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The Privileges of Normalcy: The hidden struggles of being 'dis'abled

During the summer of 2020, I joined a Christian book club. I had been reminded of and was educated on the fact that what one person may see as a need, others may consider a privilege. In his essay on Normalcy, disability theorist Leonard Davis states that: “Why the modern binary [of] – normal/abnormal – must be maintained is a complex question.” (DAVIS 1995). He then claims “But we can begin by accounting for desire to split the bodies into two immutable categories: whole and incomplete, the abled and disabled, normal and abnormal, functional and dysfunctional.” (DAVIS 1995). I decided to create a list of what I feel are privileges, those without disability or mental health struggles MAY have and not even realise. I want to emphasise my use of the word may, as we are all humans and come from different backgrounds with varying circumstances.

1. Personal Independence

Moving out of home has become a norm in today’s society. However, when you have a disability, you may not reach the same level of independence as your peers do once you reach adulthood. This means you are often left with the boundaries that others leave behind once they start college or reach the age of 18. Want to go out to spend the day around town with a friend? You’ll probably have to check that nothing is going on at home first. Socialising or even leaving the house involves telling them where you’re going, who you’re going with, what you’re doing, and when you’re back. In short, mammy and daddy (Or whoever else is responsible for caring for you) must have a least a rough idea of what you’re doing with your day. Living at home means prioritising family. When you’re at home, it’s a case of we’re all in this together rather than the each to their own mentality that may be found in other households. This one could just be me comparing my life to those who live in ‘digs’ (renting with others their age), but I feel like it’s still the case for others.

2. Freedom from Family

When you have a disability, you are often dependent on family for support. You have to put up with your family more, even when they get on your nerves. This means washing up straight away when you’d rather eat or relax. It means feeling guilty when you choose to do your own thing instead of walking the dog straight away or helping out with jobs around the house. This guilt often comes from having fights with your parents (or guardians) about small almost insignificant things such as complaining about helping out with housework or asking what time dinner is so you don’t ruin your appetite if you need to have a late lunch. However, they are still there for you when you need them. There’s nothing like a heartfelt chat with mammy. If you do live away from home, just remember it’s a privilege, not a right. Not everyone has the ability or resources (e.g., financial or mental) to move out of home.

3. Increased risk of stigma

When you have a disability, you’re more likely to feel like people are laughing at you or something’s wrong with you. There may even be part of you that you embrace as your own, but once you are faced with a particular group of people, you feel like you’re forced to change who you are. Also, even though you may have an invisible disability, you have built up an inner paranoia that people know you have a disability, and this makes you stand out, not in a good way. There’s the old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,' but trust me, they do. Names stick and can haunt you for life. Other times, an unwanted memory comes back and takes control over how you feel. Either way, this is a call to action, don’t judge others just because they judge you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not, that’s just common decency.

4. Increased risk of vulnerability

When you have a disability like autism or even struggle with your mental health, trusting people can be challenging. When you have autism, you may be more open with people, putting a filter on what we say can be hard sometimes. People can take advantage of you for your money or personality. We also struggle with socialising and understanding (platonic) relationships which makes friendships tricky. If we have gotten hurt in the past, this will make us doubt what people are saying in future or current friendships.

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