Why I'm OK With Being Called 'Disabled'
Growing up, I refused to let myself be labeled. That’s not an easy thing to do – in school there are so many labels flying around, especially if you’re a little bit “different” like I was. Sometimes I’m sure the labels seemed accurate enough; other times they were far off the mark – but either way I just ignored them and instead labeled myself “me.” It seemed so much easier than getting bogged down by all the things I was meant to be, or the things I was trying to become.
When I first got fibromyalgia, I stubbornly stuck by my old habits, and it was only as a little bit of time went by and my symptoms progressed that it started to hit me. It was time to accept that maybe now I actually did fit one of the labels they had been throwing at me since childhood – “disabled.” Born partially blind, I never really saw this outwardly as a disability; it was just a way of life. I was more than aware of the impact it had on my life (and boy did it have an impact), but I never felt it was enough to earn me that label. I could still walk, and talk, and get out of bed and generally function. Life was still pretty much mine for the taking. Now, however…
Accepting this label could’ve gone one of two ways. It could’ve caused me to crumble, to hide and become a shell of the person I used to be, or it could bolster me, raise me up, and give me the courage to give my illness a voice. I chose the latter. I embraced the label. It is not a slur, nor is it a dirty word. Calling me disabled is not an insult – it’s a fact of life, and just the hand I’ve been dealt. I’m not ashamed of being who I am anymore, and refuse to let anyone make me feel that way about something that has sadly been out of my control.
And therein lies the problem – society as a whole have been conditioned to believe that because a person is disabled, that makes them less worthy, less useful, or somehow less human than everyone else. In case it’s not vehemently clear, this is not the case. The disabled community contribute just as much as anyone else – it just may be in different ways to someone able-bodied.
Before my diagnosis, I was a healthcare worker. It feels like the ultimate irony to now be on the opposite side of the coin. But continuing to work in healthcare after my diagnosis would’ve put myself at risk, as well as patients. Would you want someone caring for you who could drop to the floor in full body spasms at any moment? Whose hands tremor so much, they can’t keep sterile supplies sterile? Accepting my disability and accepting the “disabled” label just meant I had to find another way to help people, and I found it – writing. Instead of breaking me, it gave me the strength to keep going. So as far as labels are concerned, I’m OK with this one.
We’re so obsessed with assigning labels to one another that we often forget the truly important ones. For example, one that is pretty universal — “person.”
And this one, well this one will change from one person to another, but I’d say it’s the most important label of all, and the only one that truly matters. Mine is “Peyton.”
Nice to meet you.
Getty image by Aquir.