In his post on cripple identity, William Peace talks about the fact that non-disabled bodies with their non-disabled functions are seen as the norm, and disabled people never fit in. As Peace gets older, he develops an increasingly carefree attitude regarding these ideas, thereby embracing life and his disabled identity in life.
As I read Peace’s post, several points came to mind with regards to how his reasoning can be applied to those with cognitive disabilities or mental illness. He explicitly writes about walking as an overrated function, but what about such functions as speech, language or cognitive processes such as logical thinking and organizational skills?
I am reminded of a discussion I had with my old psychologist when I had only been in my current institution for a short while. She was discussing the “can” vs. “can’t” attitude as presented by physical rehabilitaiton patients as well as the mentally ill. She tried to explain the importanc eof having a positive attitude towards learning practical skills such as cuttign up my food (which I am physically nable to do) and cleaning my room (which I am unable to do due to executive dysfunction). What she didn’t realize is that my refusal to learn these skills is only partly out of lack of self-efficacy (low self-esteem). It is more out of a feeling that these skills are not as important. I didn’t go hungry when I lived independently, and though my house did go dirty, if I lived with my husband, it wouldn’t be much harder for him to do most cleaning whether I lived there or not. In my opinion, self-regulation skills and self-directedness are much more important. I did, after all, end up in a psychiatric crisis when living on my own.
As disabled people – and as abled people too, but they don’t seem to realize it -, we need to set priorities. I might’ve wanted to learn to cut up my food or clean my room, if I had the energy to do this amongst all the energy that it costs me to manage my anxiety, regulate my fluctuating emotions and basically stay as close as possible to mentally stable.
Let me say this very bluntly: self-reliance is overrated. Self-determination is underrated. Too often, disabled people are trrained in the skills necessary to appear as non-disabled as possible. They are rarely trained in the skills necessariry for being as self-determined as possible. This goes especially for cognitively disabled and mentally ill people, who are still presumed to have a reduced capacity for self-direction.
Even today’s psychiatric rehabilitation movement, with its focus on recovery groups, (ex-)patients as support workers, and the strengths method, still teaches that mentally ill people can live normal lives in spite of their mental illness. It does not teach that it is possible to live a normal live while embracing your mental illness, let alone that the entire idea of “normal” is hugely overrated. The recovery group I participated in in 2010 was groundbreaking in the respect that it consisted of institutionalized patients, some of whom (like myself) weren’t moving into less restrictive environments.
Less restrictive. Boy, need I talk about that? Less restrictive should mean that a person has more choices over how they live their life, not that there is less support. In this respect, the physical disability movement has already paved the road with their independent living centers for example. Unfortunately, the law here in the Netherlands is not in favor of mentally ill and cognitively disabled people in search for self-determination, because, besides needing constant supervision, the only ground for long-term care with 24-hour availability is “severe self-direction problems”.