Learning to Love My Disabled Identity

For so many years, I thought that the key to survival was to run away from my disability, even if only emotionally. I thought that being known as the disabled girl would define my whole sense of self, ensuring that nobody cared about anything else. However, actively pretending that it doesn’t exist only served to send me into a spiral of self-hatred. Once this had begun, it was impossible to escape from and has constantly haunted the edges of my brain for almost a decade, if not longer. However, things have finally started to change over the past couple of days. It is like a dark fog has been lifted, simply from refusing to hide anymore and believing that I am capable of better.

Firstly, I learned that this blog has been viewed over one thousand times already. My weird little blog. If we know each other well enough to be connected on social media, then you probably already know that part. Truthfully, my head is still spinning. It is so difficult to comprehend how so many people care about reading my story, however briefly. My voice has always just felt pretty invisible, you know? It has often been like screaming into the void with nobody to hear. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t feel like a disappointing disabled person because I had nothing especially remarkable to offer the world. However, hitting this milestone proves my stupid brain wrong. It makes me feel like the possibilities are endless, although that probably won’t last long. Still, maybe my existence doesn’t have to be entirely mundane after all. For example: generally, I hate talking about my career prospects because writing has always felt like home for me, but I have always worried that I’m not good enough for it to be achievable. Now, for the first time, there is a glimmer of hope. For the first time ever, I am actually proud of myself. Can you believe it?! If you are reading this, you have collectively changed my life and I’m never going to be able to repay you.

Then, I posted on a disability support group and requested friends in a similar situation. I have never done anything like that before because the idea of being so vulnerable makes me feel physically sick, but I was so horribly alone and sad. Being young and disabled can be horribly lonely and sad — that’s the unfortunate reality. Frankly, I had expected to be completely ignored. At this point in time, it really didn’t feel like I mattered very much at all. Instead, over two-hundred people responded. Over two-hundred wonderful and warm human beings from around the world shared their stories with me, opening their hearts up to a friendship. I still haven’t been able to message all of them properly in the way that I would like, simply because there are not enough hours in the day. Even so, it has felt like I have been floating on a happy little cloud ever since. Until this moment, I had never before been embraced so tightly for my differences. Collectively, these people have saved me in ways that I’ll never fully be able to articulate. I’m still not completely convinced that I deserve each and every one of their beautifully kind gestures, but I’m determined to earn them. Their unconditional acceptance has allowed me to begin extending myself the same courtesy and it so deeply liberating. Being disabled can be a beautiful thing, too.

Also today, I received my first vaccine against COVID-19. I haven’t left the house much at all in the past year, so I was really very anxious about this whole process, but it all went smoothly. Since the pandemic first began, I have wanted to crawl outside of my own skin and be someone else. Anyone else. I deeply resented having to take so many extra steps in order to simply stay alive, so this feels like the beginning of brighter days. As a side note: my favourite mental health YouTuber has now acknowledged my existence on Twitter twice, so it feels like I have made it. Kidding, but still.

A woman (Danielle, the author of this blog) is smiling in the car and wearing a seatbelt. She is wearing glasses, a red jacket and black vest. She has messy hair but she doesn’t care.
This bitch got vaccinated: a picture taken after my appointment.

In short, I am not completely comfortable as a disabled young woman yet. I want to feel attractive and confident, so there is more work to be done. But representation is important to that process, so I’m going to continue to write until the world has changed for the better. I might even start a YouTube channel. Maybe. If I can get over my fear of the camera. But probably not. If you want to help me on this journey, please sign my gorgeous friend’s petition for a film with a disabled Disney princess here and don’t watch Sia’s new film ever. Give disabled actors the roles of disabled characters and don’t be a dick xoxo

PS: an extra special shout-out to my pals Imogen, Sophie, Céline and Jasmine. You will have a piece of my heart forever.

My Body Can’t Take Care of Itself

In all likelihood, nobody that knows me has ever thought about how the inner workings of my daily routine come together. That’s probably because I have the ability to hold (relatively) intelligent conversations, which gives people the impression that I can look after myself. I’m still trying to decide whether or not this is something to be grateful for, in all honesty. On one hand, it allows me to be treated somewhat normally (whatever that means) by those around me, but it also leads to my circumstances being forever misunderstood. I have decided, though, not to spend the rest of my life being defined by other people’s misconceptions and prejudices. So, I’m writing this post to offer some clarity. It might not be possible to hangout in-person right now, but I’m hopeful that by being transparent here, people might be a little more thankful for my presence than before.

So, let’s start at the beginning. I can get myself out of bed, although this is something that I needed assistance with until the age of twenty-one. From there, it’s not possible for me to safely prepare my own breakfast (or any meal). My hands don’t often do what I want them to, especially when I’m trying to focus on something important. When it comes to showering and personal hygiene, my mum has to help me. Yes, this is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved, particularly since I have been getting older. She also helps me to get dressed, too. Most of the time, this includes choosing what clothes that I’ll be wearing, given that I’m generally too anxious to make those decisions on my own. Once all of that has been navigated, let’s not forget that I’m not able to reach my desired destination without her taking me there. (Before you say it: yes, I’m aware of the fantastic things that they can do with cars nowadays, but none of it feels practical or safe for me. I have also tried to independently use public transport a handful of times before, which only ever ended up being a nightmare.)

If we have ever eaten lunch or dinner together at a restaurant, please know that I would have spent hours looking at the menu online beforehand, so that I could ensure that there was at least one option available that wouldn’t require me to cut anything up. If you have ever seen me choose to drink something directly from a bottle, it’s because I can’t pour it into a glass myself without spilling it everywhere. Very classy, I know.

It’s such a weird thing to explain. In many ways, it feels like my brain doesn’t function any differently to other people’s. Once the basic self-care has been done, my life isn’t particularly extraordinary: I have the same wants, needs and goals as everybody else. I like to have a social life, in the same way that most other people do. Still, the process of getting there does take a little more consideration. It’s hard not to feel like my job prospects are limited, when there is so much that isn’t immediately obvious from the outside. (Thanks in advance, but I really don’t need any well-meaning suggestions about this.)

To be honest, most days, I just can’t be bothered to put in the extra effort. I find myself growing tired of it. If it wasn’t for the gentle encouragement from my mum, I would probably just never shower again. I’d survive on crisps and takeaways that are easy to manage. Even before the pandemic, I would only leave the house if my friends were very enthusiastic about it. It’s a lot to sign up for, you know? To the people that are willing to try, you are true blessings. It’s more important than you will ever know. One blog post at a time. xxx