It was so long ago, I’m sure I’ll never remember what book it was. It was about a girl who was blind, and how she coped with her disability. One scene has stood out in my mind for decades now… about a hairbrush.
The blind character reaches out to the place on the windowsill where the hairbrush should be, and it is not there. This causes a short conflict with her sister, who moved the brush. It seems like such a tiny thing to most people; moving a personal item a few inches from a windowsill to a dresser should be nothing at all. But for a person without sight, it is vastly important. She can’t hear the brush. She might grope around for a while and eventually find it, or she might grope around helplessly and never succeed. Her only recourse then is to ask someone for help. There are enough times in a disabled person’s life that they need to ask for assistance; requiring help for a tiny thing like a hairbrush is frustrating and demeaning.
There are little things that we all need. Some are so odd that our peers just don’t understand why we need them. Some people like to have their food uniform and mixed together. Others require their food to be compartmentalized, consuming each separately. This isn’t a disability, but it might be of such importance to the person as to make them extremely uncomfortable or anxious if they can’t have things their way. For me, with OCD, I have several things I need, in varying degrees. I need sleep. I have learned how to temporarily function on days when I don’t get enough, but this only works on the short term and I make it a priority to make up for it later. Since making up requires more time than just getting enough sleep in the first place, I do my best to make sure a sleep shortage never happens. Another thing I need is regular food. I’m not diabetic, but I know that if I wait too long between meals/snacks, it affects my body and my ability to do the things I need to do.
It wasn’t long ago that alcoholics were seen as no more than worthless drunks. Now we know it to be a disease, something that must be treated and dealt with carefully. If an alcoholic finds themselves in a social situation where everyone is expected to have an alcoholic beverage, they must refrain, even if it’s awkward. Some may be willing to state unequivocally “No thanks, I’m an alcoholic.” while for others, this might be something personal they don’t wish to share. They don’t want people to question why they are turning down alcohol.
I don’t like to justify needing food. For one thing, I’m overweight, and if I mention that I want food, I’m often regarded as a lazy and gluttonous. Needing sleep is an easier need to meet, unless I’m away from home and expected to socialize into the wee hours. I’m not seventeen anymore; I’m not capable of pulling an all-nighter.
I imagine that most people have little needs like these, and I do my best to respect those needs. We do not all have obvious, understandable disabilities such as blindness. We do not all have have diagnosed diseases with a framed certificate we can hang on a wall. We are all simply human, with needs that are as varied and different as there are people.
Vive la différence.
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