Are you the kind of person who just meets people anywhere you go? The supermarket, dog park, pharmacy? Or are you the bar-going type? Online dater? Doesn’t matter does it? Because all those conversations start off pretty much the same way. Hey, how are you; what’s your name; what do you do? Ahh…and it was going so well. Oh I’m actually on disabil….see ya! We’ve all been there. We’ve all had those thoughts. The “who is ever going to want to be with me? Who would ever put up with this insanity? Why would anyone choose to be with someone in my condition?” thoughts. Many won’t. Some will, but for the wrong reasons. Because they have a need to fill and taking care of you does that. Trying to “fix” you does that. But here’s the thing…there are people out there who don’t care what you do. They don’t care that you aren’t “able,” that you can’t work, that you live with pain they cannot imagine. Hard to believe right? If you can’t quite get there…let’s go back to that dreaded question…”what do you do?”
Why does our profession count for so much? How did it come to define who or what we are? When we lost our ability to work, did we stop being who we were? Or what we’ve always been? Did the person we are suddenly cease to exist too? No dammit! Ok, so yes, it sometimes feels that way. But the REAL answer is NO! We are not our job. Let me repeat that. WE ARE NOT OUR JOB. I used to work as a public outreach specialist for an environmental consulting firm. I was good at my job. I didn’t always love it. It challenged me. I traveled. I helped people. And there were parts of it I couldn’t stand. But the job was never my identity. Yet somehow, when we are stripped of our ability to work, no matter what that work is, we DO feel stripped of such a big part of ourselves. Partly because it strips us of our independence – but that is different and we HAVE to make that distinction. Partly because some of us truly love our jobs and we miss them. But that doesn’t change WHO we are or WHY we loved that work.
What if no one was allowed to talk about their jobs when asked who and what they are? How might that change the dynamics of dating, making friends, all kinds of human interactions? How would you answer? How DO you answer? I’m tired of answering with “well, actually I’m on disability so I don’t actually do anything.” Well that’s total B.S. Anyone on disability knows that being on disability is a full time job. I manage my condition, deal with insurance issue after issue after issue; doctor’s appointments, pharmacies, billing issues, coding issues. It’s exhausting. So no, I don’t do nothing. But all that stuff that fills an absolutely inordinate amount of time – that’s not who or what I am either, any more than my former job was. But here’s the real gem – it doesn’t determine my value either – not to myself, not to anyone worth my time.
Sounds like a bunch of idealistic B.S., I know. Everyone judges right? Wrong. There are people out there who don’t run. Who look at me as a person, rather than a liability or a charity case. There are people who see strength where others see failure or, my favorite – someone “working the system.” Please. If any of those people had ever tried living within the system – they’d drop that opinion real quick. It sucks. I didn’t want this. I didn’t choose this. This is not who or what I am. And it’s not who or what you are either.
So here’s my challenge. Answer. Answer the questions we all dread. What do you do? Tell me about yourself? Who are you? What are you? Leave former careers out of it. Leave disability out of it, if you want. This isn’t about lying or deception. This is about getting to the part of you that isn’t your disability. No one is going to fall in love with your disability – they’re going to fall in love with YOU. So dig deep. I have a feeling you’ve forgotten much of what ought to be in those answers. Let people see you. The REAL you. Not just the labels or the past or the stereotypes. Write it down. Scream it out loud. Tell it to a stranger. Tell it to yourself. Remember it. Believe it. Do. Not. Let. It. Go. Again.
Here’s to truth, denying jobs as identities and to the REAL YOU!