So I’ve had this condition for a while, one that has gone by many different names and definitions:
In Vancouver General, I was classified as having “severe brain damage”.
In rehab, I lived on the Acquired Brain Injury floor.
In legal documents, I am significantly permanently partially cognitively impaired (count on legal lingo to complicate things).
According to the government, my permanent physical disability qualifies me for aid and benefit programs.
I could, if I wanted to, join numerous chatroom groups for those with Traumatic Brain Injuries or Head Injuries.
All these descriptions are true but they all take the same slant, the same emphasis on what’s been taken, ruined, or lost. On paper and in programs, I am “disabled” but I wonder if there is a better term, a phrase or description that is less condescending. I question the accuracy and legitimacy of being characterized as “disabled”. It’s describing something by what it is not, which is never a flattering, helpful, or proper way to describe anything let alone a human being. Those of us given this label are set up for disappointment, relentless insecurity, and a permanent spot on the losing end of any comparison with others or our former selves. We are not “able” anymore, we are now disabled. We are not “healthy” anymore, we are injured. We are not as good as we were, we are damaged goods.
We are the ones people feel sorry for.
This blanket application of value statements creates an unquestioned, and I think harmful, consensus of what is good and what is bad, and we are all worse off for it. I’ve stated before that I feel better off because of the car accident, that I like this life better. The longer I live with brain damage, the less I see it as a disability. I struggle with which tense to use when referring to my brain damage. I have brain damage? I had brain damage? Does it even make a difference? It’s not so clear anymore. The height, breadth, and depth of my perspective, as a result of my accident, cannot be overestimated. What I’ve learned and come to understand about life, the wisdom that’s emerged, is invaluable and I’d rather have that than the brain I had before the accident. I’ve experienced some “terrible” things, sure, but that experience can be its own reward if you know how to make it so.
If a business suffers losses early in a year, yet finishes higher than where it started, we say there has been growth and a net profit. Initial losses were more than accounted for by later profits and it’s considered a successful year. I am convinced that those of us who experience great trauma, be it brain damage or any other suffering, are given both the opportunity, and more significantly, the ability to net a growth beyond what was possible before the tragedy. This is certainly true in my case. I’ve netted a profit, a wicked-huge profit. With this incredible growth and gain in my stock of life, then, perhaps the brain damage has made me more-abled. Perhaps I am healthier than before. Perhaps I’m better than good.
And if that’s the case, I wonder if everyone considered “disabled” has simply been mislabelled.