“they’re not as distasteful as having a life-threatening illness”

Today is international day for disabled people. A lot of my fellow activists wrote inspiring blogs and Facebook updates about their experiences of being disabled. I did not come out. I did not come out because when I told my best friends from home that I had cancer, they did not understand. They took to monitoring whether I ate healthy food or went to bed early. They would stay up late, but frown if I wanted to stay up with them. They got upset when I didn’t want to talk about my condition. They got upset when I acted like everything was fine. They made everything about themselves, and they were suddenly the authority on what was best for me. People did not understand why I didn’t want a party for my birthday. I didn’t know if I was going to live, and I didn’t want everyone I grew up with to look at me like it was my last birthday. I did not come out because when I went home for the first time after my diagnosis, I got a call from someone asking me out for coffee. I would’ve given anything a few years ago to get that call, and they only did it because they thought I was dying. People who haven’t spoken to me in years started calling me and messaging me on Facebook. “Hi, what’s up?” (the ‘I heard you were dying’ was always implied). I was fortunate enough to only lose some of my hair (I had lots of it, lucky me), so I wasn’t forced to answer any questions. People didn’t have to know I was ill, so I could pretend I was fine. Pretending I was fine was what kept me going. One time, when I was getting chemo, my dad brought me a Starbucks muffin. I now can’t be inside a Starbucks; the smell makes me sick. One time, a student activist group wanted to have a meeting in a Starbucks, and I could not possibly explain that to them. I let them think I was just being ultra-left and boycotting it. They called me ‘sectarian’. I did not come out because when I finally plucked up the courage to come out to someone in the student movement I cared very much about, she claimed she would not treat me any differently. One day after getting chemo, I put on some make-up and I went on a demonstration. She asked me if I was okay, and she told me I looked ill. She suggested that I skipped the march and went home. I know she was trying to be helpful, but the truth is I was sick of people trying to be helpful. I was sick of making every effort not to look sick, and someone just casually throwing it back in my face. I was not fine; she was not fooled, so I could stop fooling myself. In the end, I’m still here. I fought and I won, at least for now. I suffer from depression. Sometimes I self-harm. I’m much more open about these things, because they’re not as distasteful as having a life-threatening illness. People know I self-define as disabled, but it’s all good as long as it’s one of the ‘normal’ disabilities. I wanted to come out, but I did not come out because I am strong, and in the end I manage to get out of bed on most days, and I attend most of my seminars, and I go to most meetings and demonstrations. I am no longer dying, but sometimes I feel like I’m dying inside. I did not come out because I am the one who is strong for everyone else, I am the one who makes angry speeches about smashing the state, I am the one who shouts the loudest about Tory scum on demos and I never, ever want anyone to look at me like that comrade did. I am jealous of everyone who came out today. I am jealous of people who are brave enough to admit that they’re not okay, and that’s okay. I have so much respect for each and every one of you.

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