I don’t speak about this very much, but perhaps I should: I am a young woman with physical and mental disabilities. If you saw a photo of me, you’d never know. Even an acquaintance might not guess. There are times when I look very healthy, and perfectly functional.
I have POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), which has gotten much worse in my 30s, as it tends to do. Basically, it means that my body doesn’t know how to pump blood to my brain when I’m standing. So when I’m upright, I have about a minute before I start feeling ill and lightheaded. Eventually, if I don’t sit down, I will faint. So as someone once dramatically put it, I can never stand still. Walking slowly has the same effect.
For this reason, I often use a wheelchair. In the chair, suddenly my disability is visible. And, I’ve noticed, something else becomes visible — other people’s ignorance and pig-headed rudeness. You’d be surprised how loud my partner Willow has to shout to get someone to shift over so she can wheel me by.
I also have DID (dissociative identity disorder). Yes, I have multiple personalities. A lot of them. But I put a spiritual spin on it and don’t really view it as a disability personally — I’m just “differently abled”. And again, generally you wouldn’t have a clue. Except for times like yesterday.
Yesterday, we went to the Royal Winter Fair (think hundreds of cows and a petting zoo). I was in a wheelchair, and my inner kids got to “come out” to play. I encourage this, and it’s normal for me. When a four-year-old personality is out, I sound and act exactly like a four-year-old. Because in that moment, I am four.
But the reaction from others is, somewhat understandably, confused. People tend to think I’m developmentally or intellectually delayed, especially when I’m in a wheelchair.
Yesterday, when we were at the guinea pig display, and my inner kids came out to pet them, the lady at the display was clearly uncomfortable. And yet, when we started talking with a seven-year-old boy wearing a paper crown, he barely even paused to notice how we were acting. He just wanted us to know how soft the animals’ fur was, and helpfully pointed out which one was softest for us to pet. He made our day, and I wish more people were like that big-hearted little boy.