My Shows Have Been Letting Me Down

40287567695_17060704cf_o (1)It’s no secret that media representation of the disability community is lacking to say the least. There are so few portrayals of us, and even less of persons of color with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals with disabilities, and other marginalized folx with disabilities. Even the type of disability is limited – for example non-speaking characters or characters who use assistive technology to speak are a rarity (although JJ DiMeo in NBC’s Speechless is a recent exception). In addition, certain types of disabilities are only featured as villains or background characters, a classic example being Disney’s Captain Hook. When featured as a protagonist, the focus is usually on the disability and the character ends up being used as a prop for “inspiration” like in The Good Doctor. The moral of the story is that representation of our community is rare and when we are included we’re a “feature” when we should be a staple.

Being immersed in advocacy work can be a blessing and a curse. I’ve become hyper-aware of the exclusion of my community, but that knowledge gives me the ability to speak up about it, Recently I’ve been reminded of this through some entertainment experiences. Specifically, two of my favorite shows have really let me down, not only because of the abysmal levels of representation, but also because there is such a great opportunity for inclusion.

Scrubs

It’s a show about a HOSPITAL. I know I’ve spent my fair share of time in places like Sacred Heart. However, the disabled characters are mostly sequestered to the background and often used for comedic content. Don’t get me wrong, I personally think disability can be funny, and I personally think it’s a good thing for everyone to be able to laugh at themselves and the tough stuff. However, that certainly shouldn’t be the only level of inclusion in a show when it comes to disability.

The one representation I found myself somewhat pleased with was the the character Jill Tracy. Jill is a character that recurs a few times throughout the show and seems to struggle with anxiety and other aspects of her mental health. She returns to the hospital feeling unwell and it is discovered that there are pesticides in her system. J.D. and Dr. Cox are puzzled and can’t figure out the reason for this. Finally, near the end of the episode, J.D. reviews their interactions in his head and realizes that Jill has a lot going on. He figures out that Jill took the pesticides herself because she is struggling. He and Dr. Cox catch her as she is leaving the hospital to offer their help.

As someone with mental illness and suicidal ideation, I appreciated the way that the character had trouble reaching out and the ways that she subtly did so through her actions. In my experience, it’s incredibly difficult to ask for help when feeling suicidal for fear of being a burden or feeling like you’re being weak.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

People with disabilities are twice as likely to face sexual abuse. This considered, it is not only negligent not to regularly include disabled characters in this show but it is harmful. There is not nearly enough information in the media concerning the epidemic of sexual abuse of people with disabilities, and ignoring the reality perpetuates the belief that it doesn’t happen. It happens all the time.

As a disclaimer, there is at least one episode in the series that focuses on a disabled character entitled “Disabled”. While the episode does bring up some important realities such as abuse by caregivers, but it is also a classic portrayal of the disabled character as mainly a “victim”.

Ready Player One

I recently saw this film and I really enjoyed it. It was a good sci-fi flick set in dystopian-ish future which I definitely have a weakness for, and it was mostly set in a video game which I felt made it really relevant. (It also features a favorite actress of mine, Emma Hughes) Unfortunately, I felt that there was a HUGE missed opportunity for a great disabled character. Most of the crew supporting the hero Wade Watts are only seen in cyberspace in the VR game OASIS until later on in the movie. In an everything-is-not-what-it-seems reveal, one of the characters turns out to be an 11 year-old kid and another turns out to be a woman, which is extremely contrary to both of their avatars. (The character H’s avatar is a super buff dude and it turns out that she’s Helen, a woman, not nearly as buff) I felt that this was a great opportunity for a strong disabled hero and I found myself initially even hoping that the protagonist might be disabled. When that didn’t turn out, I hoped throughout the movie that one of the supporting heroes would be disabled. The love interest did end up having a large birthmark on her face but the discussion of this was extremely surface-level, and the actress doesn’t even have a birthmark on her face in real life. Although her appearance made her unique in the movie, I found myself wanting more. The filmmakers had a real chance to do something pretty great here, and I felt they really botched it for the most part.

I know that this is being talked about within our community. For those of you who are keeping the conversation going, major props and thanks for motivating me to do so myself. We all need to make noise about this – we deserve to be seen and heard.

Some good stuff about this topic that helped me write this piece: 

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/disabled-people-representation

https://www.washington.edu/doit/dis-course-disability-representation-and-media-part-one

https://sapac.umich.edu/article/56

https://disabledpeoplesassociation.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/disability-in-movies/

 

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Discovering Self-Love

In November, I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. Putting a name to my mental illness and knowing that it is more than depression has been positive in many ways. Knowing the nature of my illness means that I can better take care of myself. Despite going through multiple traumas in the last year, I find myself more and more stable each day because I am better equipped to support myself.

In the past few months, I have learned so much about what it means to me to be someone with mental illness, and I’ve started to own it like never before. I had to start making some hard realizations, though. One of the things I had to come to terms with most is what the true nature of self-care really is.

Self-care is a term that most people who frequent the internet these days know. It has become popular, almost fashionable to talk about self care and to “treat yo self”. Listicles about “Self-Care You Should Do Right Now”abound.

I’m not saying that buying a latte is a bad way to take care of yourself. I find myself using rewards to help myself do mundane tasks that my disorder makes more challenging. However, the glamorized version of self-care that exists in popular media leaves out some very important parts of the equation.

Real self-care is more often than not uncomfortable. It means going to medical appointments even though I don’t want to. It includes doing homework even when my medication makes me sleepy, and it means doing a lot of emotional work that can be incredibly painful and taxing.

Instead of self-care, I like the term “self-love”. I like this because love is an action that requires hard decisions and a toughness that sometimes means making yourself do things that you don’t want to do.

So when you are practicing self-love, some of it is going to be difficult as hell. But your health is worth it. And when you’re done doing the hard work that loving yourself requires, go get that latte.

The Cost of Kindness

depressionEver since my last post, I’ve been struggling about how to be open about my depression in a genuine way. I spent a lot of time contemplating what to write about, and consistently struggled with what to write, feeling like none of my ideas were “enough” to encompass what it really feels like to have chronic depression. The truth is, no description can really touch what it truly feels like to live with depression every day. The best I can do is describe honestly what it feels like for me.

Everyone gets sad every now and then, but not everyone has depression. Depression means that for reasons that can vary, the person with depression can often feel hopeless, sad, and doomed with no obvious external cause. Depression can feel like you are 100 pounds heavier and drain your motivation and drive. For me, one of the hardest parts is when my depression gets tangled with my passion. I have so much that I want to do and share with the world, but often get bogged down by an anchor of doubt, anxiety, and self-loathing.

Now, I am a professional procrastinator which many times is the reason I don’t get as much done as I would like. I’m not writing this to use depression as a blanket excuse, but rather to give a glimpse of what a barrier it can be every day.

Since I’ve become more aware of my depression, I started working hard to be responsible for my mental health and take charge in my life. It doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days, but it means that I check in with myself often and have the power to make choices that are good for both my health and productivity. I do little things every day that make me feel good, like wearing cute outfits and having a yummy bagel to start my day.

Most people are understanding of physical pain and the limits it can place upon someone. Mental and emotional pain, however, is more difficult to grasp. If you have depression, remember not to be ashamed. Though you carry a burden, you are still continuing on your journey despite it and that is something to be proud of. If you don’t have depression, you probably know someone who does. They may not want to speak up about it for fear of being viewed as lazy or whiny, I know that was a fear I faced. Just remember to be as kind as possible. It costs you nothing, and it can be incredibly valuable to those around you.

Stand Up

Everything feels surreal right now. I’ve spent the past two days at Seattle University, my new school, for orientation. My new school. It’s still sinking in, as you can probably tell. It’s so incredible because I sincerely, in all honestly, did not think I would live to see life after high school at many points. I’m sure many of you can relate. In fact, I think everyone feels that way at some point during secondary school.

Now, that time is over. I’ve finally stepped into the chapter of my life where people really start to define themselves and I’m so excited. I know I have stars in my eyes for something brand new and that eventually it will become a place where I have a routine. In other words, the honeymoon phase will end. Of all the information I learned at orientation I can’t help but feel excited about how I walked with my cane confidently, how I introduced myself to others and how I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.

There was a portion of the orientation where we all assembled to discuss diversity. The speaker would say statements, and if it applied to you, you would stand. For me it pointed out that we are all very different but we all have unique challenges and components to our lives that make us who we are.

“If you have or live with someone who has a disability, please stand.”

To many of the students there the activity may have felt like a waste of time or just too invasive. Most of them probably thought it was stupid, and yeah maybe it was a little melodramatic. There was a time when I would have felt the same, but yesterday I couldn’t. I was too busy standing as tall as my 4’11 stature would allow. In that moment, I realized that I am nothing but proud and confident about who I am. Everyone has their own challenges, and mine have made me who I am. I’m no longer ashamed or apologetic because I have different abilities than everyone else. This is all to say, DO NOT BE LIKE ME.

Don’t wait until you are 18 years old to feel comfortable in your skin and to be proud of who you are. And if you’re older than 18, do not wait another second. Time putting yourself down and not loving yourself is wasted time and in addition you are preventing yourself from so much. You’re going to make mistakes and you have flaws. We all do. But you will never learn from them if you’re consumed with punishing yourself.

Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be proud of who ou are and don’t let anyone dictate how you feel about yourself. Stand up, and start moving.

 

Reflections

Life is a state of constant change. Even when we don’t know it, things around us in life are always changing. Circumstances, relationships, moods, if you think about it humans are incredibly temperamental. Simultaneously, we’re also habitual. As a child, we’ll touch a stove twice even though it burned us the first time, and we still do it as adults. We keep toxic people in our lives, we do things that are unhealthy for our bodies, and possibly worst of all, we consistently stay in mindsets that hold us back from being happy. These kinds of behaviors can be really difficult to change because sometimes we don’t realize that we can be our own worst enemy.

I have been treated poorly by people in my life, but two years ago I experienced the worst treatment I have ever known. The perpetrator was the person I know better than anyone, the person should be able to trust the most.

It was me.

Of all the times “friends” have walked all over me, the times partners mistreated me, and the times strangers have been incredibly rude to me, none of it compares to the way I treated myself during my depression. I wanted others to accept me for my disability and who I was, but I was more harsh and ignorant toward myself than any of my peers. Not to say that their words didn’t hurt and have impact. If I had one kind person in my life during those times, I may have never gotten to the dark place that I found myself in. The funny thing is that I could have, and should have, been that person for myself. Instead I dissected all of my mistakes and punished myself every day, mostly for things that i had absolutely no control over. I know I’m not the only person with a medical condition who has done this. I’ve found that the best decision I ever made was to realize that I’m not a mistake. I work hard-sometimes harder than most people- through disability and the depression and anxiety that comes with it and I’m building a future for myself. I used to be ashamed to have a visual impairment. Now, I’m proud to be exactly who I am, and I love the way it feels.

In my head, I have this kind of reverse mirror of Erised. I look into it and see all the things I used to be, and I compare it to who I have become. Stay humble, but don’t forget to give yourself credit for the changes you have made. Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you and never accept less respect than you give. Above all, respect yourself because how you carry yourself sets a precedent for how others will treat you.

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Invasion 

To all of my fellow species, I commend each and every one of you. We have achieved something I believed would never be possible. We have invaded the human-occupied planet known as “Earth”. Many species have tried before us and many will try afterward but I doubt any will reach the level of success we have achieved. We have not only invaded but we have ingrained ourselves into their society.

By masquerading as members of their own species plagued with “physical impairments” and “medical conditions” we have fooled humans into accepting us into their society and at this time I would like you to metaphorically pat yourself on the back. Hiding in plain sight is finally going to pay off when we take over this planet. We will name this planet Cure after the human term for eradicating illness where, sadly, some of our own will be staying to be closely watched as they contracted human illnesses such as Rudeness, ignorance, and Judgmentalitis.

I would like to thank my mom and dad for sending me, their alien child, on this alien mission.

Gestures of Affection,

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Eyes Wide Open

A room covered in boxes, wrappings, and bows accompanied by piles of just-opened gifts. The remains of a hearty dinner filling tummies and like a lullaby, pulling families into naps after all the anticipation and excitement. The thing I forgot about the most wonderful time of the year is that it is also the prime time for sickness. As I’m being reminded of this fact with a sore throat and the feeling of my body giving a definitive feeling of UGH, I try to think of the last time I felt this terrible. 

I don’t get sick often, but I have some memories of periods where I became part of the couch living on crackers and Gatorade. 

Surprisingly, these aren’t what comes to my mind first. I realized that the feeling that comes to my mind first has nothing to do with a bacterium or virus. Honestly, it’s much more crippling. 

The worst thing I have ever felt in my life is feeling like I was less of a person because of my physical disability. 

It’s hard to think about, hard to even write that sentence. I mean, why should I feel bad about something that I have absolutely no control over?

It seems ludicrous but I felt this way, and not just for a little while. I’m talking years of my life. I couldn’t make friends in middle and high school, at least not real ones. I ended up hanging out with any crowd that would accept me, and even there I was an outcast. 

I’m not the only one. Over the years I’ve made friends who deal with the same things I do and the story is often similar.  

So now, years later, I’ve finally realized the truth. I’ve realized that I actually have incredible value just like all of my legally/totally blind friends. But why did it take me so long to figure that out? 

Because when I was growing up there were no commercials and models and general media showing blind individuals as we truly are. 

People. 

Not an anomaly, not “wow that’s incredible they can do x,y,z considering they’re blind”. 

I wasn’t exposed to this and neither were my peers,or the peers of my friends. As a result impairments become like that curse word that even those who swear a lot refuse to say. 

 This isn’t just the case for visual impairment. Across the board physical impairments are displayed as an oddity. An oddity in itself considering that in one car accident, anyone could become a part of our underrepresented group. 

I say all of this not to be bitter but to be honest. I would never want someone to go through the isolation that I experienced during school. No one should have to because after all, this is the Information Age. Media does so much to negatively affect younger kids, giving them misconceptions about how they should look or act. Why not make it into something positive? Teach them that physical impairments happen and that those who deal with them are getting through life just the same as everyone else. We can help people to see, we just have to open their eyes. 

The White Elephant in the Room

For me, it’s the Christmas season. I love this time of year and honestly, who doesn’t? This year is tougher than most because of a recent death in my family, and I find that getting gifts for the ones I love is really helping me to get into the spirit. A thought occurred to me yesterday as I was shopping for one of my closest friends who happens to be totally blind. She had full vision up until about a year ago, and I can’t imagine what a change that must have been. She’s courageous and positive and I admire her so much. Anyway, I was thinking that a change like that could making something simple like knowing what you want for Christmas somewhat of a challenge (and by default, make it harder for family members to choose a gift) We are a sight-oriented society and when your sight is lost, there’s no denying that your world changes. In light of this I have decided to make a list of my favorite gift ideas for this season that are great no matter how much vision you have.

1. Shut the Box

This game is great and fun to play in a large group or solo. The numbers would be an easy fix with jumbo dot sticker or tactile number stickers depending on the person’s braille proficiency. You can find it on Amazon here.

2. Scentsy

Pretty much any scentsy product is a win. They revolve around making spaces smell wonderful plus unlike a candle scentsy uses light bulbs so there’s no danger of getting burnt by an open flame. Visit their site here.

3. Bath & Body Works True Blue Collection

I love B&BW in general, but their True Blue Spaa line is greath. The products are soothing and make your skin feel oh-so-soft. These products are a great way to pamper someone on your list. Browse the collection here

4. Braille Jewelery

3 Sisters Braille Necklaces // Braille Inspired "SISTER" Necklace // Sister Necklace // Family // Braille // Big Sister Little Sister

Braille jewelry can show someone special that you love them for all of their unique qualities. The pieces can often be personalized. There are tons of great options here

5. Talking Measuring Cup

Product Details

For those who love to bake. Get it on amazon here

6. Ambutech

This place is great for any and everything to do with mobility needs! They have tons of options so you can get something truly unique. Visit the site here

Of course there are tons of other options for someone on your list who has a visual impairment, but these are a few out-of-the-box ideas you may not have considered. I wish you all happy shopping and and an abundance of joy this Christmas. ❤