I am in the process of seeking an accommodation from my employer for my anxiety and depressive disorders under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). And the impostor syndrome I talked about yesterday can’t get past the word disabled.
Disabled. Broken. And me. It doesn’t seem to fit. After all, I can walk and run and jump and hike up mountains and play sports and do all these things. The ADA can’t be for people like me. It has to be for people with real problems and real disabilities. I’m not disabled. I’m not broken.
Except I am. Because I can walk and run and jump and do all those things, but I walk by a crowded bar and experience a fight or flight sensation that quickens my heart and tightens my blood vessels as my panicked eyes search for an exit.
And I toss and turn, losing sleep that I so desperately need as my fears from the previous day ratchet down while my fears for the next day are only just beginning.
I said earlier that I am not disabled, but I am. I said earlier I’m not broken, but in truth no one with a disability is broken. They just work in their own unique way. And the purpose of the ADA is to allow them, and me, to use our own unique ways to survive and thrive. And the even greater truth is that not all disabilities are visible.
And the people who say otherwise are the same people who are shocked when celebrities like Robin Williams, Kate Spade, or Anthony Bourdain take their own life. Because mental illness is absolutely a disability for me, regardless of the lies my brain whispers to me in the dark.
I hate having these struggles. I curse the clenched fists I make as I fight my way through the crowds of Chicago in my daily commute. I dread the moments when I find myself trapped in crowded commuter trains. If it gets really bad it leads to stress headaches that will last days, adding physical pain to the daily list of things I must fight through.
I may not have a special placard on my license plate, or a wheelchair that makes my fight visible, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And like all others who have their own fights, whether they be physical or mental, I am learning that what the law calls disabled is just differently-abled. Because there is a whole world that works for me and it is wonderful. A world that is bright and shiny and pushes back the darkness for yet another day. There are zombie movies and oceans, nature trails and musicals, books, and board games with my wife, and a whole world that brings me joy.
Disabled. Broken. And me. I have a disability, even if it can’t be seen. But I’m not broken, nor is anyone else with a disability. Because without these things we wouldn’t be unique. More importantly, we wouldn’t be us. We wouldn’t be the people our loved ones cherish. We wouldn’t be the people our friends find fun. We wouldn’t be us.
I may hate these struggles, and the limitations and different realities they create for me. But accepting myself means accepting that darkness as well, because it is as much a part of me as my brown eyes or my dimples.
I’m not disabled, I’m just different. I’m not broken. I am me.