Several of my friends and family members have disabilities. Since I was old enough to understand what "disabled" meant, I've always been very careful with the word and its synonyms so as to only apply them when appropriate and merited. When my migraines turned chronic two years ago, it never even crossed my mind that I might have a disability.
When I started missing a day or two of my full-time internship every couple of weeks, and stopping meeting deadlines because I couldn't focus at work with a raging migraine pounding against my forehead, I began to think about what would happen when I returned to classes next semester (not to mention the deadlines I had already missed at my internship!).
I went to a neurologist for the first time in October. She was the first medical professional I'd ever met in my life who believed me when I told her that I had migraines - I described the headache, the aura, the nausea, the family history, and she agreed, that yes - I do have migraines, and yeah, it's about time I used modern medicine to address them.
It took me four more months to register with my university's Disability Resource Center. I felt out of place in the office, which was outfitted with overstuffed chairs and non-fluorescent lights and a "no-cellphone" rule, so as not to trigger or alarm other students. I felt like this office catered to those who were, well, disabled, and I certainly didn't fit that category.
When I met my disability specialist, things changed. She told me how she worked on the Americans with Disabilities Act, to ensure that individuals with all types of impairments - physical, like the one she had, mental, behavioral... they would be covered. She discussed how my neurological disease could be a physical impairment, speaking to the limitations I already lamented. And she helped me develop reasonable accommodations for my classes, understanding that my disease is not predictable and so I would need a little extra help along the way.
Above all, she helped me see that my disease can be a disability, and that having a disability allows me to access a vocabulary to speak about my migraines with my teachers, my employers, my co-workers, and my loved ones. It gives me a more nuanced understanding of the challenges I face, and helps me put my life into perspective against the lives of so many others - those living with disabilities, and those living without them.
Which are you most sensitive to?