A Letter to My Non-Disabled Friends
Updated: Aug 27, 2022
It’s a very strange time right now. The world has suddenly turned upside down. We are all fearful of what’s to come, anxious about our health and worried over the health and safety of our loved ones. Some of us are suffering financial hardship and unsafe housing on top of all of that. The NHS is about to be stretched to its brink and we have all suddenly been confined to our homes for the good of the country.
In addition to the myriad of other emotions I’ve been feeling around all of this, the thing that has struck me the most is that, rather suddenly, healthy and abled people are getting a first hand taste of what is just normal life for so many sick and disabled people. I’ve touched on this before and I am no doubt repeating myself a little, but as the days have passed I felt compelled to write a bit more in depth on all of this. I’ve seen a lot of my abled friends talk about their grief, and in some ways it has been strangely comforting to know that more people now have an insight into what life is like for us. That we aren’t alone in our grief anymore. Suddenly, after decades of marginalisation, our lifestyle has become mainstream, baby!
And yet, there comes a bitterness in all of this. A lot of my disabled friends - myself very much included - are hurting. I’ve mostly had a lot of understanding and support from my abled friends when I‘ve opened up about this. They seem to understand why it would be frustrating to see everyone you know suddenly complaining about a reality that you have been living for years. There has been little backlash to me voicing my anger, and for that I am thankful. It suggests that we are reaching new levels of empathy for one another and that my abled friends are supportive, and aware of their healthy privilege.
There have, however, been a small minority of people who have suggested that it is insensitive of me to discuss this now because people are dying and we are all suffering. And they’re right. We are all suffering, and just because it’s a suffering that is familiar to me it does not negate the weight it bears for those experiencing it for the very first time. This got me thinking about the ways in which the abled and the disabled are currently living a shared experience. A shared suffering, if you will. So, I made a little list to demonstrate the ways in which the world is now getting a taste of what life is like for so many disabled people:
Being housebound ✅
Reliant on technology to maintain relationships ✅
Unable to go out and socialise ✅
Missing your normal life ✅
Relying on deliveries to get food/feed your family ✅
Feeling isolated and lonely ✅
Having to cancel plans ✅
Not knowing when you’ll see your friends again ✅
Unable to travel or go on holiday ✅
Relying on social media more ✅
Feeling frustrated and restless ✅
Worried about your income ✅
Worried about your health ✅
Having to take extreme measures to protect your health ✅
Being limited ✅
Feeling frustrated at the lack of support being offered ✅
Having to get by on benefits or a reduced income ✅
Unable to do things exactly when you want to do them ✅
It’s true, a lot of you are experiencing a taste of life as a chronically ill or disabled person. Ultimately though (and I think this is where a lot of our collective, disabled anger is coming from), you are only really skirting the edges of our reality, because you have so many luxuries that we didn’t have when this started for us. We didn’t get:
❌ To keep our jobs
❌ The comfort of knowing that everyone else in the world was experiencing the same thing and that we were all ‘in this together’
❌ The luxury of good health
❌ A functioning body that allowed us to keep busy by exercising, cooking, cleaning, gardening etc.
❌ Collective understanding and empathy
❌ Help from the government
❌ Remote work and education
❌ National kindness campaigns and outreach strategies to make us feel we were less alone
❌ Community aid
❌ Museums, galleries, musicians, zoos, entertainment platforms suddenly making everything available online to help keep us entertained
These are indeed scary and unusual times. I do not wish to negate anyone‘s suffering right now. Your anxieties are legitimate and valid. None of us know how long this will go on for, and there is so much uncertainty about how this will affect us in the long term. In spite of my poor health, I do consider myself lucky. I have secure, comfortable housing. Our household finances will not be affected. I have my husband in isolation with me. I have access to a safe, green space. I have food to eat. My loved ones are all safe and well. I do recognise my own privilege in all of this. I know I am luckier than most.
But you, my healthy and abled friends, you possess a golden ticket that I would kill for. You, at least, are safe in the knowledge that this *will* end for you, eventually. When this is all over, the world may very well look different but your life will more or less go back to normal. You’ll return to work. You’ll go to the gym again, to the pubs and restaurants. You’ll visit your local parks, and you’ll swim at your local pool. You’ll go for coffee in your favourite cafe. You’ll go dancing with your friends again, and take the holidays you had to reschedule. You’ll ride your bike and go to the theatre and celebrate together the fact that it’s over. The world will be as accessible to you as ever.
But we won’t get that luxury. When you eventually return to your normal lives, please remember what this time felt like for you. Please contemplate how much you take for granted in your abled existence. I only became disabled at 30 and I can tell you that I previously took so much for granted. My deepest hope is that you will use this experience to become more empathetic to the struggles of chronically ill and disabled people. That you take this temporary taste of our lives and use it to become an active, vocal ally. That you take what you’ve learned and help us fight. Fight for a more accessible world, one where disabled people aren’t seen as ‘less than’ and forced into poverty. Fight for a better, fairer welfare system. Fight for a better government. Fight for less judgement, for more support, for more kindness. For equality.
Many of us will no doubt come out of this experience changed, and I really hope that it’s for the better.
For all of us.