Most of my health problems have been with me since childhood. I was diagnosed with a learning disability at eight years old. I acquired insomnia, anxiety, depression, and PTSD in my prepubescent years. I developed a repetitive strain injury at fifteen. Yet it was not until last year that I really felt comfortable claiming the word disabled.
There are two major reasons for this. First, most of my illnesses are mental. Even though I understood that “mental” doesn’t mean “not real,” I didn’t really think of mental illness, or at least not the ones I had, as disabilities.
This comes from one of the most toxic and dangerous myths in modern Western culture: the separation of body and mind. I had internalized the idea that my mind was separate from my body. Disability, to me, was a physical concept, so my mental illnesses couldn’t possibly qualify as disabilities. This in spite of the fact that my learning disability, which is also caused by my brain, was literally called a disability.
At this point you’re probably thinking well, what about the repetitive strain injury? That is a physical ailment, right?
Well, yes. I was in horrible pain for multiple years of my life. If I so much as opened a door the wrong way, I injured myself. But I’m tough. I pushed through the pain. I kept writing, kept doing my schoolwork, kept functioning as society expected me to. Most of the time I even functioned at the level I wanted to function at. So it wasn’t really disabling, right? A constant pain level of 5-6 didn’t matter if I still got the work done.
The other problem with my repetitive strain injury was the way doctors treated, or more accurately, refused to treat, it. Sometimes they thought I was overreacting to a temporary, minor problem. Others thought there was no problem at all. After all, I was far too young to have chronic pain.
So what made me finally claim the word disabled?
The unpleasant truth is that I spent most of last summer bedridden. From mid-June until mid-September, I felt awful. I slept ten hours a night, functioned for three or four hours, and went back to bed for another five. I had constant brain-fog and frequent headaches. And I spent the entire time soaked in my own sweat, unable to kill the clamminess.
I have always had some sensitivity to heat, but this illness sparked two major realizations. First, my heat intolerance had grown significantly worse, which is not great when each summer brings record-breaking heat. Second, if I was going to spend two or three months of every year unable to leave my house for more than a few hours at a time, I was definitely suffering from some kind of chronic illness. I was disabled.
The path to diagnosis, however, is a convoluted one. I still have no idea what made me ill that summer. I won’t even have my next appointment with a specialist until late April. I only know that yes, I am absolutely disabled. And now, looking at my laundry list of illnesses, I understand that I have been disabled for most of my life.
Dianna Gunn is a freelance marketing consultant, dark fantasy author, podcaster, and an indie author community mentor. She is also the curator of the Twitter writing chat #WeeknightWriters, which happens every Thursday, 7:00 p.m. EDT.
You can discover more about her work at linktr.ee/d_l_gunn.