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A few weeks ago, my wife and I were watching the latest season of Queer Eye, specifically the episode with a wheelchair-bound hero, when she asked me a question.
Do you think of yourself as a disabled person?
I didn’t know how to respond at first. My gut instinct was “not at all”. But before I could even form the words my mind immediately turned to all the things I couldn’t do over the past decade. I pretty quickly came down the only honest answer: “I don’t know, I’ll need to think about that.”
Over the last decade I’ve been continually confronted by things that I cannot do or that are harder for me than for others. I’ve experienced a world where I was constantly reminded of my limitations. I missed out on opportunities at work and socially.
I couldn’t play ultimate with my friends in college due to pain. I couldn’t go snorkeling because my hips didn’t bend that direction. I’m the first to get uncomfortable in meetings and extended flights used to be excruciating. And let’s not even talk about the costs of fatigue.
My employer’s ADA compliance guidelines define “disability” as “a physical […] impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities [such as] caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, […] sleeping, […] concentrating, thinking…”. That interpretation leaves relatively little doubt that I am disabled.
So I guess I am disabled?
When I quit my previous job, it was because we didn’t have any margin in our lives and I was burning out. I learned the hard way, but very thoroughly, what I am willing to accept in a job and what I am not. Too many people spend their eir lives tolerating bullshit because “it’s fine”. In my new job, the feedback I’ve received has been nothing but positive and I’ve generally exceeded expectations, but I’ve never worked overtime.
In the last five years, I’ve spent a huge amount of time, energy, and resources focusing on my health. At one point I was deadlifting 200 pounds. I ran roughly a 5K each week last summer. In 30 seconds on an assault bike I can output 16 calories. On the scale of all humans ever, these (and a dozen other accomplishments I’m proud of) are nothing. But compared to 30-something Americans in 2023, it’s actually pretty good, maybe even above average.
I’ve learned to manage my life, stress, and emotions such that I am rarely affected by the various flavors of depression or anxiety that afflict my generation n.
On the few occasions I’ve done DIY activities or hikes with my friends, most have actually commented on how I just keep going and don’t stop or take a rest.
That all makes me sound more badass than disabled… (Trust me, I’m no badass)
Ultimately, I think my final answer is the most annoying and engineery you could’ve predicted. I’m just me.
There are some things I can’t do. There are some things that I shouldn’t do. And there are some things that I won’t do.
But I mainly focus on the things that I can do.
And I try to spend my time doing the things that only I can do.
Maybe, the most inclusive thing we can do is reject labels and categories, and just accept everyone we know and meet as an individual. With all the complexity, nuance, and compassion that that requires.