Updated: May 29, 2020
Hey all! Yes, I’m still alive even though I haven’t posted in a long time. (Although one wonders if life is like the proverbial "If-a-tree-falls..." concept: If you don’t post on social media, did it actually happen??)
Over the past eight months, I have been completing my practicum at SMD and could not be happier with how it went. I have learned so much about disability services in the province and have gotten a glimpse of the harsh realities people with disabilities can face, the resiliency of those who triumph in spite of those realities, and the people working in the trenches to support those individuals.
Now, not every case has discouraging circumstances and many people with disabilities are just that: humans who just need a little extra support in order to live their best life, with active work and family lives. I had the privilege of interviewing one such individual for an SMD success story feature and loved seeing people meet their educational and vocational goals.
But what happens to those who might not have a) the physical ability to work full time and; b) not have family or friends to offer support – financial or otherwise? Unfortunately, people with these circumstances often get trapped in the cycle of poverty, with little choice but to depend on social assistance to live. (Although what classifies as "lives" I don’t know. Can a person live on $4 for food a day?* Think about that for a second. That’s one white chocolate mocha from your favourite coffee spot.)
As I reviewed client’s cases, I could not help but examine my own role in what it means to be a person with a disability coming from a place of privilege. Being a white female from a middle class family, I know I need to acknowledge my white privilege. Yet, I cannot deny my feeling of other-ness of having SMA. This intersectionality offers a unique experience that makes figuring out where I fit into society a little... complicated, to say the least.
Struggling to put words to the ambiguity I feel when I think about my identity and my place in the world, I have found inspiration from the tv show blackish and an Oprah Winfrey podcast where Michelle Obama discusses her memoir Becoming. (Hopefully one day I’ll have time to read this book. Does this happen to anyone else? So many books, so little time!) Realizing both of these sources address the nuanced conversation about race which I am certainly not qualified to address, the underlying themes of identity, discrimination, and assimilation resonate with me.
As Michelle Obama was sharing about her need to achieve in school because she didn’t want to be labelled as a child with limitations for her appearance (the colour of her skin), I felt she was speaking about my life.
Knowing the pain that comes from stereotyping long before I could even spell the word stereotype, I knew from a very young age that some people perceived me as less than–less than capable and unable to be an independent, smart thinker.
Comments such as being asked as a twelve-year-old how I learned to talk definitely made me feel I had to prove my abilities to myself and the world.
So, while not a minority in the colour of my skin, I have experienced the complicated dynamics of being a visual minority wherever I go. In the small town where I live, I know of no one that looks like me and when I go out, I am one of a few people I see in wheelchairs. But, the issue of being a visual minority is much more than skin deep. It is a way of relating to the world and trying to find your place in a society that feels like it wasn’t really made for you. It’s like I feel completely defined by my disability and my circumstances, but yet at the same time feel a strong sense of being more than my disability so that I am just... Crissi.
Hence, I am a person with a disability•ish.
As with so many areas of my life, I feel I identify with everything and nothing at the same time. Too healthy to identify as sick, but too weak to live the life I want. Too wealthy to feel impoverished, but financially unable to live on my own. I have an able-bodied mentality in a body that is anything but able. However, that does not mean that I feel totally comfortable when I am with a group of able-bodied people either, often because people’s "normal" lives are just so un-relatable to me.
So where do I fit in? I honestly have no idea, but maybe that’s okay. Even though my circumstances are unique, I think a lot of people feel like they don’t fit in. With one group of friends, you might feel you are too ______ (take your pick: too loud, too quiet, too into fashion, too nerdy. The list just goes on). And with someone else, you might feel the exact opposite!
So, to all of you who have sometimes felt out of place, in the wrong place, or like you don’t have a place in the world, embrace the truth that we have a place in God's eyes–free from cultural labels and expectations. I would like to end this post with an anthem from Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan's book Wild and Free.** Wouldn’t this be amazing to live out this truth?
Until next time (and hopefully not as long as last time)!
- Crissi xo
The world may tell us we’re too much and never enough.
But we can walk wildly in who God created us to be and rest freely in the work Jesus did for us.
We do not have to be confined or conformed by cultural expectations. We are unchained from our past and unafraid of our future.
We choose compassion over comparison.
We love without condition, without reserve.
**Connolly, Jess. Wild and Free (p. 230). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.