My name is Deborah Brandon and I have a disability.
There! I’ve said it, after four years.
Yes, I have alluded to it in the past, but I’ve had difficulties actually using the word to describe myself. I have said it before, maybe a couple of times, but I didn’t really mean it. I didn’t truly believe it. I certainly did not accept it. I don’t fully accept it now, but I am beginning to, I am starting to come to terms with it.
Previously, I was not ready to let myself face the notion, to allow myself to explore it. During those times that the word did cross my lips, I did so within a conversation, as a relevant response to a question or as a reaction to a comment; the word escaped my mouth as a reflex, before I had time to think about it. Once it was out there, it froze, hanging in the air in front of me, and I quickly added a brief plattitude, to muffle its effect. Then I moved on as soon as possible, my mind beating a hasty retreat so that I didn’t have to dwell on it, to confront it.
I’ve talked about being brain damaged, but again, without fully meaning it. I said it as a joke, or for shock value. But the world "disability" was different,; the couple of times I used the word disability, there was no joke in sight.
Now, I can use the word, and repeat it—disability, disability, disability. Now, I can face it, stare it in the eye, and allow my thoughts to do with it what they will. I want to accept it, I need to accept it, so I can move past it.
Disability—“a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” So defines the Oxford dictionary. Indeed, my condition is mental, which causes physical issues as well, it certainly limits my movements, senses, and activities. According to Dictionary.com disability is a “physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life.” I’ve found several relevant synonyms for the word disability, including handicap, disadvantage, infirmity, impairment, deficiency. It’s not pretty, but there it is, and here I am, handicapped, disabled, deficient.
I can’t bear the term “deficient.” I am not deficient, I am not damaged. I am a whole person, different from how I used to be, my days don’t run as smoothly, but they are much more colorful, I am much more alive. In fact, my gains far outweigh my losses. No, I am not deficient.
Today I went to one of those huge discount retail stores with my friend Joyce.
I spoke softly. “M’okay.”
“You’ve got that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look.”
I was overloading. Too many choices, too many people, too many colors, too much noise, too much light. My brain couldn’t handle it, my circuits were jamming up. I had trouble picking up my feet, my responses to Joyce’s questions were quiet and brief, I had to keep both hands on the cart to prevent myself from falling—my balance was minimal. By the time we went to pay, I was no longer able to communicate.
Joyce knew the drill. I often have trouble sifting, sorting, and filing sensory input when too much is thrown at me at once. Grocery shopping is never easy, and shopping in large discount stores is essentially impossible—I couldn’t manage without Joyce. I always reach a point where she has to take over, putting items on the conveyor belt, walking me through the cash register, guiding me towards the car.
By the time I clambered into the passenger seat, my ability to communicate returned, but I was bone weary. Dealing with sensory overload is draining.
When we got home, Joyce sent me upstairs to take a nap. After she unloaded the groceries, she came up to check on me.
“I hate this. I couldn’t do it without help. I couldn’t have driven home. If you weren’t around to help me, I’d have to hire someone. I feel disabled and I don’t like it. I feel defeated.”
No, I have not fully accepted my disability. I don’t think I ever will, not fully.