Just Below My Skin, I'm Screaming

by Shaker The White Lady

"They look like me, but none of them are me…."—Sonny, I, Robot

Problematic as the movie 'I, Robot' was, what Sonny says here resonates with me. For me, at least, it is true: I may look like you, but I am nothing like you. I have a mental disability, and as the categorization it has been given suggests, it can be very difficult to tell whether I am anything other than able-bodied.

I will never forget the time when the bus driver refused to move his packed-full-at-rush-hour bus until someone stood up and gave me his seat, but by the same token, I will always remember the day that two of my classmates attempted to burst my eardrums. For every person who has helped me across the road or asked if I needed help getting off the bus, there has been someone who has deliberately tripped me up, or thrown stones at me. Each and every one of those experiences has affected me, one way or another. If that was all I had to deal with, then I would be happy indeed, but, as we all know by now, life is rarely so simple.

How do I explain to someone that while I am partially sighted, I also have near-perfect vision? How do I explain that while I don't have a learning disability, my disability does affect the way I learn? You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. I can tell (and have told) people until I'm blue in the face that I have certain non-negotiable limitations, but I can't force them to respect those limitations.

I know that a lot of people would call me very lucky. Sometimes they mean that I have privileges that are not enjoyed by people with physical/visible disabilities. Sometimes they are trying to guilt trip me by comparing me with other people who are 'worse off' disability-wise. It should be obvious which group of people I find more offensive, but both versions of the 'you are lucky' trope have problems for me.

When I'm waiting in line at the supermarket checkout, and I'm trying to juggle a shopping bag and my everyday bag and my purse, and I'm trying to do everything quickly because the next person in line is getting impatient and moving forward and getting their purchases put through the checkout, and I keep dropping things and I can't get a grip on the zip of my bag and I need to move and hold everything and make sure I don't walk into anyone all at the same time, I don't feel lucky.

When I'm talking to a member of staff at a facility which exists specifically to help disabled students and someone interrupts our conversation and de-rails my train of thought and I forget the question that I wanted to ask, when I know that I can't be the only disabled student who needs a quiet, uninterrupted environment to function properly, when I know that having a conversation without being interrupted is something other people enjoy without even thinking about it, yet I lack the presence of mind to call her out on her arrogance, I don't feel lucky.

When I'm sitting trying to do my work but my head is about to split open because I haven't eaten for six hours and I haven't slept properly for a week and all people would (or could) do if I told them about my headache is offer me painkillers and I can't concentrate and I'm nearly collapsing from the pain in my head but I need to keep going because if I don't finish my work my teacher will make me feel like a worm, I don't feel lucky.

When I'm told by my own mother that she is embarrassed to be seen with me because I'm crying because the noise level is so high I feel like I've been hit a train, I don't feel lucky.

Going to the supermarket; trying to do my work for university; trying to have a conversation, for crying out loud. These things should not be difficult, and yet they are, sometimes amazingly so. I'm not asking for a complete reform of the social system by any means. All I'm asking for is a little compassion, a little understanding that maybe all is not well.

Just because something can't be seen doesn't mean it isn't there. Too often people forget that.

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