The first of a new series looking at my experiences, thoughts and feelings around being disabled, battling depression and anxiety and what life can be like for a young person.
First up, being young and disabled: what does it really mean?
I wanted to start doing a new series of blogs on disability and mental health so here is my thoughts, feelings and experiences of being visually impaired.
So, shall we barrel headfirst into it?
There is a certain stereotype that surrounds visually impaired or blind people, cane users or Guide Dog owners. This is fundamentally one generic view many of the public have and is reinforced by social media and cultural influences such as television or film. If you have a sight impairment, the perspective from the public is that you are completely blind and are an older gentleman using a Guide Dog or cane. And you are unable to do anything for yourself so must rely on others.
Now, as many of you have guessed, I do not fall into either of these categories and that is very confusing for some people. I have just turned 23, I am registered blind but have some useful sight and I am female. I use a Guide Dog to get around and am fairly independent in which I can use public transport and go out by myself.
The amount of times people assume I am either lying about my sight, assuming I am training my Guide Dog or am completely blind is insane. It happens daily to the point I want to pull my hair out when I have to try and explain, justify or argue the fundamentals of my disability. Every day I have to justify why I use my Guide Dog or my long cane, why I have to hold my phone so close to my face and why my eyes wobble. I have been called ignorant when I have not understood something or misheard a question, I’ve been told I am too young to have a visual impairment and don’t get me started on the people who assume my eye conditions are easily fixed.
Being young and having an invisible disability is difficult.
I have had a sight impairment since I was born. I will one day go blind altogether, I don’t know when this is going to happen. It might be in ten years, it might be tomorrow. Being told I am too young to have a disability is like a kick to the face. I didn’t choose this, I manage with techniques and equipment which assist me with everything I do, it’s been trial and error, a lot of tears and hard work. But at the moment, I feel like there is just too much stereotyping, hypocrisy, and judging of people with disabilities, specifically visual impairment.
I grew up to be kind, not judging people before I know their story, why should my story be any different? Being young and disabled is a common thing. I have friends who are disabled, we studied together on my undergraduate degree, I have friends from my master’s degree with mental health issues. Disability and mental health are not restricted to one age group, it’s across so many different generations, backgrounds, personalities. Being young does not mean that these things do not happen to young people. Disabilities ad mental health issues don’t care how young, old, poor, rich, popular, ostracised you are. It just happens and sometimes there is no explanation for it.
The responses I have received about my disability from a wide range of people of all ages but a particular generation of people, meaning old enough to know better can be very hurtful at times. It can make me not want to step outside my front door because I am so scared of what kind of abuse and discrimination I might receive. I either get the patronising response of ‘oh you’re so brave, you’re such an inspiration, it’s amazing you get out and about.’ Or I get the judging, questioning responses of ‘why can’t have you have surgery? If you’re doing a degree, how can you see to do it? You don’t look blind. Are you training that dog?’
These are but a few comments and to get these kinds of remarks daily is soul-crushing. I appreciate genuine people asking about my visual impairment and I don’t mind telling them about my eye conditions, it’s when those ignorant people try to shove their opinion down my throat that I get upset and angry. Visual impairment is not black and white, it is not you are either sighted, or you are blind, there is a massive spectrum of visual impairment. The need for society to label someone with a disability or mental health issue is demeaning and unjustified. I might be young, I might be disabled and have anxiety and depression, but what does age have to do with me going to Nottingham, meeting friends or going shopping with my Guide Dog? Nothing.
I started this new series to raise awareness of disabilities, visual impairment and mental health issues. There is not enough representation of young and disabled people in the media and I want to change that. I can’t speak for all disabilities, mental health issues or visually impaired people, I can only speak for myself, my experiences and feelings. But if you are reading this and you are disabled, maybe you’re in a wheelchair or are hearing impaired or maybe you’re visually impaired too, no matter your disability, no matter your age, you never have to justify yourself to anyone. The kinds of people who expect you to explain, the reason why you are using a Guide Dog, why you have a Blue Badge and park in the disabled spaces or sit in the priority seating on public transport are not worth the time of day. Disabled people, disabled young people cannot be typecast, disabilities and mental health affect people in so many different ways.
And why should it be anyone’s business? Voicing your opinion, particularly if it’s a negative one can have harmful effects on disabled people. By telling me I am too young to have a disability, I instantly feel like I am a burden on society, I overthink and try to play down my visual impairment. I shouldn’t, there is no need for me to panic and worry just because someone can’t understand visual impairments affect a wide range of people. Why shouldn’t I get my master’s degree and pursue my writing career whilst I still have some useful sight? What do you expect me to do? Live out my stereotype and have no independence or drive to go beyond my disability? There are many people who are severely disabled and need constant care, I am breaking the stereotype for them, I am living my life to the fullest extent for those who can’t. And thinking of it, I am proud to say I’m a young disabled person, because why not? There isn’t anything to lose, I don’t feel ashamed of being disabled. It is the hand life has dealt me, I don’t know why but it is. I refuse to back down, not use my voice for something good and make the most out of my disability. Because being young and disabled is not just my label, I am a writer, an editor and proof-reader, I’m a friend, a sister, an aunt, a gamer and lover of music. Just because my disability is constantly there, I use my Guide Dog every day and it draws attention to me which I hate, it does not define who I am. And it shouldn’t define you either.
It doesn’t matter if you are disabled or not, be kind to each other, don’t make assumptions and just do whatever it is you can and are comfortable with. At the end of the day, you must be happy in your skin, try your best and don’t ever let anyone question, judge or throw hurtful comments at you. There is a special place in hell for those kinds of people.
Be brave, be scared, take time out for yourself, cry, protest the stereotypes, change perspectives and show what you are capable of. Because no one should be made to feel like a second-class citizen. We have just as much right to live our lives to the fullest extent and do what we love best.
Most of all, be kind to each other.
I’ll leave you with these quotes,
Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up, I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain... To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices - today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it -Kevyn Aucoin.
My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically – Stephen Hawking.
When you hear the word ‘disabled,’ people immediately think about people who can’t walk or talk or do everything that people take for granted. Now, I take nothing for granted. But I find the real disability is people who can’t find joy in life and are bitter –Teri Garr.
I have had this desire my whole life to prove people wrong, to show them I could do things they didn’t think I could do – David A. Paterson.
Until the next time.