#WheelieAttachment Rd 2

stairs

A couple of nights ago I wrote a post detailing wheelies’ need to be incessantly clingy. It was full of self-negativity and became a scapegoat for my personal attachment issues. My attachment issues still exist–very much so– but below I’ve tried to reconcile with that post by providing a more systemic approach to the attachment issues PwD face. More specifically, I’ve looked at the ways in which the vulnerability stereotype, combined with society’s tendency to blame loneliness, and wheelies themselves, have created unhealthy attachment environments for PwD. Take from it what you will.

Vulnerability Reinforced

It’s my belief that solidifying vulnerability as a part of a person’s identity contributes to a life of overcompensation and clamouring after validation from others. Media stories on disability (few as they may be) generally have 3 subcategories: Inspiration, integration and abuse. The third category portrays us as helpless, unknowing, lonely people, who simply crave connection.

Reports depicting the abuse of people with physical and/or developmental disabilities enforce the idea of disabled people as vulnerable and perpetually lonely. In this news story from October, CBC details the sexual assault of a woman with an intellectual disability, on a bus in Winnipeg. Do me a solid and count the number of times they refer to this woman as vulnerable in the video segment. Seriously, try it. Notice how the first word used to describe the woman, after mentioning her young age, isn’t intellectually disabled– it’s “vulnerability”. The word is then repeated in different tenses by different people throughout the piece, followed by an assault statistic and a quote from an “advocate of the disabled.” (hehe, can I be an advocate of the gayed, please?). If by some form of amnesia, you forget the details of this assault, you can be sure not to forget this woman’s vulnerability, in relation to her disability.

There are a slew of other articles which also focus on vulnerability, but don’t take my word for it, Google ‘disability’ and anything and you’ll see what I mean. There’s this article, describing a number of abuses in ‘care homes’ in Alberta, this stat sheet on abuse of women with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador  and this statistical myriad, exposing that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

What does all of this say about vulnerability and disability? Well, for starters, that it’s a stereotype that holds truth. Some stereotypes are out in left field, used for oppressive, manipulative purposes. But the disability + vulnerability stereotype originates from a place of honesty—you can see from the statistics, that disability and vulnerability are extremely correlated.

It also demonstrates that vulnerability often overshadows the other realities of people with disabilities, like stereotypes often do. The internet is overwhelmed with disability and abuse conversations, depictions, and coverings. What it lacks is the other aspects of disability—or more accurately, the humanity, to be seconded by the disability. There’s a reason the woman in the CBC story was only described as young, vulnerable and intellectually disabled. There’s a reason vulnerable was used at least a dozen times, and was by far, the leading descriptor. The truth is that, while abuse IS rampant within the disability community, so too is our loss of humanity in the name of sensationalization and stereotyping.

Don’t misunderstand, this post is not about to minimize the horrific problem that is abuse and assault of people with disabilities, my point is not about the assaults, it is about our one-dimensional focus on this vulnerability. It’s my opinion that no matter how much truth there is to a statement regarding a certain group, that statement becomes a stereotype when it allows us to lose sight of the group’s humanity.

By way of challenge, I suggest re-framing thoughts around disability and vulnerability. I think we should do what we’ve done for other experiencers of violence and assert that they are, in fact, survivors. This not only blows stereotypes out of the water, but it illuminates the fact that we—PwD and people who have experienced violence—are people….people with strength, even.(I know right? Stop the insanity).

Blaming Loneliness

People often believe loneliness is to blame for the prevalent abuse of people with disabilities, thinking that PwD’s hunger for companionship make them more susceptible to mistreatment—but to blame loneliness is to blame a symptom, not a root cause.

Loneliness is a hated part of human existence, well-understood by everyone on this planet, and probably by intelligent life galaxies away. Here’s a list of the contributors to wheelie-specific loneliness:

  1. Currently, I’m pulling a number out of my butt that says 60% of people won’t really be close with a wheelie because, “yikes what are you?!” Anyone want to do a ‘Would you befriend a wheelie’ poll?
  2. Wheelie’s Personality. So out of the 40% that will even consider being around you in public, only 15% jive with your brand of weird.
  3. Walkie’s Personality: You only care about 10% of those 15% that like you. What number does that leave us at? This blog doesn’t do maths.
  4. Money—All the wheelies I know are broke, except for one, and he’s one of the smartest people I know. Just one of those terribly resourceful motherfuckers that everyone and their mom envies.

Anyways, majority of wheelies are broke for most, if not all of their lives. Google              poverty rates and disability. It’s hard to be social without money.

  1. Accessibility—Nobody wants to kick it with you when you can’t meet them at their friend’s apartment, or go see their friend’s band, or join the after-party that’s atop 3 flights of stairs. You remind them that the world is unfair, that they are not into you enough to carry you around. You make them feel like shit.

The above list is incomplete, but you get the idea (Other contributors: Limited/no access to education, no access to supportive housing, struggles adjusting to social norms, after x number of years of being excluded). The problem is so much bigger than lonely wheelie who just wanted a friend. It’s systemic. And yet, PwD are still blamed for out lack of ability to find ‘normal,’ consistent, securely-attached friendship. Just the other week, The Telegraph published an article promoting, (among other things), that disabled people have help making relationships work. The article focuses on Tibby Owens, an“advocate for the sexual lives”of people with disabilities” . Owens is in her 70s, and has released a book for the caregivers of PwD called Supporting Disabled People with Their Sexual Lives. Her belief is that disabled people ‘mess things up,’ in the realm of dating. She’s positively oozing condescension and wheelie-blaming (that’s a thing? It is now.). Read:

“A lot of what we’re doing is helping disabled people gain the sexual confidence so that when they do meet someone they like, they don’t mess it up,” Owens says. “It’s all about being positive and enjoying it and achieving some sexual fun for the first time in their lives.”

Mess it up? Sexual fun for the first time in our lives? Lady, you and I need to have a sit down. Buy me a coffee ASAP.

The insinuation here is that someone might be able to bring PwD sexual joys for the first time EVAR because we are too lonely, isolated, and socially inept to figure it out ourselves. And again, while I recognize that this is a reality for some, I see no positives in acting like disabled people are to blame for not having all the awesome sex. We’re not. Stigma is. People’s misunderstandings about how our bodies work, what our limitations mean, and what they can offer, is certainly another area where my finger points. But me, my loneliness, my tendency to “mess it up”—damnit lady, if I could solve that, I would have a husband on a ranch by now (just kidding, manure is fucking gross). Please stop blaming me, stop blaming us and our lonely, it’s unproductive. And truly, Ms. Anointed to Help Wheelies Fuck, we were doing that long before you got here.

This post is so long and garbled, who knows why I started. The bottom line is that, stereotypes hurt, and when society perpetually sees us as vulnerable victims, and people who are all about the lonely, or people who don’t know how to fuck, well fuck you. Not in the fun way. Let’s rethink these beliefs and the blame that commonly accompanies them.

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Stage 5 Wheelie

wheeliedog

Cute wheelie dog attaching to cute human=cute overload.

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.

Missed Attachments/Breakups/ThingsWherePplHateYouAfter

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:

Pretty colours

Whatever guys, computers are hard (Sorry).

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?