Something I have been told my entire life is “the only disability in life is a bad attitude”. Not in those exact words, though. “Smile! Your face will break!” “You’ve got to keep smiling.” “Keep your chin up!” “Don’t let it get you down!” “It’s just a bump in the road.” “It’s not that big a deal.” “Other people are more disabled than you.” “She would want you to smile.” “She wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
You know what? Sometimes attitude doesn’t do a thing. I can have the best goddamn attitude I want, but Beth isn’t coming back from the dead. I dearly loved Beth and Beth dearly loved me. I am grieving. To tell someone who is grieving how they should feel, and even further – to use their departed loved one as a tool how to feel, is unintentionally cruel. We know they would want to see us happy. We know they loved us. We know all that. But knowing doesn’t take away the hurt.
Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually a happy-go-lucky, bubbly person despite being shy, autistic, struggling with anxiety, and having depression. I crack jokes at the worst times and I’m the person you will find cracking up for no reason at a funeral. I laugh to cope – I laugh instead of cry which has created some really awkward moments in my life. But I’m also cynical, sarcastic, and scared. But when you tell me my disability is my attitude, you’re implying that my attitude is the problem when you know nothing of my attitude.
You see, when you say “the only disability is a bad attitude”, you are essentially saying if I tried hard enough, I wouldn’t be disabled. That’s not true. I can try as hard as I want, but I will still have metal in my back. I can try as hard as I want and be as perky as ever, but it doesn’t change the fact my immune system is at war. I can happily bonk you on the head when I have a deliberating migraine, if you insist I keep up a good attitude though… but I don’t quite think that’s what you’re going for.
Shocking, each one of us disabled people has our own personality. I know, novel concept eh? But we’re all unique. We all use our attitudes in different ways. And if someone choose to be bitter toward having a disability – that’s okay. If someone chooses to be angry, that’s okay. It doesn’t make them better or worse than anyone else with a disability. It doesn’t mean they’re a “bad crip” or anything.
It seems that just because we have disabilities, we’re expected to be perky and happy for YOUR benefit. Because YOU don’t want to see us suffer. Because our loved ones who have gone before us wouldn’t want to see us suffer. You know what? Life fucking sucks at times. Life fucking isn’t fair. People die too young, people get illnesses ‘too young’, people are born with disability. Life happens.
I will choose to live with my disability with the attitude I see fit. Today, I may be advocate Nora. Tomorrow, I may be educating Nora. Next week, I may be bitter and cynical Nora and in a month, I may be bubbly and cheerful Nora. Just like an able-bodied person, I have feelings and emotions too. Just because parents of disabled children seem to think we should be happy and their children should be joyful, doesn’t mean we have.
Disability isn’t merely overcoming what our disability throws at us.