To Be or Not To Be…Disabled

To be, or not to be? That is the question—
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
Hamlet III.i.57-70
 
Today I read a rather interesting article on the BBC News website discussing putting a label on disability discrimination. Which got me to thinking about a question that has been in the back of my mind since childhood:
 
Am I truly disabled?
 
By law, yes, as a matter of fact I am. The Americans with Disability Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of the term “disabled” to include anyone with anything that can “substantially limit one or more major life activities of such individual” and further goes on to define “major life activities” as, among other things, endocrine and immune systems.
 
So, the good news is, I am protected by law.
 
But it does beg a question above and beyond laws and definitions: am I really disabled? The law thinks so, but the true measure of disability, in my mind, is whether or not I perceive myself to be disabled. I will admit that it’s an idea that I have struggled with for most of my life, this “to be or not to be” of sorts that people like me battle with on a daily basis. We are just fine on the outside, we look normal, and go about our daily lives with as much normalcy as possible. But inside, we are malfunctioning, a strand in the genetic code has tripped somewhere, and the entire system downstream has been thrown off. 
 
I don’t always feel good, but normalcy is incredibly important to me. I don’t like people perceiving me as being disabled – that only leads to discrimination, pity and misunderstanding. But at the same point in time, I do find myself having limitations, and I have to use the disability to explain them. While people like me are no longer in a legal Catch 22, I think we often find ourselves in this personal one of sorts, debating between carrying the label of “disabled” around our necks, or casting it aside and dealing with the consequences.
 
Although we have all been taught that Hamlet is discussing suicide in his soliloquy, I think that it has equal congruence with this situation. Do we sit alone and suffer in silence, living in our houses and rooms, afraid to go out into the world and experience life? Or do we get out, go and do things, despite the dangers and the spears of infection that can pierce us and ultimately put us back into bed? In my opinion, seclusion and fear are comparable to death just by virtue of the simple fact that it is not living. So, do we cave fully into the idea of the disability and isolate ourselves from the world out of fear of getting sick, or do we grab life by the horns, go out and just be normal?
 
Do we live or die?
 
Of course, Hamlet paints suicide as the more courageous and noble path, and in my mind he is debating between emotional death and a physical one. But he does later bring up an interesting point when he addresses that even physical death will bring sleep and sleep brings the evil thoughts that haunt him. To Hamlet, either course of action is an evil, and it is up to him to chose the lesser of the two. In the end, (SPOILER ALERT…and if you came across this because you’ve Googled the play because it’s been assigned in your high school English class and you’re too damn lazy to read it yourself…stop being lazy and read the damn play) Hamlet chooses life and lives to see the end of the play, even though it’s a life full of mental anguish.
 
I think this is a valuable lesson for all of us living with these so-called disabilities – go out and live life to the fullest. Don’t let a fear of illness or low blood sugars or getting hurt or even ridicule stop you. In doing so, you are choosing death. Go out and live. Smell the roses. Kick around a soccer ball. Make friends. Fall in love. Start your own company. Do whatever you dream, whatever your heart desires.
 
Just LIVE.
 
I don’t consider myself to be disabled. The question you need to ask yourself is, do you?
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12 thoughts on “To Be or Not To Be…Disabled

  1. To be or not to be…disable? Hmmm. Never ever crossed my mind until recently while dealing with my State Health Benefit Plan provided to state employees of Georgia. And there are times that diabetes can need special accommodations. For example, if you as a type one diabetic, are taking the SAT math portion and you feel your bg drop. You need to be able to stop the time, test your bg, and treat if necessary. I am pretty sure your test score, if not allowed to treat, would be impacted negatively, without mentioning that you might pass out. I don’t know about you, but finding the value of x when bg=45, would be nearly impossiable for me. Check! Or in this case.. X!

    • Funny story, I actually had that happen to me back when I took the ACT. My blood sugar bottomed out halfway through and I was unaware that I had the option of stopping (more to the point, I had nothing to treat with anyway)…the scores in the first half were excellent, the second they were awful. Fortunately I had also taken the SAT and gotten good scores there, so I had those to fall back on. But leaving and telling my mother that I needed food NOW was pretty awful.

  2. What a struggle! I even find that I deal with this on the family level — I don’t want anyone to treat me as if I need help… unless of course I need help. Thanks for this good discussion!

  3. This is a question I’ve struggled with, because diabetes makes me feel “fine until I’m not-so-fine” sort of thing. I’m glad there’s protection, should I need it, but at the moment, I don’t consider myself disabled. However, connotation and denotation are two entirely different things.

  4. I see it as abled unless something, or someone is illegally preventing me. In case of emergency, only then will I use the other “D” word.

    Also, I love your blog’s theme 🙂 #check

  5. Pretty much what Christopher says, for me too. I see it as a matter of protection — if need be, than I can use that “disabled” language to get what’s required and/or deserved. But, as far as a daily living and mindset, NO, I’m not disabled. Great post — thanks so much for exploring the issue. Love hearing what you think about this. Has come to mind in places like Disney, where they have/used to have those special passes that we could get and use. Tough topic for many, but glad it’s being discussed.

    • One thing I just thought of in the last 30 seconds…I once dated someone whose father was only disabled when he needed to be to get something – money, the up-close parking space, sympathy. I used to get irritated that he was only disabled when it suited him. But I find that sometimes, I do the same thing and I’m now starting to understand why he did what he did. I don’t want to think that I’m disabled, and I’m sure that no one really does, my ex’s father included. But sometimes there are instances when pulling out the “D” card is necessary in order for me to be able to live a normal life. Doesn’t make me like him any more, but at least I now have some understanding.

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