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Please Don't Assume My Disability Is a Trauma


Early this year I experienced a sexual assault, and as a result I was referred to a trauma specialist. I really didn’t want to go as I already had a counselor I loved, and I didn’t feel like I could benefit from another. Although I didn’t want to go, I felt some pressure from medical professionals to try it. So I went.

I soon found out I was right, it was not what I needed. I went into the first appointment in a bad mood and skeptical; I left feeling much worse. She was a woman in her mid-50s and her office had a bunch of teddy bears. Right away I knew I wasn’t going to get along with her as she started putting labels on me that I did not agree with. She started by asking about the assault and trying to get to know me. Towards the end of the session, she asked, “Have you ever experienced any other trauma in your life?”

I thought about this for a moment and then responded, “No.”

She continued to press and asked, “What about medically?” I was really confused by this; I had always been pretty healthy. Then it clicked.

“Oh, you mean the wheelchair?”

She nodded.

This immediately made me feel gross and misunderstood. Throughout my life, I’ve faced misconceptions about my disability, but I couldn’t believe this was coming from a social work professional. The problem with this question is that it implies a physical disability is something that should be pitied and that needs to be overcome. This kind of thinking is in direct conflict with how I view my disability; it is a part of my identity.

I recognize that this is not the case for everyone with a disability. Some people who were injured or became disabled later in life may view their disability as traumatic, or they may experience medical trauma when being treated for their condition. However, I have cerebral palsy. I was born with it and it is all I know. It has always been there and therefore has played a part in making me who I am. It is not my only identifier, but it’s something I’m proud of.

I didn’t think I gave her the idea that being a wheelchair user was a problem for me, but at that moment, I started to question my whole life and felt like I had to explain myself. I told her that I’ve had my disability my whole life and although there have been some hard times, I don’t think any of it could be considered a trauma. I went on to tell her that most of the challenges I have faced come from society and not my medical history itself.

People making these kinds of assumptions about my life is not new. I face it on a regular basis, but I did not expect it in therapy. The appointment was supposed to be a safe place for me to heal, but having to defend who I am made that impossible.

Getty image by Lightfield Studios.