Do You Identify as Disabled?
In an age of identity politics, so many people join a group as a means to gain broader awareness and support for their particular interest. Some of the most prominent groups represent race and gender issues. They overlap with disability rights, LGBTQ, immigrants, ethnic and religious organizations, and many more.
Joining groups that reflect our concerns
Until the late 20th century, media covered government and social movements as separate entities. But with the proliferation of social media sites, we can now join hundreds of groups that reflect our concerns. These groups also raise funds, support politicians that promise legislation to benefit them, and provide online resources for even more services and information about other groups to join. The possibilities seem endless and millions sign up every day.
Overindulgence of fact and opinion
But not everyone is head-over-heels in love with this phenomenon. Some are torn. I count myself among the tattered. On the one hand, joining MS support groups and signing up for newsletters from reputable disease organizations validates me, keeps me up-to-date on the latest research, and connects me with others that understand my suffering. But on the other side of it, I get easily overwhelmed by what can feel like an overindulgence of fact and opinion. Like ice cream, digesting a little is harmless. But eat a lot and pretty soon you've got a bellyache. You can replace ice cream with kale and still have agita. Too much of a good thing can make anybody run to the bathroom eventually.
The kindness of strangers online
Now, before you hoist my head on a pike and parade it over the cobblestones by torchlight, please know that I love special interest groups more than you might imagine. The kindness of strangers is priceless. Love is blind—and that’s why these cyber connections work so well. We are not distracted by the other’s facial tics, skin color, vocal peculiarities, and annoying-sounding laughs (not to mention, bad jokes). It’s as pristine an interaction as you're gonna get between two large-brained mammals that judge each other by petty things like bad breath. There is no halitosis on the internet.
But also the worst parts of human nature
But there is something else on the internet that is even more offensive than bodily odors and secretions. From name-calling to religious proselytizing. Flinging ill-advised remedies at those that didn’t ask for advice in the first place. From fake account scamming to death threats, the worst parts of human nature play out on a flat screen the size of a wallet. But I’m no slave to this hard-skinned box. I can turn it off. Or make better choices. I can listen with a different ear to what once seemed mercenary and manipulative. A Capital One credit card shill can sound like a Zen master if you’d only listen more deeply:
What’s in your wallet?
Before I could hear that as a Zen koan I had to wrestle with the existential questions. As immersed in disease advocacy as I am, do I always identify as disabled? Only when it benefits me. When I filed a claim for Social Security disability. When I join a new group and describe myself, my disabled status is either high or low on the list of identifiers depending on the focus of that group. I might use it to rationalize or otherwise legitimize my insights on somebody’s confessional post. I know how you feel . . . I’ve been through holy s*%t hell, too. Here’s why...
Long before I had MS...
But I chafe at the label most of the time. Long before I had MS, I identified as a musician. An Italian-American. A female Holden Caulfield, hater of all phonies. And so much more.
My articles on this site show it. My perspective rings out in every paragraph:
Here’s what it feels like to be alive in these times—and, I have MS.
Have you ever heard someone say the following: