I'm Not Physically Writing This Article. Here's Why.
I take a certain amount of pride in titling my articles in somewhat entertaining ways. Whenever I know an article starts off with a strange, maybe even concerning sounding title, I often feel the need to explain it in the first paragraph. But I’ve got to tell you, I really like this one. I can’t say I necessarily like why I’m writing this article, but it’s so different from anything I’ve written before that I find it interesting to be entering what some might think of as a new chapter in life. And while I will be writing whatever chapter of life I’m in, today and for the foreseeable future, I will not be physically writing anything anymore. Let me tell you why.
To make a very long story short, for the past few years I’ve experienced, to one degree or another, a movement disorder. It started off with just unusual hard blinking tics, and that was the worst I ever expected it to get. Again, skipping over a lot of details (which you can actually read about in many of my other articles), my movement disorder has gone from just blinking to requiring a cane daily and uncomfortable, uncontrollable muscle flexes and movements in my arms. It’s that last part of that sentence that is causing me to be authoring this article, but not physically typing it.
Before my movement disorders started, I battled daily with mental illnesses. It’s a very different thing dealing with bipolar disorder and anxiety and dealing with physical movement problems. In that time of no physical illnesses, I tried to frame my thinking and attitude towards not allowing my mental illnesses to get in the way of my life. That was a naive thought to begin with. Not a poorly-founded or unreasonable desire, which many people have, but one that doesn’t necessarily recognize the reality that someone might be in.
If you talk to people who deal with any kind of mental illness or chronic physical illness, one thing you might hear often is “I don’t want it to run my life.” So I am not unique in this respect. I want to live my life the way I want to, and I don’t want my mind or my body getting in the way. As I said, that’s a very reasonable desire for anyone regardless of whether they face any kind of medical challenge. However, I had to get a reality check from that desire, and as much as I hate that I needed it, I did need it, and it came at an ideal time. At least the most ideal time for something like this.
If you haven’t already been able to piece it together, I’m not typing this article out right now because my movement disorder has deteriorated and worsened to the point where my arms are, for much of the day, frozen and useless. So how is it then that you’re reading this if I’m not typing anything? Well, about a week or two ago, I noticed that I was not able to write or type very efficiently or effectively anymore. And I’m a college student, so typing and writing notes is a pretty essential part of my daily life. So when I noticed that I wasn’t able to do it very well or very fast, I knew something needed to be done.
Right now, the words in this article are being put onto paper by an audio dictation program I had to purchase. Now, I will say, it is a very time-efficient program to use. Even if I didn’t have the physical need for it, I think I would have been a lot better off using it simply because of how much time I’m saving recently. But, it wasn’t a need for efficiency that drove me to have to find this program. It was because I really have no capacity, at least no reliable capacity, to type or write anything anymore. And that, to put it simply, sucks.
Never before has my physical condition gotten in the way of my functioning. And I want to describe what I mean by “functioning.” I mentioned earlier that I use a cane daily for walking. When I needed to start using that regularly, it kind of bummed me out. But I think that’s pretty reasonable, but I didn’t really ever consider it as “getting in the way of my life.” Looking back on it, I probably should have come to terms with that, especially since I could no longer keep going to work. But I was able to transfer to online work, and I still kept my job, so my walking issue never really seemed like a functional problem to me. Now, I have to come to terms with something that is actually getting in the way of my life.
This whole article is written using a verbal dictation program. All of my notes from classes, all of the papers and projects I do, will be using this program. The program isn’t perfect. It doesn’t always recognize what I say, spell things right, and weirdly capitalizes some words just in the middle of sentences randomly. I always have to do some light editing over anything I write with this program (I’ve had to do it a few times with this article alone). However, this program has made my life significantly easier, even though I’ve only had it for about a week. That was another part of this I had to realize and come to terms with. The fact that having this aid for such a short amount of time could have so radically improved my quality of life just goes to show the deep impact of my movement disorder.
The possibility of this happening wasn’t even slightly on my radar. Granted, we really don’t know what to expect or plan for when it comes to medical challenges until after they happen. But this was something different, and it’s a lesson I am trying to frame into the situation so the whole thing isn’t negative. Society already doesn’t talk enough about disability, or accommodations, or just the very basic humanity of people with disabilities.
I’ve had a physical disability for the last year or so, and have been actively advocating for disability awareness and accommodation policies at my university. I’ve tried to do my best to learn about disabilities I don’t personally experience, express what it’s like to live with my disabilities in the best way possible, and be a resource to people who find themselves first experiencing a disability. Even with all that, the inability to type and write and use your hands was never really anything I thought of. It doesn’t always fit the mold of what popular media and stereotypical conversations of disability include. But it’s real, and it is something worth talking about. Because even with all of my years of writing and reading articles on here, and engaging in advocacy and conversations with the disability community, I still have things to learn. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way, as many of us do with the most important life lessons.
So, where do we go from here? A few takeaways. First, if you notice more typos or grammar errors in my articles, understand that it is because the program I use to write articles now is not perfect, and honestly my grammar and spelling have never been perfect.
Second, disability is not just the one or two different situations or conditions you see most often in TV and movies. Disability is something that cannot be defined by a sentence, or paragraph, or article. It is a complex creature with many intricacies and details, and it doesn’t do anybody any good to try to simplify it. Disability and accommodations are ever-changing, highly personalized and never stagnant. I thought a year ago that my movement disorder was never going to be anything more than hard blinking. But then my eyes started developing other tics, I started walking funny and my arms started moving uncontrollably. I thought I had solidified into one category of disability and it was never going to change, and that is not the right mindset.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we all need to recognize that we will never know everything about everything as it relates to disability. I certainly didn’t walk around thinking I knew everything, but I considered myself relatively well-educated on disability issues. This experience, having to write notes and articles and papers by speaking, has really taught me a lot about myself. It has taught me that I have a lot to learn, I have a lot to open my mind up to, and I have to be willing to recognize my own ignorance.
I had the luxury of never having to consider or think about people existing without the ability to type or write, something so integral to my daily life. Now, I am learning from personal experience that I was taking it for granted. I learned the same lesson when I temporarily couldn’t walk anymore. And I thought I had learned everything I needed. I thought that if I have learned not to take my walking for granted, I had reached the end of the road for what I needed to learn. But there is never a point in life where we fully learn to appreciate the little things — until they’re gone.
If you get nothing else from this article, take this with you: recognize that you are not perfect, commit yourself to being open to learning and correction, and be grateful for anything and everything in your life.
Getty image by Skarie20.