Self-Declaration of Disability

At 23, I read over my medical records for the first time and discovered that 8 years prior, my doctor had referred me for an autism assessment. This referral was rejected by the man in charge without even so much as taking the time to meet me. He “wasn’t convinced”. It’s difficult not to feel resentment towards this man when I consider how different the last 8 years might have been had he given me the time and consideration I deserved. I often wonder if I had been a 15-year-old boy with these difficulties instead of a 15-year-old girl, would that have inspired him to engage in more critical thought?

Finally accessing this diagnosis has been the most truly liberating experience of my life and the person I have to thank for that, is myself. I found it, I researched it and I fought hard for it to be taken seriously. If I hadn’t, I would still be flailing around in those muddy waters, lost and alone. For the first time in my life, I understand myself and I am committed to authentically honouring my needs.

That is why, I beg you to reflect, before expressing outrage over self-declaration, or forcing your employees or colleagues through a degrading process to ‘perform’ their disability for you, just so that they can access basic support.

Am I disabled?

I’ve come to understand that when I pass as non-disabled, when I say No, the best that I can hope to be is an inferior version of an ideal of normality that allows only for the narrowest range of body types, cognitive styles and life trajectories, that equates the worth of a person with her economic productivity, that fetishes independence and disavows our connections to each other, and that seeks to discriminate arbitrarily between those who are allowed their full humanity and those who are denied it.

Bipolar Disorder – Embracing Neurodivergence And Affirming Disability

Part of me would be more comfortable with the term ‘condition’ than ‘disorder’ because of the judgement implicit in the latter. But ‘disorder’ to me is an important acknowledgement of the havoc frequently, but not always, created by extreme manic, depressive or psychotic episodes. These states result more easily in some than in others. When and how this happens is a result of myriad dynamic, interconnected factors, some personal and biological, many of them circumstantial and social. However, my lived experience leaves me with the firm conclusion that there is an intrinsic, physiological way in which at least some people who experience mania and certain forms of depression are different from most people. That difference is not, in itself, a disorder. It’s just a difference. But it is a difference that makes those experiences more likely to happen to me than to others.

Insisting that disorders are not real (and/or that there is no congenital physiology involved) erases this difference and elides the complexity of my identity and my experience. Akiko Hart has written eloquently and comprehensively about this. It is much more useful to criticize the construct of psychiatric disorders in terms of the normative and invalidating power being deployed depending on when, how and why the term ‘disorder’ is used. Broad acceptance of a purely biomedical understanding of psychiatric disorders can condemn people to an existence defined by pathology. The construct of “personality disorder” is particularly abusive in this regard. At the same time, it is critical to recognize that some people find the term ‘disorder’ helpful and representative of aspects of our experience or even of our selves.

Bipolar disorder – embracing neurodivergence and affirming disability

Forming Myself in Their Image: A Tale of My Shoggoth

It often seemed like people around me didn’t have so much trouble learning what direction to grow in. They just knew how to become a human being. They knew when to say hello and goodbye, how to jump rope, ride bikes, what to talk about, and what to wear. They were growing out of seeds with a more detailed plan imprinted in their DNA. They could water themselves and grow into a tree. What would I grow into? I wasn’t sure.

Forming Myself in Their Image: A Tale of My Shoggoth

‘Sticks and stones will break my bones AND words can really hurt me’ – the important of language in inclusion

They asked me ‘how do we manage all these politically correct extremists?’ Not so much a ‘Dixer’ question but I answered it anyway. I said that ‘political correctness’ tends to be an insulting way to describe inclusiveness and wanting to be respectful of people from groups that face disadvantage in society. As such I didn’t want to do anything to ‘address political correctness’ and said it was a good thing to have.

‘Sticks and stones will break my bones AND words can really hurt me’ – the important of language in inclusion