In the past, I would’ve ground myself down to the bone by overcompensating to avoid being perceived as “disabled.” In my mind, disability meant that I couldn’t be independent and independence was my primary survival strategy. I began calling restaurants from the yellowpages at age 9 looking for work. I landed my first w2 job at age 10. I left “home” (quotations here because my family was effectively homeless at the time) and switched to full time work by age 16.
The hyperindependence that I latched onto starting at an early age was necessary for my survival. I couldn’t rely on the traditional support systems that other people had, I had to be my own support system. I am not alone in this, many other disabled people have had to do the same. We pushed ourselves beyond our limits and kept doing it, over and over again. No one came to save us or tell us we didn’t have to. So we did.
Hiding my disability became an art form, a full time job, something that I constantly worked at and perfected. To face the fact that I was disabled was, to me, something akin to death. It challenged everything my life was built upon. Facing the fact I had a disability would unearth the profound grief of having never had the safety to be able to lean on others.
To be disabled is to face imperfection. Our society hates imperfection. Imagine all of the health products, beauty products, etc in service of prevention or eliminating imperfection. Eugenics is alive and well. It breathes life into the hyperindividualistic ideas that we can prevent disability and that any disabilities we have, are something we could have prevented or cured if we were just educated or affluent enough.
Leaning into identifying as a disabled person, as a person who needs others, as an interdependent being, has been a journey. Part of accepting that I am disabled is relinquishing the false sense of control I wish I could have over my body and life. Being disabled ultimately means that there are things I need to do or want to do that I simply cannot do, because of my brain and body. I “failed” at overcompensating and ultimately, I am who I am, who I have always been.