Me Before Ableism

This post is loosely tied to the new film Me Before You. It is a story of me before ableism (#MeBeforeAbleism– a hashtag that sprang up in response. But in some ways, this post has nothing at all to do with the film, insofar as it does not talk directly about it. There’s a good article here by Emily Ladau if you need a primer on Me Before You.

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Me before ableism: not pure. Not innocent. Certainly not. But I moved through the world for quite a while not really caring how other people thought of me. I was happy to be alone, digging in the dirt with a stick and creating rich tales of a city for ants – and building it in the old roots of the pine trees with raisin boxes. Yes, I knew I was different. I had received the diagnosis of ADHD in the first grade. To me, all that meant was that things were vivid and bright and I could move fast and talk fast. It meant that I could create the most beautiful stories and sit at my desk at home and write story after story about Tabby the brown tabby spy cat. At 14, I was diagnosed as autistic.

I am not sure when not caring what people thought about me and how they treated me and how they told me I was weird changed. Maybe it was in the third grade, when I had sensory issues about sitting next to my best friend’s much younger sister and did not know how to say it properly before I had a small meltdown. My best friend’s parents shunned me for the duration of our friendship. Maybe it was sometime in elementary school when someone sneered at me, “I heard you have a behavior chart.”

I am not sure when I started trying to stop being myself and started trying to be impossibly good. This made me feel even more broken because I didn’t know how to be the “behaviorally perfect” child. School constantly overwhelmed me through much of my life – the loud and jam-packed hallways, the jeering students, the constant not having room to breathe, the bullying. The only places I found true refuge was in the art teacher’s classroom and sometimes in other teachers’ classrooms. I never understood why I couldn’t just stop interrupting in class, why I couldn’t stop lashing out at people who touched me, why everything was too loud and and impossibly crowded for me. I knew I sometimes scared people and that everything I did was fodder for cruelty. I set a bar too high for myself.

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I never went through any abusive therapies. I still learned that the way I moved through the world was wrong to people. I still learned that I was too difficult. The kid on behavior charts at school. The kid who freaked out at everything. The kid who lashed out with little to no provocation. To the kids at school, slurs.

Despite, for some period of time, making efforts at this – I never stopped looking visibly disabled in some way. Now I have come into autistic culture and community and the broader neurodiversity and disability rights community, and I am trying to unlearn the damage ableism has done with the help of friends and community.

Already I am less ashamed of being visibly different. Already I am less ashamed of not ever being able to hide. Already I am learning how to help others with the same feelings of shame.

Already, I know (even though I thought I knew already) that I am undeniably – and not regrettably or tragically, but proudly – Autistic and disabled.

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