One of the interesting things about acquiring a disability in adulthood is seeing how differently strangers treat you.
Once the muscles in my throat and vocal chords lost enough oomph to form clear words, most strangers started talking to me in a loud voice, assuming I couldn't hear, or with simple language, assuming I couldn't understand, or think. Some would not even bother talking to me at all; a certain percentage would ignore my personhood completely and instead speak about me in the third person to whatever able-bodied person accompanied me.
Other strangers assumed my body was fair game and boundaryless, and would suddenly reach out to stroke my face, pat the top of my head, or even suddenly lean in for an unexpected kiss on the lips. Can you imagine? Strangers! This is not something that strangers ever did upon first meeting me prior to my using a wheelchair---it's as if I lost my status and subjectivity as an adult.
To my surprise, I've found this to be the case with healthcare providers just as often. Sometimes they automatically yell, or patronize. Prejudice and confusion regarding physical disability runs deep, which is why we all would benefit from better education which helps us not infantilize each other. (FWIW, I most definitely could have done the same to others once upon a time---sans kissing.)
But this peculiar phenomenon is not unique to me, of course. This is a large, enduring trend with deep and ugly history in American society, where people with disabilities are feared, misunderstood, abused, or outright ignored in our desires to live a life in the public sphere with dignity. As a minority group who encompass 20% of the population---which you wouldn't know by watching media, where we are represented as 2% of the population, usually by able-bodied actors or models--- those of us with disabilities have a long way to go in securing visibility and representation.
This article, written by (my hero, badass) disability rights activist Judith Heumann is worth the read. Also, Netflix's recent Crip Camp documentary which features her work is excellent and worth watching
It seems many among my circle of contacts have noticed some demographics--mostly the young and sometimes the old--are failing to heed the urgent pleas to social distance as much as reasonably possible, and are understandably annoyed at the risks they take which threaten the rest of us and our shared healthcare system in direct or indirect ways. I get it. It is annoying, maybe even careless and selfish and blissfully unaware. But more than just those who can’t resist gathering with friends because they assume they won’t get sick, I’m seeing a more insidious and purposeful form of magical thinking sprouting up at the edges of the alternative health and metaphysical communities which has its own flavor of privilege and disassociation. It sounds like this: “germs are only real if you believe they are. You’re only susceptible to illness if your thinking is unhealthy and ‘low vibration’. Infection is not a real, objective phenomenon unless you buy into media/collective hysteria. Everyone should just relax, trust their bodies, and we’ll have no problem.”
Yes, research now suggests being in a chronic state of fear or worry can lower our immunity. Panic can cause us to lose our good judgment. Certainly, getting in a hair-pulling fight with strangers in the toilet paper aisle has its risks. Whenever possible and reasonable and appropriate to the situation, it is absolutely healthy to relax.
But what’s being missed in these “there is nothing to fear” scenarios is that fear still has a rightful role in the human organism. Animals have scales or fangs or claws, and humans have legs or wheels to distance ourselves from threats. These tools are self-protective, meaning they are designed to help us live for as long as reasonably possible among our herds or habitats. And, if we have paid any attention at all to the media reports of what is happening in other countries with this virus and what is beginning to happen in hospitals here, it’s glaringly obvious that a certain measure of fear, vigilance and self-protection is a healthy, life-giving response for ourselves and our communities.
Yesterday a friend shared a video by celebrity psychiatrist Kelly Brogan, who brands herself as “holistic”. I’ve respected this doctor in the past for her willingness to think outside the box of standard psychiatry to redefine the causes of mental health and illness. But during this video--which she created after being supremely annoyed her dance class was canceled due to Covid--she went on to say a number of things. One, she no longer believes in the reality of germs, contagion, or infection as an objective reality. Two, believing that it’s healthy to distance ourselves from others to slow a pandemic is a “childish” narrative, and three, we all are being asked to ”evolve” our ideas to see fear as the real threat to humanity, (Except for 5G, which for some reason was unique to pass the purity test of being fear worthy.) And that’s the point I turned off her video.
Having spent my share of time in communities of people hoping to radically heal chronic or terminal illness, I’ve heard this type of argument before. Common themes, often informed by a weird mashup of Ayn Rand-type extreme self-determinism and the purportedly channeled messages of ascended masters have these common features: “everything good or bad that happens to you is the result of your own (usually, psychospiritual or mental) state“, “there are no collective or systemic realities beyond what you give power to through your attention,” and, “you are actually in control of everything, and you simply have to use your mind as the all-powerful tool that it is to create your preferred reality." Well, with all due respect to the dreamers out there, barf.
Let’s put aside for a moment that most of these arguments come from people with a lot of privilege, who are usually white, relatively wealthy, and have grown up in western countries with decent infrastructure and public resources and opportunity. I can’t help but wonder how these theories would land with people in poor countries whose children are dying because of parasites and poo and whatever else in their drinking water, who would do anything for the “superstitious” hygiene protections and resources Western nations have--or who live even today in Flint, Michigan for that matter, or on under-resourced Native American reservations. Do they know how insulting it can be to have more white saviors lecture others on the need to outgrow “childish” concerns about health, to “evolve” into realizing their illnesses and pandemics have nothing to do with systemic or structural realities and actual germs or toxins, but instead they have “believed the toxins into being”?
If you’re so mentally or spiritually evolved that you no longer need to wash your hands and are exempt from pandemic, congratulations! But please keep your distance from my loved ones, and please don’t go spreading the virus of victim-blaming toward those who get sick by being a part of this big, wild, beautiful, tragic, interconnected planet. We no longer have the luxury to discard each other because we’d rather spend our time manifesting for our personal desires than paying attention to collective realities which are actually all too real for people, animals, and land. If you’re going to speak a good game of compassion and spiritual maturity; please live it. You’re not the only one here.