A reader asked:
I have depression and OCD, and I keep feeling like I don’t have the right to consider myself disabled or seek accommodation because they’re mental illnesses. How do I shake that feeling?
I think that it might help to realize that self-doubt is normal for people with disabilities. I think most of us feel that way, regardless of what kind of disability we have.
The reason this is important to understand is that often, when we feel doubt, it can feel like evidence that there’s a *reason* to feel that kind of doubt. But it it isn’t. Most people with disabilities feel that way.
I don’t think this actually has much to do with your particular conditions being mental illnesses.
Categories don’t matter, except for some practical reasons like access to services and making it easier to find other people who get it. What matters is what your needs are. If you need accommodations in order to function well, it’s important to seek them out. Spending a lot of mental energy agonizing over whether or not you deserve them is not going to do you or anyone any good.
I think part of the reason a lot of us feel this way is that we never really see descriptions of disabled folks who resemble us, but we see a LOT of descriptions of disability that don’t match us at all.
Think about what the media’s like. It’s full of people who bravely overcame their disabilities. It’s also full of stories like “the doctors said my baby would never walk, but we didn’t listen to those doctors and now she’s an honor student!”. It’s also full of smutty stories about people who didn’t overcome their impairments suffering and dying and being mysterious unpeople. Or as having super powers, or as having a disability kind of like an accessory, without it affecting their life in any significant way. None of these descriptions match what people with disabilities are actually like, but they are *the only ones we ever see*.
And even beyond what the media says, most people without disabilities have no idea how wrong these descriptions are. It’s jarring.
When your actual experience with disability bears little resemblance to what everyone around you thinks disability is like, it’s easy to feel like a fraud.
One thing that helps with that is seeking out other people with disabilities similar to yours who think of disability in a matter-of-fact way, and work on trying to live well with your kind of disability. When you talk to people who get it, it makes it a lot easier to realize that what you are experiencing is real.
So, for you, it would probably be really helpful to find more people with depression and OCD to talk to, and more authors with depression and OCD to read.
Also, be careful about exposing yourself to people who yell a lot about fake disabled people or appropriation. Those people are wrong, but what they say hits insecure disabled folks really hard. If you’re not confident about yourself, you can get hurt really badly by that ideology.