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Human Parts
A publication about humanity from Medium: yours, mine, and ours.

Disability

In Human Parts. More on Medium.

Humans 101

Can we stop maligning people with a highly stigmatized mental illness?

I’ve been fighting with people about narcissism since the day Trump declared his candidacy. So many left-leaning people seem to relish mental illness as an explanation for his actions. Calling Trump a narcissist seems to satisfy a deep need many people have to understand him as an aberration, an evil defect taking advantage of a system that otherwise works and is fair: If he’s a narcissist, then he’s almost inhuman. Absolutely evil. And all we have to do is get rid of evil people like him, and then we can return to normal.

Of course, the “normal” way of doing…


This Is Us

Overcoming a speech impediment at 22

When I was around eight or nine years old, my brother and I asked my mom for advice on how to blow a bubble when chewing gum. All our other friends were able to do it, but we just couldn’t quite figure out the movement you needed to do with your tongue. My mom looked at us and said, with some sadness in her voice, “Unfortunately, you’ll probably never be able to blow a bubble.”

Like so much of my childhood, my memory of this moment is hazy. I remember exactly what she said, but not how we responded to…


This Is Us

I’m a complex, multidimensional person, and deserve to be seen as such

Double-exposure portrait of a Black woman’s face.
Double-exposure portrait of a Black woman’s face.

I was only five years old the first time I mentally code switched and went into another person’s experience. My father was never able to handle the pain caused by the sickle cell anemia I was born with, and it was in the throes of a painful sickle cell crisis that I learned he couldn’t cope with hospitals. Children are very perceptive to their parents’ emotions, and in that moment I could feel his terror and helplessness pulsing within me as if it were my own. During that experience I decided that I had to be strong for the both…


Lived Through This

On Crohn’s disease, desirability, and internalized disableism

Alternating rows of toilet paper rolls and cardboard toilet paper tubes on a pink surface.
Alternating rows of toilet paper rolls and cardboard toilet paper tubes on a pink surface.

CN: internalized ableism/disablism (and much of it); gastrointestinal disease/bathroom talk

TW: emetophobia.

It’s 4:30 on a Thursday morning when I type this.

I am in the bathroom.

I have Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease, if you’re unfamiliar, is a “bathroom disease.” This means, first and foremost, that I spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Like on my first day in my new home in Nashville, when I knelt on the new bath mat and laid my head against the cool porcelain of the tub as I spent hours throwing up while my roommate/childhood best friend and my boyfriend chatted…


Past Is Prologue

How a term that replaced bad words became one — and how to stop it from happening again

In 1910, the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons adopted three classifications of people we know today as intellectually disabled, as defined by a newly invented way to measure intelligence we now call the IQ test. “Morons” were the most intelligent — they had IQs between 50 and 70. “Imbeciles” with IQs between 25 and 50 were the second level. Those below 25 would remain “idiots.”

These terms, and the name of their association for that matter, did not strike these medical officers as insulting or offensive at all because, at the time, they…


‘Disabled’ isn’t a bad word — don’t be afraid to use it

An accessible parking spot in an empty parking lot, in black and white.
An accessible parking spot in an empty parking lot, in black and white.

During a panel discussion on innovation in higher education, I listened while several professors took turns noting how online classes could help democratize universities and right all kinds of injustices.

“Online classes can do so much to spread knowledge,” one panelist noted. “Even if you’re living in a very remote, rural area, you can still make it to class — provided your internet connection can handle it.”

“Online classrooms are also more international classrooms,” another person observed. “I have students in South Korea, Hawaii, and Ireland.”

After a few other people shared their experiences, I decided to share another example…


My cerebral palsy often turned footwear into a wedge issue

My love affair with Dr. Martens started while I was hunting for “cool” at a gigantic St. Louis mall. In an otherwise nondescript store, I spotted a pair of black Dr. Martens boots covered in flaky gold glitter. The sparkles weren’t baked into the material, but were instead glued all over the boots in tiny, puckered circles. Glam yet punk, sturdy but whimsical — these boots flipped a double middle finger at convention, and of course I had to have them.

My entire high school fashion aesthetic was best summed up as “alterna-teen” — a Daria-caliber pejorative once lobbed at…


An open letter from the mom of a kid with a rare disability

I frequently sense that I am being watched. My son’s microcephaly (small head) and syndromic features stand out to passersby. His head is about the size of a nine- or ten-month-old so kids often mistake him as a baby, although he is too tall and skinny to be a baby. His almond-shaped eyes and low-set ears throw off the symmetry of his face. I think he’s absolutely adorable but I can certainly see why his appearance causes others to look longer than you might at your average four-year-old.

When I sense others lingering and looking at our family, it’s hard…


LOVE HATE

Back pain is worse than the asshole in middle school

Having a chronically bad back in middle age is like having a bully in middle school: You’re always on edge, fearing some horrible surprise is about to sneak up on you from behind. A bully could abruptly kick your notebooks out of your hand or stuff you in a locker, triggering an afternoon of shame. The bad back abruptly triggers a spasm when you bend down to get something off a lower shelf at CVS, and sends you hobbling off to bed for three days.

But at least you eventually escape bullies. Bad backs, on the other hand, never relent…


For outsiders, it’s easy to assume we haven’t tried

We arrive at the beach house at 4 p.m. after a six-hour car ride. We walk in to semi-organized chaos, as the grandparents, aunts, and uncles are already getting ready to head down to the beach to stake out a spot to watch the prolific, awe-inspiring fireworks display that ramps up after dark. Before the tension of a family in a car together for an extended period begins to dissipate, we are being asked when we’re heading down. This is where the dilemma begins.

The fireworks are too much for our 13-year-old son, Sam. Since he got the provisional diagnosis…

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