I have always worked hard to distance myself from my illness, my disability. I've struggled to say to the world that no, my disabilities do not define me, they do not make me who I am; but honestly that's not true.
I am who I am because of my disability. It has shaped me, formed me, moulded my body, left marks on my skin and it has had an even greater impact on the person inside.
There's a strong stigma that being disabled makes you less - broken and unworthy. It's something shameful and embarrassing. That it should be hidden away from society for fear of upsetting people, making them feel uncomfortable. I shrink when I'm in my wheelchair, I slouch down, avoiding eye contact and heaven forbid I see someone I know!
I hate that I do that. I hate that I allow it to make me feel small.
I've felt that I have to make up for my illness, that I have to prove myself in other areas, that I am worthy and capable, that I deserve my place not just in society; but on the planet. That because I'm ill I have to do something great and good, so that people can see there's more to me than the chair, the illness, the space I take up.
Over the past year I've noticed a shift inside myself, as the general view of disabled people in the media and public consciousness gets worse, as we are portrayed as liars, scroungers and cheats, drains on society, I have felt myself pushing back against this idea, this notion that we are less.
It's made me realise the strength and sheer awesomeness of disabled people. Not just the ones who set up charities, run world changing organisation or are pioneering disability rights; but all the people who manage to get through each day and even ENJOY each day as best we can, who refuse to give up and disappear, the way it feels many would like us to.
I admire the ones who are living, the best way they can, no matter how tough things get, how marginalised society is making them or how easy it would be to fade away.
I'm proud to stand (or rather sit) with them, to number myself among those who have been dealt an awful hand in life; but who are who they are. We won't, and should never have to, apologise for who we are. We should hold our heads high because we go to hell and back every single day, we live through pain and torment that no one should have to know exists and we're still here.
For every person that doubts us, every person who implies we're lazy or lying, you make us stronger.
You push, we push back.
Your ignorance makes us more determined to hold on just a little bit harder.
We're facing the same challenges and discrimination that women and civil rights activists have faced in the past.
They had to fight, to struggle to be accepted, to achieve the same rights as everyone else; but they achieved it.
We will too.
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and author of The Choice. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn't do what she wanted. She now writes about people who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she's deeply familiar with.
I'm an author, disability activist, winner of the Good Housekeeping First Novel Competition and The EABA for Fiction 2020 and founder of Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses (ADCI).
The Choice is available from:
Title: The Choice
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