Wednesday, July 8, 2009

OCD, language, and my place on the disability spectrum, part two

Today I'm responding to this post on Feministe and discussing my own experience with disability. Part one is a narrative of my experience with OCD and anxiety. Part two is a discussion of my place between privilege and oppression and ableism terminology.

At the Feministe post above, amandaw came to the conclusion that "temporarily non-disabled" was the best way to express the privilege that comes with functioning as our society deems acceptable. I like the less ominous term "currently non-disabled" from the comments better, but in both I love the emphasis on the temporal. It helps to focus on the idea that everyone experience this oppression, or they will.

It also frames my experiences, recent and long-ago, in a helpful way. Though I am successful, and confident, and happy today, I was not at one point in large part because of ableism (and sexism, and lookism, but that's another story for another time). I did not receive adequate care for my issues with anxiety, OCD, and trichotillomania until I specifically went to a psychiatrist at 20 and said "I am having problems, and I think it might be OCD." When I went to a psychiatrist at 13, without any idea of what was going on (I was not yet skilled at Google), I was mis-diagnosed and my anxiety was ignored, in accordance with a host of other issues with that specific doctor.

I am not physically disabled, nor am I usually significantly mentally disabled.

However, I am always on the OCD spectrum, manifesting symptoms of trichotillomania (the urge to pluck one's hair out) and both obsessiveness and compulsion.

I usually commit myself to hand-wringing about my privilege, so by identifying as oppressed and not privileged in this situation is uncomfortable to me. But though this disability is invisible, and though it is not always significantly disabling, it is always there. Recognizing it, and holding a claim on being on the disability spectrum is a powerful way for me to recognize the parts of me that are unproductive, and help me to mediate and navigate my disability as a feminist.

The temporal inclusion of the terms used to describe non-disabled persons helps me claim my healthy functioning today. I'm not 100% OCD-free, and never will be. But it's currently not disabling.

I am lucky. I do not need to rely on pharmaceutical drugs to manage my disability. I'm able to manage it by fighting it mentally and taking care of my body.

However, I am not neurotypical. I think neurotypical is a useful term, but it does not describe how I function. My OCD is not disabling because I know how to fight, not because I'm rid of it. OCD is not neurotypical, and I have OCD.

It’s weird to exist between privilege and oppression, especially as a woman of mostly clear-cut and powerful privilege. To me, it’s similar to my position on the fat spectrum. I’m a size 12/14 (though that fluctuates) and 5’11, which means that I’m in between fat and slim. At times, I’ve been persecuted for my weight, at other times, praised.

I am white. I am middle-upper class. I am heterosexual. I am cis. These things aren’t going to change much. But I am vulnerable to other oppressions – gender, age, disability, and size – and my feminism fluctuates with them.


  1. Hi, I'm kaninchenzero, coming from the blogaround at Shakesville. It's hard writing about our own disabilities, especially with the culturally-installed voices that keep telling us "well mine's not that bad, it doesn't really count." And there's always the risk (as I found out again today whee!) of inadvertently offending someone you like.

    So I wanted to thank you for writing these and for sharing them with us. And to let you know that yes, you do count. Even if the things that can make you disabled are pretty well controlled right now, you still live with the uncertainty of wondering when they won't be, and knowing what it's like when they're not.

  2. Thank you, kaninchenzero. I really appreciate that.

  3. Wow, you could've written my history except people noticing I was weird and not having friends. I guess I was so restrictive on my OCD, or maybe my parents just thought I was "my own person," but I didn't receive any help until I was 21 and in college. I went to a therapist because I couldn't do homework (thought I was going to go to hell for reading "bad scenes" in my lit books), and I finally took some drugs and got better. My OCD focused on scrupulosity: I picked a religion (Catholic) and stuck to the rules like glue, constantly afraid I was going to Hell for minor infractions.

    I'm constantly reminding my friends that my OCD is a part of whom I am and that I'm still working with it every day to form life because when you're functioning properly, people don't seem to keep it in mind that you might be mentally battling something at that moment.


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