bias, lied, dead, bled, deal, leads
These are the words that spontaneously came to mind while lying on my acupuncturist’s table with fourteen needles in my back. They are words formed from the letters within the word “disabled.”
It’s a word I’m thinking about more and more as I prepare to leave my teaching career. It isn’t a temporary leave, it’s not an extended absence. It’s a resignation. Retirement due to disability.
So, here’s the deal. I can’t plan everything, I can’t control everything, and I can’t change everything. I need to change. And starting in March, I’ll be changing the way I spend my days.
It’s two-and-a-half years now that my legs have been under siege. And as unfair as it may seem, as upsetting and infuriating and terrifying as it may be, it’s time for me to admit it - I am a woman with a chronic disease. Not a life-threatening disease (thank God), but a medical condition that necessitates some life changes.
But, I don’t like the word “disabled.” Because, honestly, regarding someone as disabled unfortunately leads to bias.
My grandmother was disabled. She didn’t drive herself, and my grandfather was always rightfully infuriated when he couldn’t find an available handicapped parking spot near the entrance to the market. My grandmother’s car had a blue placard granting her access to these specially reserved spots. And she needed it. Rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, and strokes made physical movement difficult. My grandmother usually had my grandfather push her in her wheelchair. When she did walk, it was slow and laborious, and reliant on her cane.
She was disabled, and she looked disabled.
Truthfully, for most of my life, that is how I have viewed disability.
And that’s not me.
Although within the last two-and-a-half years, I have spent time dependent on a wheelchair, and I have relied on a walker to get from point A to point B. Thankfully, those days are done. The wheelchair was returned to my doctor, and my walker is folded away and stashed in the closet (where I pray it remains).
I am learning that there are degrees of disability, and that not all disabilities are apparent the first time you look at someone. While I sit and write, bystanders might think I appear fine. If they looked closely, they might see me squirm in my seat as I try to find a comfortable position for my leg. If they followed me home, they’d see the bottles of prescriptions lined up on my kitchen counter. If I rolled up my sleeve, they might see the bruise left from my most-recent blood-test at my bi-monthly doctor’s appointment. And if I pulled up my left pant leg, they might notice that my calf looks rather hard and tight. They might see the scar left from a muscle biopsy. They might see the trail of veins snaking around my legs.
Now, I am forced to acknowledge that I am disabled, as in unable to do certain things. For two-and-a-half years, I have been going along, trying to ignore the pain, trying to work through the pain, waiting for the pain to go away.
It’s not going away. All I can do is try to control it better, try to manage it better, try to spend my days not doing things that might exacerbate the pain.
So, March 1st, I will go to school as a classroom teacher for the last time. I will say good-bye to the only school I have ever taught at. I will say good-bye to my students, my co-workers, my profession.
And for the first time in a really long time, I will start putting a lot more energy into myself.
My disability enables me to do that.