Disability and Identity   Leave a comment

I don’t understand why people want to police what we call ourselves.

I have ADHD. When I’m speaking to people, I usually say “I’m ADD.” When I’m writing about people who have ADHD, I talk about “ADHDers.”

Yes, I am more than my ADHD. I am more than my executive dysfunction.

But it is an intrinsic part of who I am, because it’s helped shape me into the person I am and it continues to influence my life in a myriad of ways.

I mean, I am also a Christian, a cis woman, taller-than-average (I’m 5’9”; the average height for a cis woman in North America is 5’6”), overweight, a brunette, creative, organized, a reader, a writer, an editor, and a nerd. I have tinnitus, visual snow, hyperacusis, and misophonia, and I wear glasses. I’m a housewife.

Some of these descriptors are things I chose; others are not. Why is it okay to say that “I am” some of these things but not okay to say that “I am” other of these things? Saying that I’m a brunette doesn’t define me any more than saying that I have brown hair does. So why does it matter whether I say that I “am” ADHD, that I “have” ADHD, or that I’m an ADHDer?

Thinking positively about disability doesn’t mean rejecting the fact that there are difficulties (extreme difficulties, or it wouldn’t be a disability) inherent to the condition.

I take medication and I advocate at least trying it because it can help people deal with their executive dysfunction long enough to actually learn skills they need in order to manage without it (at least for a little while). Medication makes a lot of things about my life much easier. I still struggle with my symptoms, but it’s easier to deal when I’m on my meds.

But ADHD is and will always be a part of who I am; I can’t escape it, and I don’t want to. Sure, it would be nice to not have to deal with executive dysfunction on a daily basis, but I have absolutely no idea who I would be if I didn’t have ADHD. I don’t know how I would relate to the world if it suddenly disappeared from my life. I don’t know what I would have grown up to be like if I didn’t have ADHD. And while I’m sure there’s an alternate universe in which I don’t have ADHD, I seriously doubt I’ll ever meet that version of myself. And that’s okay.

I choose to identify myself as being ADHD, as being an ADHDer. I choose to struggle through my difficulties. I choose to medicate while I work on learning skills I need to manage my life and my home. I choose to keep ADHD a part of myself, a part of my identity, a part of how I relate to the world. ADHD causes me plenty of difficulties (else I wouldn’t have been diagnosed with it), and I am hard pressed to know which of my talents and gifts are a result of my ADHD. So I choose to think of it as a neutral aspect of myself. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, just like my height can be. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun, just like my creativity can be.

Because thinking differently about disability doesn’t mean only seeing it in a positive light. Thinking positively about disability doesn’t mean ignoring the difficulties.

It just means accepting it and understanding it, and learning to incorporate it into your life – however you may choose to do that.

(That last paragraph means that if you don’t want to make your disability part of your identity the way I have, that’s okay. It’s your choice, and I’m not going to police the language you use about yourself. This post is about getting people to really listen to disabled folks about what we want to be called, instead of citing parents, professors, teachers, and professionals and telling us we’ve picked the wrong term.)

Posted March 7, 2013 by karalianne in Identity

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