themighty logo

What I Realized After I Looked Up 'Disabled' in a Thesaurus

Have you ever looked up “disabled” in a thesaurus? Until about a month ago I hadn’t. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but it certainly wasn’t what I saw:

This is what I found for “disabled” in the thesaurus:

“handicapped, disarmed, helpless, hurt, paralyzed, lame, weakened, maimed, wounded, decrepit, confined, wrecked”

Now, I’ve been considered disabled since I was 8 when I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, but not once have I considered myself any of these things. So who’s wrong, me or the always correct dictionary?

This led me to wonder, is this how everyone else views me? As a maimed, decrepit person? Because if they do, then I’ve got some issues. Looking back a month later, I would’ve liked to think seeing this in the thesaurus wouldn’t make me feel worse about myself, that it would give me a greater sense of self. But it didn’t. I felt lost. I hadn’t used any of these adjectives to describe myself previously, but maybe I should. Maybe I just had an artificially increased sense of self. If this is how the word “disabled” is perceived by everyone else, then why should I look at myself as any different?

I know what you’re all thinking: When does this get happy? Give me a minute and I’ll get there.

Anyway, there I was going from feeling like a strong and brave woman to weak and hopeless woman in a mere matter of two days. Think about that — two days and I had successfully crushed all of my positive self-image. I woke up about a week later just as distraught as I had been before, and as clichĂ© as it sounds, I started to think, When have I let other people’s words define me before? Well, never. So why was I doing it now? I think it was because nothing else had been so widely accepted. Other people say offensive things, but never had I read something that was supposed to be concrete. The dictionary is always supposed to be right. And I guess I wasn’t used to something that’s usually so right being so wrong. I don’t believe these are the synonyms for disabled, and if they are, who’s supposed to be the judge of what disabled means?

Those words might be the dictionary’s idea of what disabled is, but they’re certainly not mine. I’m not helpless, weakened, decrepit or wrecked. And I know for sure other disabled people aren’t any of these either.

I’m great. Amazing. Strong. Brave. Able. Smart. Confident. Hopeful. Beautiful.

That’s right. None of those are included on the thesaurus’s list of synonyms. But you know what? I believe they’re truer than the words in the thesaurus.

So who cares how a dictionary defines you? Who cares how society defines you?  Who cares how a person defines you? What really matters is you. How do you define yourself? Because if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that it doesn’t matter how anyone else sees you. All that matters is what you see in yourself. And believe me, you’re freaking great.