Psychology is littered with tropes that limit people with disability. This is the first of a series of blogs that examine these stereotypes and offers useful alternatives.
The most common stereotypes is “you must mourn your dreams of a normal future.” I was taught that expectant or new parents whose newborn is diagnosed with a disability will go through a period of grief for the normal, healthy child in order to accept their child properly. The parents are likely freaking out because of the uncertainty of their child’s health and future and fear that they will not be properly supported. That’s not grief. Preparing for a newborn is stressful enough. Add a health risk and things get very stressful for a long time.
As an adult, the psychologist wanted me to mourn my normalcy as part of adjusting to my new circumstances, aka disability. It sounds helpful at first until you realize, ‘You don’t think I will have a purposeful future because I’m disabled!’ It was a lesson in learning to see yourself as less. After a few months of sessions, I was adjusted now, she asked, “Well, what do you think you want to do with your life next? You seem quite driven, how about advocacy work?” In other words, you can volunteer for the MS Society if you need to keep busy. I think that is about all you can handle.
To be fair at the time, I could not write my name, walk without assistance, and the right side of my face was still a little droopy. I’m sure she was just trying to be helpful. I was too concerned with trying to figure out how to run my new body and operate my newly speckled brain. I thought we just said I wouldn’t have a future that mattered. My education, intelligence, and experience were not enough to overcome my disability. Now that we’ve mourned my normal future let me reach into my deflated bag of dreams and see what is left. Nothing, and I don’t want to volunteer at a place associated with the disease that just robbed me of my future.
It took another year, out of therapy, to realize that I was different. The world ignored the psychologist and the future continued to unfold. I knew if I wanted a dream future, I would need to invent it since models that I could fit into did not exist. Rather than doing aptitude tests, lists and multiple-choice questions I asked, what feelings do I want to experience from working. I want to feel gratitude, competent, flexible, silly, excited, and calm. I wanted to continue to speak in my first language, visual art. Disability lead me to my career.