It is 22:50 and I just found out that today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
I like to believe that I’ve been an ally, and studying in a school that had students who were neurodiverse helped. But, I’m certain that I’ve made many mistakes along the way – been ignorant, offended someone even while meaning well, or just failing to be sensitive.
This year is different for me. I have developed a vestibular disorder – a chronic, invisible illness that doesn’t really have a cure. It’s something that I have been talking about since July, two months after I first started showing symptoms. I had never heard about it before, and neither had most of the people I spoke to. In chronicling my journey, I hope that at least the few people who know me have learnt about this strange illness, one that wreaks havoc inside you but makes you look ‘fine’ on the outside.
Back to today, I saw Selma Blair post a picture about her MS and learnt what today is – when my day is almost over. This year’s theme is ‘Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-Covid-19 world’. How could I miss this? For someone who has literally developed a disability because of Covid, surely I have something to say.
Here’s the thing though; I feel like an imposter when I use the term to describe myself. Turns out, I am quite disability-unfriendly. I have this idea in my head of who a disabled person is, and I don’t fit the criteria. My illness is invisible. I am still ‘functional’ and ‘independent’ on most days, especially since I have been on medication that suppresses my symptoms. When I write about my experience and use the term, I imagine people seeing my posts and thinking, ‘Wow. What won’t she do to get attention? She seems fine.’ I wouldn’t fault them; I think the same about myself some days.
Is it a failure to accept this illness or is it an attempt to not ‘take advantage’ or ‘abuse’ the term. Do I have the right to call myself disabled? Who decides?
Writing this is scary – it’s calling myself out in public and also being really harsh on myself – someone who has been through hell this year. What of the days when I can’t walk on my own? The hours of nausea because I looked at flickering lights. The times when I am standing one second and on the floor the next because of ‘drop attacks’. Do these count? Does it hit the threshold to be counted as a ‘disability’? I am part of an international support group on Facebook for people with vestibular disorders and I see that many of them receive benefits from the government – it is officially recognised and support is provided. Here, I couldn’t even get doctors to figure out what was wrong with me! How am I supposed to convince the government that what I have is a disability?
‘Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-Covid-19 world’ they say. By writing this, I am participating in the conversation; inclusivity can start with me, by including myself.
Article by Roshini Suparna Diwakar