When I tell friends that I’ve started blogging, they naturally ask what exactly it is that I write about in this little corner of the internet. And I find it quite difficult to answer. Is it disability? Yes but not purely. Is it mental health? Yes but not purely. Is it emotional gubbins? Yes but not purely. Because this is deeply personal to me it’s hard to come up with a pithy one-line answer. As the blog subtitle says, it’s more complicated than that.
If anything, the closest I can get to it is to ask what started this process in the first place. The relationship I have with my disability – and the fact that it has changed. And because disability is such a central factor in my day-to-day life and affected so many areas of my existence, that change has followed in the same way. It gets everywhere. I find myself with some really profound identity issues and questions. I used to feel secure in my disability, it was sorted, it was settled and I knew where I was. I don’t any more. And although I’m starting to realise that these are acceptable questions to ask, I increasingly find myself asking “Who am I now?”
I’ve never seen myself as an angry person, I’m certainly capable of it but not as a habitual response, but as my previous blog post may have shown, there is a strong element of that surfacing over recent weeks and months. I used to feel that I ‘just got on with things’, my bloodymindedness and determination were often remarked upon as I was growing up. And now, while not all of that has dissipated, I see some of those thought processes as empty echoes that ring hollow. I used to feel that my self-image was stable, not something to worry over, something positive, and now I find that this was often an unintentional front for nearly three decades’ worth of internalised ableism. I used to feel that my body worked to it’s best ability and was unfazed by my limitations – now I too often sit with a body that feels ready to retire. And that is an absolutely crushing thought to carry.
These are broad themes, there are many further examples of this shift in thinking. It is often a thoroughly disorienting place to be. It is a strange experience to ask oneself, “Who am I now?”
That central question of identity is very much at the heart of all of this. The fact that there is no apparent road map for someone who suddenly finds himself unhappy with a disability he has always known, what do you do when you recognise that change? That feeling of change that leads me to say, yes, actually I would take the miracle cure if it came around tomorrow – to even have that thought feels such a betrayal of the positive image of disability I’ve done so much to get behind and push. It is such an alien feeling. Who thinks like this? I have written before about why I don’t see this as depression , but another striking difference between this feeling, and that of the creeping black dog is of endpoint. Even when I’ve been at my lowest, most depressed, suicidal points both in and out of therapy, I at least could describe a hypothetical recovery – even when I didn’t believe such things were possible. I at least knew what it might look like. With this shift, I’ve noticed that even though I trust the therapeutic process enough to feel that I will eventually come through this, I cannot visualise in any way what the endpoint for this new sense of identity around my disability is.
Not only do I have the question of “Who am I now?”, but also that then begs the question “Who am I becoming?”. Not necessarily unpleasant questions, but at times deeply unsettling ones. I don’t especially like how I see myself right now, but being aware of the sense of movement doesn’t always bring comfort. As humans we like to know where we stand, it’s why so many depressives struggle to recover – the depression becomes well-understood and therefore safe, in a world that doesn’t always make sense.
We live in a culture where we are so often defined by roles, by identity, by a sense of who we are. It is deeply weird to feel untethered as I do right now. In so many areas I am healthier than I have been in years, more productive, more open, more outgoing. And yet I have seldom felt more of a sense of being at a loss.
Who Am I Now? Where Am I Going? Where Am I Going To?