You know how that hackneyed phrase goes. The one Scott Hamilton bandied about. “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Chances are, if you know the phrase, you know it’s a big, huge, steaming pile of bullshit. Chances are, you are also probably disabled yourself, or you care about a disabled person. Chances are, it’s a pain in the ass either way. But let me tell you a thing. Being disabled SUCKS. It isn’t because we have a “bad attitude” but because we are always trying our best and people around us have an uncanny talent of making us feel like our best just simply is not good enough(not for those people anyway).
I think, people tend to forget a person is disabled if they can’t see an outward physical sign of it. They forget and then they lose their patience with their disabled loved one when that person simply cannot perform to their arbitrary standards. Chances are, if you’re disabled, you need to constantly remind people around you who claim to love you that “no, I just can’t perform at 100% today. Sorry.” At every turn, we have people leering and judging.
“Why cant he work if he is capable of running a marathon next weekend? Get a job. Stop leeching!”
“You were fine yesterday.”
“How dare this socially anxious person be socially anxious and be triggered into avoiding conflict. Why wont they let me PROVOKE them into a ‘debate’. I mean, jesus!”
“What about MY needs and wants Mx. Disabled Person?”
Chances are, the words ring in your head over and over again. The Beast of Doubt rears its ugly head, transforming you into a Faustian creature with the disability devil whispering in your ear. You know what it says.
“You did everything wrong. You’ll never be good enough.”
“Why do you even try to have friends? You are only a burden to them anyway.”
“Let me list the ways, oh dear one, in detail, of everything you did, and are doing wrong.”
“Maybe if I just try harder. Maybe I’m just lazy.”
It’s the same old song, spinning and crackling. And really, it is one thing when it’s an abled person feeding these doubts and fears and being misunderstanding, but when it’s a fellow disabled soul, and one who shares your neurology and knows what happens when the Beast of Doubt is provoked into screaming in your ears, you feel a particular type of betrayal that cannot be articulated. The Beast of Betrayal lies in wait. It waits for you to get comfortable and trusting before striking, and once it strikes, the Beast of Doubt grips tightly onto your shoulder and presses itself into your ear, whispering of all the ways you are just lazy. Just lazy. Before you know it, you are imprisoned by the Beasts.
“What if you weren’t really trying your best…” they whisper.
“What if you really are a terrible, lazy, good for nothing person.” they softly sing.
“If someone of your neurology doesn’t get you, it must be that you are just trash. You’re not even as disabled as they are, so you need to just get over yourself.” they groan.
But listen to me. There is NO such thing as “disabled enough.” There is no such thing as “it’s just your attitude.” There is no such thing as “you’re just lazy and not trying your best.” You are trying your best. As disabled people, our skillsets are uneven, and we are never ever going to perform to an abled standard. We perform to our own standards. We grab the Beasts of Doubt and Betrayal by the throat and choke them out. My best and your best are never going to be equivalent, and no amount of internalised ableism being choked up from the throat of Betrayal and Doubt is ever going to change the reality of the situation. You do not just have a bad attitude. You are NOT just lazy. Sometimes, other disabled folk cannot understand(though arguably they should at least try to be a little teensy more understanding) because they are not you. No one lives your life but you. Only you know, and only you can define what your “best” is. Screw the rest.
There is no such thing as “the only disability in life is a bad attitude.” And, if you are a disabled friend who knows another disabled friend’s triggers and insecurities, and has every played into them, try to be a little more understanding. Don’t encourage the Beasts of Doubt and Betrayal. You know as well as anyone else how seductive and evil their whispers can be. Instead, encourage the Beast of Pride and together, grab it by the horns and quell it into submission. The Beast of Pride is the one that says “together we can fight this.”
It is the one that says, “This is my best, and I love myself for doing my best.”
It is the one that says, “We are strong, we are wonderful, worthy people and our disabilities make us unique.”
It is the one that says, “I know you have a hard time but I stand beside you. We do this thing together, back to back, our knives facing to the outside battle and not toward each other’s backs.”
It is the one that says, “Your best IS good enough.”
If anyone can’t accept that, then maybe they are best left to the old tomes of your life, placed securely on a dusty shelf.
Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting their own battle. The one unseen that you can know nothing about, even if you share the same neurology. Kindness is paramount to respect.