The “D” word; Redefined
On Friday I spent the day in bed with a cold. Sitting quietly, for an entire day is not easy for me. I’m tired but not tired enough to sleep and I have the attention span of a five year old so reading a novel is out of the question. Journaling was the only activity that fit my state of mind so I jotted down some notes on life.
I noticed that my mind kept coming back to the topic of “disability”. First of all, the word “DISABILITY” really irks me. Yes, there is a “limitation” but is this person really without ability? If you have a physical limitation, it is easier for me to identify your limitation, but what about a limitation that I cannot see?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, tens of millions of American experience mental disorders every year but only a small fraction receive treatment. Serious mental illness effects one in four families.
What about a brain injury caused by a car accident, a hit and run mind you, which results in severe headaches? Or my coworker with fibromyalgia who has good and bad days, but still shows up to work despite her pain? How about the soldiers returning home from the Middle East with PTSD?
My elderly friends with early Alzheimer’s may not be able to remember the story I read to them last week but usually I can’t either! They lose connections to words faster than they lose connection to emotions. In fact, I feel they are highly sensitized to how people feel about them.
Those that suffer a “limitation” do not want to be treated differently, it is quite the opposite. Those with a “limitation” often suffer frustration and shame that many of us cannot comprehend. Most upsetting, those with a “limitation” are often discriminated against.
Discrimination of the worst kind is that which rides under the radar AND is socially acceptable. There are mean smirks, the rude comments, palpable tension between co-workers and …….……Isolation. It is this behavior that feeds the fuel called STIGMA. People become ashamed of their differences and hide them rather than fearlessly share them with others.
I am haunted by the memory of an individual being accused of intoxication when buying a movie ticket because he had trouble presenting the right amount of money to the bitchy cashier. He was developmentally different (I won’t use the word disabled anymore). He didn’t want trouble. He wanted to see a darn movie like everybody else in line behind him.
Let me tell you what I define as a DISABILITY; as inspired by The World According to Mr. Rogers.
- the inability to get in touch with your feelings
- the inability to take responsibility for your actions
- the inability to form lasting, intimate relationships
Mr Rogers writes, “Part of the problem with the word disabilities is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These it seems to me, are the real disabilities”.
This is the only definition I will recognize for disability. I don’t demand or even expect perfection. I give people the benefit of the doubt that they will do their best despite their limitations. I will be compassionate and kind when they need extra time or additional information. Just beware, if I see you discriminate in that oh so clever sarcastic way, I am going to call you on it. If you bully someone because they are different, I will be your conscience or your mother, whichever is scarier. Believe me. I can be one scary mother.
Please, no more jokes about mental illness. Let’s feed compassion instead of stigma.
From the heart,
First published 11/7/15