My Disability is Defined by Your Empathy

I’m not going to lie. I have, in some senses, felt relieved by the onset of the pandemic. Without this disruption, my company would not allow me to work from home full time. They stated that this was due to a policy, even though I had been expressing my discomfort to my supervisor and department head for months prior. I eventually quit bringing it up because it honestly felt like banging my head against a wall. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t trust me when I said my environment was adversely affecting my quality of work and we had all worked together for 14 years. It was extremely frustrating.

Now that the entire company has been working from home for months, I am finally feeling free and well-adjusted. I have volunteered for projects at work that, just one year ago, I would have predetermined that I would fail at. And I would have been right! I did not have the emotional capacity then to do what I’m doing now. The pandemic has cleared away all of the artifice required by others’ egos, all the performativity necessary to make others FEEL like you’re OK to consort with, not a weirdo, not someone who is less-than.

The pandemic has also forced MANY people to question their own thoughts/actions. They may not realize it, but I see the change in them too, because it affects me. People are feeling less secure, less stable, like the ground is moving underneath them, AND IT IS! It is definitely moving, shifting, and where it stops, I don’t know, but I do know that transitions are important. Most people aren’t sensitive enough to feel the little changes and lately, there has been so much resistance to change, that we have dug in. This has made us all less resilient and less empathic to those of us who struggle emotionally. Oh, how the tables have turned.

All I needed was the space and time to organize my thoughts and I couldn’t get it. That is a small amount of grace unavailable to me that caused me SO MUCH extra emotional work, and I still failed, all the time. Now, with my new capacity, I am able to reach out, support others, and speak freely. It must seem insane to others I work with, how “functional” I am all of a sudden. This is no surprise to me. I just wish I could have been more functional earlier. It was always up to them, not my choice. The pandemic has laid bare the function relating disability to empathy.

Other people’s disability increases when your empathy decreases. Or, to put it another way, if we were all more empathic, there would be less “disability” in the world. We are all differently abled and when others see the best in what we have to offer and are willing/able to adjust to our best, the whole of humanity improves.

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