I had forgotten until my professor reminded us in class last week that we have an upcoming project. We each have to take on a disability for a day and write a paper about what we learned from the struggles of those 24 hours.
I was sort of surprised when my professor, who is not the touchy feely type, looped one of her arms through mine before class to talk to me. To let me know that she was excusing me from a part of the project. You see, I don’t have to assume a disability like my classmates. I just get to write about one of mine.
I’m not upset or offended by this professor, because she gets it. She completed her degree while on chemo for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and has subsequently beaten breast cancer (and had a quadruple bypass) while working and teaching full time.
But the idea metaphorically knocked me on my ass.
My classmates are spending this weekend learning how to function without the use of one side of their body (stroke) or with an immobilized leg (fractured distal femur) and I am living it. I am laid out flat on my couch because my head hurts so much today that simply being upright is almost too taxing right now. I’m studying for a test that I couldn’t take on time because I was literally bedridden with pain while the material was presented.
And yet, when I started thinking about the project, I had to stop and ask my husband if just pain is actually a disability. Because it’s not like a stroke or a broken leg. It’s less tangible, less documentable.
I don’t have a sling or crutches for my disability. I don’t have a placard on my license plate or an assistive device to support me. I have a scar that I can cover with my hair and I have invisible, never-ending pain. I have tingling in my face on bad days and extra weakness in my left hand. I have paralyzing fear over a medical test next week that may very well determine a huge portion of my future. But it’s hidden. It’s not a disability in the way that we usually think of them.
I’m finally realizing after months of pain, that it is a disability. As much as I’d love to have a good reason or ability to deny it, pain disables me.
Pain disables me from focusing on school, on life, on most anything.
Pain disables me from being a normal 26 year old. From going to the gym, from drinking and having fun with people my age.
Pain disables me from making plans more than a week ahead of time.
Pain disables me from sleeping more than a few hours at night.
Pain disables me from being the person I used to be. From being happy.
Pain disables who I am, to my very core.
And so my classmate will turn in their slings, crutches and braces tomorrow, marking the end of their day of disability at the very same time I mark the 106th consecutive day with mine. They will consider what the day was like and write a paper, I will consider my life and write one. Some of them will forget the 24 hours they had to play this part and live this life. Some will be annoyed at the inconvenience.
But all of them get to go back to normal. All of them regain the use of their arms and legs, hands and feet.
There are few things in the universe that I wouldn’t do to have that luxury, to be able to return this disability. To be normal. To forget this nightmare and move on with my life.
To be abled again.