ad nauseum (for the record, if any of my acquaintances have been assaulted at gunpoint by an abusive partner, I'm not aware of it; I made that example up).

But now, instead of falling into that spiral, I stop myself.  I remind myself that because it could always be worse (after all, I'm Jewish; that's sort of a motto), even for someone who was brutally assaulted by an abusive partner at gunpoint.  Comparing and competing doesn't change the fact that no assault, however "minor," is acceptable.  Just because I don't have PTSD doesn't mean I can't stand up and say, "This isn't okay, and I was a victim."

Part of my healing has been using my experience as the gateway to my activism.  I don't know how involved I would have gotten in feminism and anti-violence if I hadn't realized my survivor status, but now that I know it, I don't shut up about it.  And while I do wish that I had never been assaulted (it wasn't exactly FUN, people), I now need to use this experience to do the most good that I can.  And one thing that's useful about my assault is how fucking innocuous it seemed at the time, and still seems to some people now.  And so I explain the assault, I match it up to the definition of sexual assault, I say how it made me feel--still makes me feel.  And I make it clear: something you thought was harmless, if uncomfortable, was actually sexual assault.  It happens more frequently than you thought.  It's not something that happens only rarely, and only to people you don't know.

And so while I'm able-bodied enough to get to work without a problem, to do my work without assistance, and to generally pose as a "normal" person, my abilities are somewhat compromised on a regular basis.

There is something wrong with my calves, although I'm not sure what it is.  They seize up often, even from powerwalking to make sure I make the train.  Running aggravates them about 70% of the time, so I have difficulty running on a regular basis.

My vision is incredibly poor.  I'm not legally blind, but contact lenses are expensive (as are glasses lenses), and my eyes are frequently irritated.  My vision is so poor that I can't drive in glasses because I have no peripheral vision.  I can't afford surgery.  Impromtu sleepovers are pretty much taboo.  During my first year of college, I had to stay in the hospital overnight on short notice and did not have my glasses.  The doctors told me that they didn't have a contact case or solution I could use (?).  If I hadn't thought to ask for liquid medicine cups and some plain saline solution, I would have been screwed.

I have an autoimmune disease.  If I don't take (specific) antihistamines every night, I break out in hives, or worse, I get major deep tissue swelling.  While I've never had difficulty breathing because of the swelling, the back of my mouth has closed off, preventing me from speaking, eating, or drinking, and sometimes I can't walk, can't use my hands properly, or can't open my eyes.  When I say specific antihistamines, I mean that many antihistamines don't properly address skin swelling, others are simply ineffective, ones like Benadryl give me serious jitters and prevent me from sleeping, and others, like doxepin (also an anti-depressant) actually knock me out for 15 hours at a time (if I take one during the day, I don't exactly black out, but I don't remember everything I did that day).

Thanks to my vision problems and my autoimmune disease, I can't stay over somewhere on a moment's notice; I have to know in advance.  Thanks to my calves, I can't always keep up with everyone if we're in a hurry, and efforts to improve my cardiovascular health (as diabetes runs in my family) are stymied in that department.  These might not seem like major disabilities, but I do think that it's important for me to share them.  Because even though it could always be worse, and these might not seem important, what we consider "normal" isn't normal for everyone.

I can't just take up running like everyone else (I was in excellent shape when my calves stopped functioning).  I can't just sleep over at your place.  I can't just wear my glasses while driving.  I can't just take Claritin.  I can't just eat every food I want.  I can't just play with Sculpy clay and expect to be able to use my hands the next day.

So when someone explains that they can't just take the train to work because it hurts them, or they can't just run across the intersection during the short walk signal, or they can't just park a few spots farther from the main door of the store, I understand that there's nothing wrong with them.  They're like me.  We're normal people, and just like all normal people, there are some things we can do, and some things we can't.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to take my contacts out.

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