At the age of 40, I had a stroke. The result of ignoring my body while working 12–14 hour days in largely unpleasant working conditions and harsh environments. I fully bought into the notion that working hard would eventually equal success. And despite owning a contracting firm at one point, it all came crashing down at the first sign of a medical complication. I may be a hero to my kids for trying to push on, but humanity largely looks down on people like me for being poor and disabled. We are regarded as failures.
A burden on society.
Despite struggles at many points in my life, I had it all — in a middle-class sort of way. For people who come up poor like me, being stable is having it all. I had lots of friends and connections because of my success. But once I was disabled more than six years ago, it wasn’t long before I could no longer keep up with the business and we inevitably lost everything. At the time, social connections outside of my own family were a casualty that felt impossible to bear. With that came a sense of isolation which I have yet to overcome.
This brings me to the discussion surrounding the charges of weakness, the accusations of cowardice towards people who put their mental health and the well-being of their bodies first — something I wish I had done. From the emotional testimony of the police officers who expressed the mental health implications of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to Simone Biles and Naomi Asaka stepping aside from their sport to protect their health, the assaults on their character speak to a broader issue within our modern society:
An overall lack of empathy.
Just as athletes stepped aside for their well-being, the police officers testifying in Congress and telling the stories of their battles with mental health issues are also speaking up in defense of their bodies. The two parties, seemingly so far separated, actually have much in common in the way they’re standing up for themselves. As do millions of people around the world who take similar measures every day. It’s safe to say that most, if not all of the critics have had to sit out at many points in their lives. Every person on the planet gets sick. Some have to simply stop and breathe from time to time. Others, like me, take regular mental health breaks out of necessity that could last days.
All of which is okay.
Yet, society continually demands more. Our bosses want us to destroy another vertebra in our backs to get that project done. Fans expect athletes to break another bone for the win regardless of how much pain they may be in. Our families and so-called friends push us harder to be more successful. These groups’ commonalities are similar in that they fail to view with empathy those they’re asking more of. When our bodies give up and can’t push any harder, many turn on us.
Similarly, the people attacking Simone Biles and the police who testified in Congress are the same as those who would disparage us who pushed so hard that we broke our bodies and no longer have anything to offer them. They would show no more concern for the athletes and cops they’re demonizing had they been injured or killed than they show millions of us after becoming disabled. Those same people would call you a bum and a loser at the drop of a hat for having any form of medical complications that limit your abilities.
In the years since the stroke, I have never collected any Social Security Disability Insurance. I don’t see how I can live a meaningful life on such little income with so many restrictions anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I tried in hopes of using it to help support my family as I learned my way into something new — which I have done. For years I’ve been taking courses in journalism helping me to expand my skills doing something I can do: Write like hell.
With that, I intend to grow and be able to support my family again.
While I may not be a successful writer yet, I’ll be looking out for those who walked away when I am. I’ve become comfortable without fake people around and have settled quite nicely into a community of brave and talented writers of color with which to share my anti-racism work. Aside from the wonderful group of writers, having the family I trust nearby will always be enough. My kids will forever be my strength.
What my experience and the brave souls who stand up for themselves in the public light have taught me is that I’m not alone. I’ve learned that millions of people are going through similar experiences. Sure, it sucks being poor and disabled. But knowing others like me are out there is somewhat enlightening. Through community and healing, we’re all getting through some things together and that’s pretty cool if you ask me. We nurture success and a better quality of life through building fellowship with one another.
In the end, we can’t make some people empathetic to our struggles, but we can push on without them because so many others are.
*Originally published in Cultured on Medium