Gals, I want to talk in-depth about an issue that is under-discussed in the disability ‘community’: Attachment. Attachment describes the way people connect with others, in terms of speed, intensity, and patterns of behavior, once the connection is made or lost. It has been my experience that many PwD tend to attach quickly, and somewhat insecurely, to others. Having said that, wheelies are diverse, so not every PwD has an issue bonding securely with people, and if you feel offended or excluded by this assertion, scrap this window and write me an angry letter on the dangers of discussing truths within stereotypes. Or try watching that new show Broad City, it’s quirky and conveys everything friendships lack these days .
I don’t really know how walkies attach, I’ve never been one, and I’m sure many ablebodies attach in different ways (Google attachment styles if you feel like driving yourself nuts with self-diagnosis) . What I’d like to explore are the ways in which wheelies have a tendency to form intense and potentially unhealthy friendships, and the possible reasons behind this dilemma. Cringe at my generalization, but as someone who has had attachment troubles since childhood, and a person who has many friends with disabilities who have similar issues, I believe disability and insecure attachment are at least somewhat correlated.
In case my vague personal examples aren’t enough proof that a wheelie attachment issue exists, Ottawa has a social agency and a few day programs dedicated to the social lives of people with disabilities. These agencies tend to take the stance that PwD are in need of socialization and cannot find social networks without assistance because of stigma and lack of knowledge about their disability. While stigma plays a large role, I think this issue is much more complex than this, hence why I’d like to discuss over-attachment for PwD here…
The Roots: A bit of control
Being a PwD means many things for many people, but most of us play with notions of control; Loss of it, realigning with it (over and over), finding new ways to navigate it. When your body doesn’t do what you ask of it, you must negotiate with your reality. A common way of doing this is to take things while you can get them, in abundance, because who the fuck knows when you’ll get them again. My friend Andrew does this with beverages. He needs assistance when knockin’ ‘em back, so when he does, it’s as though he hasn’t had water in a week. It’s a similar experience with food, like every bite might be his last, and therefore must be the biggest, dirtiest, most unmannered bite ever (Sorry, Drew). Since he can’t consume most food or drink without help, every ounce of help is optimized My feeling is that this ravishing of resources extends beyond Andrew, and food and drink. It contributes to how PwD see our assignments, jobs, friendships, relationships. Anything that has risk of loss associated with it is fair game to be clung to, because who knows when opportunity will show its face again.
Another aspect of control that’s a component of clingdom is physical dependence on others. Boundaries are hard to maintain, when your personal well being relies fully on other humans. This means, again, taking personal care while you can get it, working around the schedules of others regularly, and accepting limitations of available assistance. This negotiation is constant, and gives many PwD the ingrained (somewhat true)idea that much of their existence is dependent, and secondary, to the lives of the ablebodied people that help them. Lack of boundaries and a missing sense of control is a major player in the self esteem of many people with disabilities, as our lives, our bodies, and our choices, often don’t feel like our own.
All this to say, when a person who we enjoy gives us the illusion of control—over anything from movie choices to sexual positions—we are all balls in. We may hmm and haw for the sake of societal norms, but Jay-sus, we are happy with you in that moment.
How This Attachment Unfolds
In the context of friendships and sexships, unhealthy attachment in wheelie life usually sounds something like:
: “If you take the time to get close, to give me some control, you should stay, because not a lot of people get close tom me, much less give me control.” As sadsack as this may be, it’s undeniably true in my experience (oh boy…), and I believe it plays a part in the way some wheelies connect full-throttle with peers, sometimes at the expense of their dignity and best interest.
Bare with me, but making new friends is tough when you have a bunch of metal under you butt. People are confused by you. They don’t know whether to stare, or avert their eyes, often they even have trouble knowing where to stand when talking to you, if they can even bring themselves to do so.
I’ve written about the issue of ablebodied awks 3,067 times, but I bring it up again because it contributes to the wheelie cling-on tendency. Think about it, when a large majority of people with whom you interact feel uncomfortable around you, the ones who aren’t become disproportionately important, by default. When a solid chunck of the people I see are asking me about my limitations, or looking away avoidantly, or smiling ear-to-ear in disability-related condolences, the ones who act normal around me become shining stars way too quickly. I breath a sigh of relief that I’ve found one less person I have to comfort over my disability. I feel thankful for this non-ignorant person, they have solidified my nagging suspicions that I am not an alien after all. And suddenly this person means more than I ever wanted them to.
Other people, specifically ablebodied people, often just seem to bounce back from missed attachments, wrecked friendships and sour relationships. They’re all “Cha! Tally ho,” and they move on briskly, vodka flask in-pocket and guns ablazin’. New relationships will take awhile, but they’ll come in due time, rarely are others blatantly afraid to be in their presence. Does that seem overgeneralized? You’re right, attachments are a struggle for ablies too. Here, as contrast, I made a chart of disability-specific attachment manifestations:
As you can (not really) see, it isn’t so simple for myself and some other people with disabilities. Since our rate of acceptance from others is drastically low, breakups of any kind also seem to take monumental tolls. Example (This is my way, I’m not sure it resonates with other wheelies whatsoever): I dread the end of acceptance so much that I often sabotage everything, because being alone is so much easier than my needy brand of connection. I don’t want to put anyone through that, so I blow everything up, and try to make them think it was their idea (And hey, sometimes it is). Because fear, like wheelies, stigma, and lonliness, is also a clingy, gut-wrenching bitch.
Solutions? Eeeeek. I’ve gone to so many people for solutions, on a personal level. My last counsellor said, “Kristen, what if you’re just a lone wolf?” Hmm. If I was a lone wolf– if many wheelies were just lone wolves,–would we try so damn hard to form connections that validate us, in whatever capacity we allow? Are the solutions for this individual? Systemic? I’m not a fan of imposing blame on oppressed groups, but because I struggle with the wheelie attachment issue, it seems I have done just that, here.
Where do we start in addressing this?