This is one of the hardest emails I've ever had to write. I've been thinking so much about Disability Pride, I've had to look more deeply into myself.
The thing is, it's very hard for me to feel pride in my disabilities. The congenital defects that I was born with have always made me feel like a mutant. And at some point in time, I realized how fortunate I was to be sick in the right place at the right time so the right doctor could save my life.
As for my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, the connective tissue disorder (also genetic) that affects my mobility and so much else in my life due to co-morbid disorders, I am again fortunate. I have the most mild type. And because I was diagnosed after I was 40, I have trouble thinking of myself as disabled, even though I sometimes need a wheelchair, crutches, or will simply fall down or faint if I stand up too quickly.
And now we come to the most difficult and yet the easiest disability for me to talk about. Difficult due to the immense stigma, and easy because it's the one I've lived with the longest and am most familiar with: my mental illness.
You see, I'm Bi-polar type 2, although I'd been incorrectly diagnosed for years. I've lived with major treatment resistant depression with suicidal ideation for my entire life. And while I've always known that there was something severely wrong with me, and have always sought help, I've also self-destructed many times.
Only those closest to me know this. And even from them, I isolate as much as possible when going through bad periods of anxiety and depression.
Please notice that one thing that all my disabilities have in common is that they're considered "invisible." While there is an "Invisible Illness Warrior" campaign out there, there's also a lot of sadness and a feeling that nobody cares.
There's also fear. Fear of being shunned, fear of losing your job, fear of people in general marking you as "other" (I'm looking at you, NRA).
The link between disability, especially invisible disabilities and homelessness is very clear and I know every day that "there but for the grace of God go I." I have so much admiration for the men and women of StreetWise and I treasure my relationship with vendor Steven Riggs.