Category: Disability

My Body, My Choice

And yes, that means more than abortion.

Over at FWD, s.e. smith linked this advice column in which a woman’s friend advises her to get her son with disabilities “fixed”. Eww, I hated typing that. Sadly, for people with disabilities, these kinds of attitudes are not isolated, but extremely prevalent. Same with racialized people, working-class people, and other marginalized groups. This, kids, is what we call eugenics.

Forced sterilization is decidedly not okay. Violating people’s bodily autonomy is not okay. And suggesting someone should get “fixed”, like a dog, is really not okay.

This is why, while I do identify as pro-choice, I prefer the concept of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice expands beyond the right to abortion, to supporting all kinds of reproductive choices, from parenting, abortion, contraception, to simply having a right not to be forcibly sterilized.

This is why I sometimes get offended by what certain pro-choicers say, even though I identify strongly as pro-choice. When you suggest certain groups of people, as a whole, make incompetent parents, you are devaluing someone’s reproductive choice. When your main argument for abortion rights is “fewer deformed babies”, you are being ableist. While some people with  disabilities choose not to have children, you have no right to take someone’s bodily autonomy away. If they want to have children, that is their choice. And the operative word here is choice.


Today, a friend of mine asked if I was mad at her. I replied “Of course not, why would you think that?” She explained that since we last hung out, I haven’t been talking to her much.

I’ve been dealing with a moderate level of depression for the last month or so. Depression saps all my energy. When I was at my worst, I was sleeping 12-16 hours a day, and could barely find the strength to get out of bed. Even though my physical health is fairly good, I relate a lot to the Spoon Theory.

When I’m hypomanic, or even at my baseline, I’m a ball of fire. Hypomania, in particular, seems to give me a seemingly infinite supply of “spoons”. There isn’t enough to do in a day to keep me occupied; I am endlessly social, having the energy to do everything in a day. I’ll cook, play music, write, swim, spend time with friends, and do more – sometimes all in one day.

When the depression takes over, I am left with a limited amount of spoons. For example, when I came home from university, it took me several weeks to finally unpack all my clothes. I probably simply appear lazy to most people; washing dishes, walking a block down the street, or doing other things requiring any amount of energy can be almost impossible. Socializing also becomes difficult. It’s hard to make small talk with people, especially when the depression gets especially brutal.

It’s different spending time with people who I can talk to about what I’m going through, but often, I either feel like I’m imposing, or will be shunned as bipolar disorder is still a fairly stigmatized mental illness. When I’m at a low point, if you take me out for coffee and ask how I’m doing – and genuinely mean it – it will expend some of my energy, but it can make me feel at least somewhat better. Just knowing that someone cares is important.

However, time with casual friends that don’t know what’s going on, while it can also be enjoyable, becomes really difficult to motivate myself to spend. It can also become exhausting. I feel like I can’t talk about much when I’m depressed; the words don’t come as easily, and I’m left feeling like a bad friend. This can, understandably, come across as me being unfriendly, or annoyed with my friends for some reason, but really, it’s because I’m running out of spoons.

It’s hard to articulate. To someone without depression or bipolar, it’s hard to imagine depression sapping your energy to the point where everyday things become difficult.

Sometimes, I even feel guilty talking, or thinking about my spoons. After all, aren’t I, at least on the surface, what society would define as “healthy”? Am I appropriating the experiences of people with chronic physical illnesses?

To me, mental illness is similar to physical illness in many ways. I experience physical pain and fatigue when I’m depressed, and in addition to my mood, this leaves me with a limited number of spoons to get through the day.

Recently, I attended a meeting for a radical disability group. One thing that was brought up is the many divisions in the disability community; how the outside world tends to encourage specific groups to fight for their rights while excluding other groups, particularly those who are stigmatized.

I’ve seen a lot of this. I used to be involved in the autistic rights movement, at least online, back when I thought I could have asperger’s syndrome. (Turns out, I’m just a mentally ill weirdo with nonverbal learning disorder thrown in for added interest.) There’s been a large push to dissociate autism from mental illness; and, well, Astrid probably said it better than I ever could.

This act of saying “Oh, we’re not like those people”, which has been done with many disability communities, is an example of the kind of divide-and-conquer the people in power want us to do. Granted, it’s important to recognize when something is and isn’t a mental illness; for example, there’s been a movement to remove transsexuality from the DSM. However, there’s a difference between simply stating that something is different from a mental illness, and blatant ableism.

I believe that neurodiversity means more than just autism. I’m not autistic, but I have various things about my neurology that can definitely be seen as not “neurotypical”. Besides my mental illness, I have a learning disability (NLD) that’s somewhat similar to autism, and definitely can be seen as outside of the range of “neurotypical”. To me, neurodiversity isn’t just about autistic rights, although that’s an important part of it. It’s about acceptance of people with all kinds of neurology, whether they have autism, a learning disability, a mental illness, are blind or deaf, and the like.

But more important than expanding the meaning of neurodiversity, I think, is creating a more cohesive disability movement. I think that most people with disabilities, regardless of the sort, face obstacles in society, perhaps not as tied to their actual impaiments as society’s perception of ability and disability. As I’ve often heard people say, accessibility is about more than ramps. By banding together as people with disabilities, we can create greater accessibility and acceptance for everyone, not just a group we happen to be a part of.