‘Society thinks disabled people are not humans with rights but problems to be solved’

Platform: ‘Do all of you, from time to time, think about me the same way I think of me?’

Ferdia MacAonghusa: “As I’m writing this, I’m only a couple of hours away from a major spinal surgery, my third in six years.”

Ferdia MacAonghusa: “As I’m writing this, I’m only a couple of hours away from a major spinal surgery, my third in six years.”

 

On my best days, I know that there is nothing wrong with me. I know that I’m not broken or useless or a burden to my friends and family. I know that I am not less valuable because I can’t defeat my arch enemy. On my best days, I know that I am a human being, and my worth is not measured in how much I contribute to the late-stage capitalist machine, that even if I can’t get out of bed I still have value.

A new weekly column by writers with a disability.
A weekly column by writers with a disability.

On my best days, I can respect my body. I can know its limits and I can be grateful for its strengths. I can live in my body and I can have pride in it.

On my best days.

But these days, pain and exhaustion have been really bad. I’ve spent more time lying in bed this year than I want to admit. These days I’ve been cancelling plans more often than I’ve gone through with them.

As I’m writing this, I’m only a couple of hours away from a major spinal surgery, my third in six years. Hopefully, when you’re reading this I’ll be recovering at home. But that seems like a lifetime away right now.

Honestly, it feels like my body is betraying me.

These are not my best days.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Panti Bliss’s speech – the Abbey Theatre one, made in the run up to the marriage equality vote. The thing that I think broke so many people’s heart in that speech wasn’t the homophobia of others, those stories were horrible, but to our great shame we’ve grown used to them. It was the stories of self-directed homophobia. “What was it that gave me away?” That felt like a punch to the gut.

Looming surgery

That speech has been helping me to understand that when I deal with pain, or exhaustion or looming surgery like this one; things that make me vulnerable; these floodgates open from some dark corner of my brain and I start to unleash a torrent of self-directed ableist abuse. I tell myself that because of my disability I’m worthless, that I’m a burden, that I’m never going to succeed in any way, that no one could ever find me attractive, that anything I’ve got in life has been special treatment because people feel sorry for me . . . honestly, it gets very off-topic very quickly.

But the thing is, those ideas didn’t suddenly appear in my brain from nothing. These prejudices came into my head the same way prejudices always get us – they’re the unspoken assumptions of the society and or culture that we’re born into.

Ferdia MacAonghusa
Ferdia MacAonghusa

Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy! winner who went a little viral with a tweet claiming there’s “nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair”, is not an alien who crash-landed, bringing with him repulsive and bizarre ideas about people in wheelchairs that had never been thought before. If that were the case, we’d live in a very different world.

For one thing, a representative 20 per cent of actors in romance films would be disabled as opposed to . . . *cricket noises*.

I wouldn’t have to ring days in advance to see if I can go somewhere I’d like to go.

People would be less shocked when I tell them I’m in college.

Unacceptable

Our society, our collective psychology, thinks disabled people are not humans with rights, we’re thought of as problems that need to be solved.

This is almost never said specifically, that would be shocking and unacceptable. Which is why these points of view are like submarine volcanoes, violently exploding somewhere deep below us and only causing splashes on the surface. And I think it’s an uncontroversial psychological position that the things that we repress and hide are things that we should examine.

Speaking of psychology, I won’t deny that I have a bit of work to do on myself here. Spiralling thoughts about how terrible and doomed I am are not generally recommended by mental health professionals. And I have been getting better; reiterating what I said above, on my best days I’m able to take real and meaningful pride in myself. I certainly sit taller and less apologetically as I go about my daily life. I’m challenging these thoughts actively, and trying to improve my relation with myself.

But I wonder about the rest of you.

If these thoughts are tucked away somewhere in my brain, ready to come out under certain stresses, I’ve got to wonder whether they’re tucked in yours.

I’ve got to wonder do all of you, from time to time, think about me the same way I think of me?

Platform Series: Ferdia MacAonghusa
1) Howd you like to be pushed around?
2) These are not my best days
3) Do something positive for the disabled
4) Our disabled bodies are different
5) Heard about the fella in a wheelchair?
6) I’m not bad for experiencing depression
7) I’ve finally found a way to be free
8) How about a job?
9) A defence of identity politics
10) Becoming disabled radicalised me

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