Stop Telling Disabled People We Can Do Anything by Force of Will

Trying to Do What I Simply Could Not

On Monday, October 10, I accidentally gave myself a concussion. It was not glamorous as people would have you believe; I concussed myself on a wall of all things. I collected myself, went to work, and then work convinced me to go to urgent care after a persistent headache for three hours.

That is what I remember of Monday. It’s a really great thing that they gave me super detailed discharge instructions, because I remember almost nothing of being seen at the urgent care place. I don’t really remember Tuesday, but I’m pretty sure I slept for most of it. On Wednesday I went to therapy and to a psychiatry appointment to get my ADHD and other psych meds. I don’t remember much of what was said during either of them. I do remember not being able to sleep more than six and a half hours in two days.

Since Wednesday, I have been trying to work. I did manage to do some things on Thursday, but not as much as I would have liked (and it took me five or six hours to do one task). Apart from that brief time on Thursday, I have not written anything longer than a paragraph and besides informal communication, or done anything requiring more than two steps (in this case, opening the Google Doc! And then translating my thoughts into words). I haven’t been able to update my Psych Ward Reviews page with categories and tags, edit a draft of an article for a multimedia outlet, or figure out how to microwave anything that requires you to microwave it in two steps.

This is not for lack of trying. I have sat in front of the computer for hours, opening Google Docs and work related items. But whenever I tried to focus, everything coherent disappeared and many different things bounced around my brain. My brain simply hasn’t been able to connect the dots. Executive dysfunction, which I already have a difficult time with, has been several times more intense.

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How to keep a heating pad on your head: Wrap a scarf around your entire self, basically. Begin image description: Kit, a white nonbinary person with tortoiseshell glasses, propped on a colorful blanket. Kit’s hair is mostly covered by a scarf to hold a heating pad in place. End image description.

Stop Telling Us We Can Do Anything

So, this is in fact a disability post (the discussion of temporary disability as a thing is complicated, so I’m not going to go into that. But some people do end up disabled from post-concussion effects that can last for a really long time). But my main point is that force of will isn’t enough to “overcome” sometimes. Multiple disabled people have talked about how “you can put anything you set your mind to!” is damaging for disabled people.

As Real Social Skills notes in the blog post “You can do more when you remember that you’re disabled,” when people assume others have the same cognitive and physical abilities, “This often leads to the assumption that people who aren’t doing a task either haven’t been told what to do, or aren’t sufficiently motivated to do it.” I internalized this – I kept sitting there for hours, berating myself for not being able to do things I usually could. When I ran out of ADHD meds once, I did the same thing.

A fellow disabled person, Ruti Regan, recently introduced me to the book “Can I Play Too?” It’s a children’s book, but it really illustrates one of my points – in this case, the snake wants to play catch with an elephant and a pig. The elephant and the pig aren’t sure how to include the snake. The snake has no arms or legs to play catch the traditional way, and (ironically to me at the moment) ends up with the ball bouncing off its head painfully several times before wanting to give up. But then the trio comes up with an idea to use the snake as the “ball” to toss back and forth, and everyone gets to participate.

It’s important to remember that disabled people have different physical and cognitive ways of being, and that we shouldn’t have to “overcome” our disability to be meaningfully included – and no, we can’t “overcome” things just by “putting our minds to it.”

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3 thoughts on “Stop Telling Disabled People We Can Do Anything by Force of Will

  1. My mom recently had a concussion. She said she as a non-autistic person has discovered for the first time what a lot things must be like for me/our autistic family members/her students, since there is a lot of symptom overlap. Especially with sensory overload, she cannot believe the world is so overwhelming and is amazed that I have been able to stand it as much as I do lol.

    I had a concussion when I was in 7th grade and even just back then they knew a lot less about head injuries than they do now. I got back into life way too quickly, ended up having to drop down class levels and all this stuff.

    I’ve recently developed a bit of a special interest in the brain injury community. From what I have learned the focus on rehabilitation and recovery of all your cognitive abilities through force of will and perseverance, with nearly no focus on adaptive strategies, has been really damaging to the community. They have been historically really disconnected from the larger disability community as well, but there is a growing small sort of neurodiversity movement in the brain injury community. It’s interesting to connect with people and see what is going on there.

    This comment was entirely that relevant to this blogs actual point but it’s the things it made me think of!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Super interesting read. I’m a mom. My 24 yr old son has autism.
    You are a great writer. Thanks for teaching me the way my son thinks.

    He is terrific too, but struggles so much.

    There is so much nore to learn about autism and how it affects peoples lives.

    Keep writing. I will keep reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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