Labels. They are omnipresent, scratching scars along the flesh of humanity. A series of what some may call catastrophic occurrences throughout my lifetime thus far have oriented me to the damaging effects of labels. Because of my own matriculation in a strange universe where people total my sum in terms of diagnoses and disability, I have become attuned to the ways we categorize others. Even what may seem to be mundane reflections quickly morph into dichotomy. You and me. Us and them. The resulting dehumanization of the “other” is what war, racism and so many other detrimental phenomena are made of.
So, what does this have to do with blogging? Ironically, I consider writing to be one of my sole escapes from the confines of labels. Therefore, I have recently been surprised and perturbed by others thrusting upon me categorization within the blogging community. Please, let me be clear that though I write about topics of chronic illness and disability, I am not a “CP blogger.” I blog outside of the box; I challenge normative expectations by bringing awareness to their existence.
It is my intention that by exposing personal and global examples of the often unintentional ways we separate one another, that we can begin to shift our standpoints. In how many ways today did you think or perhaps indicate with your words that somebody belongs to a different group than you do? I’m not exempt from this process , either. I do my best to be cognizant of when I draw conclusions about others that distance them from myself. Because, truly, what I’m after in this lifetime is togetherness.
By the age of seven, I had my spiel committed to memory like a seasoned politician. At the beginning of each school year, I would politely educate my pupils about the nature of my disability. I was cognizant to provide only pertinent information, not an excess of fear- inducing data. Even at this age, with my sun-drenched hair sprouting from the top of my head, I knew what I was saying was significant. Significant not only in universal context of the topic, but also in the weight it bore on my personal well-being. Would my classmates accept me?
Though concealed was my motive to detour any teasing and tears, the macro level threads of awareness I was sewing entered my mind. It had already become intimidatingly apparent to me that whatever alternative views–beliefs that did not criminalize me for having a disability–I wished others cultivated, were going to have to be planted by me.
“Even though I walk and talk differently than you do, I am the same as you are.” I can still recall the words I imparted to my peers, teachers, and adults revolving around my world. “I am not contagious, it is safe for you to be my friend.”
In myriad contexts, with varying diction, I am still tossing out these reassurances like shimmering copper into a wishing well. I am asking others to erase the dangerous indoctrinations of their youth about others with disabilities, and to embrace diversity, recognize shared humanity, and reach out with respect.
Why should you care?
Inevitably, you or somebody you love will develop a disability. This is a statistical fact. With equal rights and access declining daily, the best thing we can do is learn to support one another. Conversations about navigating interactions with intention and undiscriminating respect are more imperative than ever.
The censorship of the ugliness surrounding chronic illness is abhorrent. My socialization as a human who has endured torturous pain and suffering, makes me feel as though I’m a dog in obedience training. My honesty about such intense trauma is deemed “negative” and thus goes ignored and invalidated by most people I know. On the rare occasion that I share socially appropriate, productive tidbits, I am rewarded with attention. Frankly, this really grinds me to the core. My unsavory situation challenges the privileges enjoyed by the healthy and exposes guilt.
Instead of turning away from the perceived “negativity,” I encourage healthy folk to validate, respect and jump into others’ realities. Recognize the vulnerability and instability of our very beings, and the permeating struggle we endure. Turn not away, but toward…
I am using this example to illustrate not only how society adamantly steers attention away from suffering and toward production but also how we expect the chronically ill to get something positive out of their illnesses. I’m supposed to be an underdog: to shine through the adversity, to overcome my pain, to have gained something golden and triumphant from my suffering. This is all nonsense, in my experience.
By focusing on a happy ending, we are detracting from the validity of an inhumane now. We are also, as a society, preaching the ideology that if somebody is not doing something tangible, their value isn’t adding up to much. In my example below, I participated in a normative behavior, seemingly overcoming my limitations, for the sake of conformity and appearing normal. In other words, I sucked it up and put on a happy, heroic face for the benefit of the healthy, who, in turn, demonstrated their approval because I was affirming their privilege. Make sense?
This system of measuring worth through production and the demand to create beauty from torture is damaging to people chronic illness, among others.
We all deserve a more life affirming mentality. A paradigm of morality cultivated through unconditional respect, proclaiming value for all and actualizing the behavior to construct a more engaging reality for all humans.