Why did I write that I am “basically broken”? Because I am disabled? I’ve been on a long, insular journey since I wrote those words, but I remember clearly that the word disabled never sat right in my mouth. It had a bitter taste. It was hard to accept and fully come to terms with being disabled.
I have suffered two strokes and it has affected me immeasurably. I changed a lot, I became weaker physically. My brain was left damaged on both sides and I had to adapt fast to ensure my recovery was full. I unfortunately didn’t adapt quickly enough and was left with damage beyond repair. It left a palpable sense of loss and I ultimately felt like a different person. People call it an “invisible disability” – I preferred to think of it as no disability. My body failed me and my big dreams, and I was angry at it. I didn’t want to give it a term. It didn’t deserve one.
“The fact that I have a disability is something that I am learning to own and be proud of.”
I didn’t want to be labelled as “disabled” when I wrote that note, because I thought that what it actually meant was broken. It was a miserable time in my life because I refused to accept who I was. Someone once told me: “You’re wasting your life worrying about what other people think of you. We love you so much, why can’t you love yourself?” It all sounds so cliché, but honestly, it sparked a change. It didn’t cure my insecurities related to my disability, but it did spark the journey of learning to view them in a more positive light. The fact that I have a disability is something that I am learning to own and be proud of.
A small card on my mirror reads: “What makes you different makes you beautiful.”, a welcome and necessary change from the message in my Notes app. It is helping me accept that while I am different, my soul has grown and developed because of this change. Being different is never a bad thing. The ideal beauty standard entrenched in our society is a myth; beauty is subjective. This aloof notion is often associated with outside appearances, but inner beauty goes leaps and bounds beyond this superficial two-dimensional view.
“I have been through experiences that a regular 20-year-old hasn’t. I have seen the real and raw emotion that comes when touching death and it has changed how I view the world and my appreciation for life.”
Disabled people are beautiful. We are funny, too. We are people who love and cry. I have been made to feel like an outcast for my disability; not by people I know, but by strangers who don’t know my story. My voice is very weak and slightly slurred; unusual I would say, but usual is boring and I am learning to accept my voice. The funny looks on public transport when I talk to my friends is something which I definitely haven’t missed during lockdown.
Until recently, I’d always thought of my disability as a weakness, something which went directly against my mother’s lessons which had taught me to be strong and fearless. I’d think, how can someone who has a disability be strong? This was an intrusive thought, one that has replayed over and over in my mind since the age of 12. I came to learn during the latter parts of my teenage years that this thought was flawed beyond belief.
My disability has built my character to one of irreversible strength. I have been through experiences that a regular 20-year-old hasn’t. I have seen the real and raw emotion that comes when touching death and it has changed how I view the world and my appreciation for life. I am thankful that I am still alive; and through great self-acceptance, I am thankful that I am disabled. Without the strokes I can confidently say that I would not be the woman I am today. The Amber who lives and thrives today would not be who she currently is without those awful experiences. My life would’ve been very different I predict, and I love my life now.
“I like to say that my disability doesn’t define me, and it definitely doesn’t, but it has moulded me into the headstrong woman I am today. I finally love and accept her.”
My journey to self-acceptance was unequivocally facilitated by lockdown. I was forced to stay at home and sit in my own company. Usual activities like going out and seeing friends were snatched away from all of us and admittedly it was a hard transition. For the first couple of weeks I was lost without a distraction. It was then that I decided to face my insecurities head on.
I first unfollowed every account on Instagram which depicted the picture-perfect girl. These accounts had been affecting my mental health – seeing fitness gurus in their plush London homes living a seemingly flawless life did take its toll on me. I began doing things I really enjoy, like painting, writing and baking bread. It was definitely some long overdue time for myself. As I began spending more time alone, I slowly began to feel more comfortable in my own company and in turn I began loving myself more. I no longer needed a distraction because I realised that I am enough. It was that simple for me.
“The first thing I noticed before I had a disability was that the people in the media weren’t the same colour as me. After the strokes it also became apparent that hardly anybody had a disability. … We should be seen and heard.”
I love who I am growing to be. Granted it’s taken me 20 years, but lockdown has brought me to myself: a patient and forgiving woman. I like to say that my disability doesn’t define me, and it definitely doesn’t, but it has moulded me into the headstrong woman I am today. I finally love and accept her.
A harsh realisation I faced while growing up was that media representation had a very narrow scope of what was considered worthy. The first thing I noticed before I had a disability was that the people in the media weren’t the same colour as me. After the strokes it also became apparent that hardly anybody had a disability. Everyone spoke with crystal clear voices, unlike mine. This made me feel invisible, as if people like me didn’t matter enough to be represented.
Times are changing, but slowly. We should be seen and heard. I have learned that having a disability is nothing to be ashamed of. It should be something people like me claim with a loud voice. We have survived and we are stronger for it. Society may want to label us as misfits and the media may not want to represent us, but we must unite in the cause for change.
Amber is a journalist at PressPad, a freelancer writer and a student at the University of Kent. She writes about race, disability and social issues. @AmberSunner