The Invisible Ones

Life without normal.

Woman sitting alone.

A young woman's family says they'll wear masks and use air purifiers so she can attend their holiday party. There's just one catch. She has to pay them to do it. Everyone loves the idea of being different. They love Wednesday Addams on the screen. They don't love her so much in person. In reality, being different means having to pay people to treat you like a human being. They're always making us pay them to treat us like human beings.

It's just not always so literal.

Some of us have our own version of normal. But that version doesn't count. We don't get to live it. We have to contend with an alien normal that's forced on us. Some of us have been doing it our entire lives.

It never feels normal to us.

Something strange happened after I finally stumbled into an autism diagnosis. After 30 years of constantly hearing about how strange and different I was, I suddenly became normal. My friends and coworkers didn't believe me. "I mean, you don't seem autistic."

That's how life works for us, the neurodivergent, the ones with personality "disorders," the disabled, especially the ones with invisible disabilities. The minute we sketch ourselves in, everyone goes for the whiteout. They prefer the version of us that didn't cause problems.

The majority of people we know want to talk about how tolerant and accepting they are. They want to act like they accommodate difference and disability. But when we try to get those accommodations, we suddenly don't exist. There's no need to accommodate us, because there's nothing wrong with us. Everyone we know takes it upon themselves to decide. And if you want to prove them wrong, well, that'll be $1000 to take a test developed by someone who doesn't have any differences or disabilities.

We know why they do it.

In reality, it's not easy to accommodate difference and disability. Sometimes, it's inconvenient. It's frustrating. It costs money. You don't get bathed in gold stars for doing it. For those of us with differences and disabilities, it's hard to remember that being allowed to exist in the world and hold down a job or run errands is something we should be grateful for.

The last four years have made it abundantly clear just how little regard the wider world has for the misfits. I get whiplash from how fast things went from "we're all in this together" to "everyone for themselves."

Years ago, Trump was excoriated in the press for mocking a disabled reporter. Now that same mass media apparatus constantly encourages the public to ignore and disregard the needs of people who aren't like them. People gaslight and pathologize us every single day.

They just don't realize they're doing it.

Nobody walks around literally saying, "I wonder where all the weirdos are." No, that might actually count as progress.

Instead, people go around unconsciously ignoring all the difference and disability happening right in front of them. They engage in survivorship bias. They don't think about the people struck down with extreme fatigue or neurological disorders, who stay at home most of the time because they can't navigate public spaces made increasingly hostile to their presence.

When we do enter public space, we're pressured to mask. We hide our difference. We make endless efforts to accommodate and conform to everyone else's version of normal. Nobody thanks us.

It becomes an expectation.

When someone says they don't know anyone with chronic illness or disability, they're telling on themselves. They're showing just how little they pay attention. We know what those people do when they're presented with difference and disability. Even when it's standing right in front of them, they get annoyed. They don't respond with kindness and understanding. They respond with scorn and derision. That's why they don't know.

They don't want to see it.

That's the irony of masking. We go to great lengths to adjust. We craft versions of ourselves that don't arouse suspicion.

It's a survival mechanism.

We live in a world that tells us to be ourselves. Few people understand what a privileged statement that is. A lot of us never, ever get to be ourselves. We do it at an extraordinary cost.

When we try to speak up, we get ridiculed. We're shamed for requesting accommodations, which often go ignored anyway.

We're called entitled.

People will only help on their own terms. They want to do things that make them feel good about themselves. They'll help that one person in a wheelchair, and they'll yell at their friend with autism or postural tachycardia syndrome. They make no effort to listen. In their mind, they already know what everyone else needs. They don't hear anyone. They have an idea in their head about what a good person does, and that's what they do. If you question or disrupt that idea, that makes you a bad person.

We're treated like burdens, regardless of what we contribute. We're subjected to endless variations of eugenic logic. We're told to let nature take its course, by people who don't respect nature at all.

Here's the thing:

Nature eventually takes its course on everyone. And when nature takes its course on them, you can bet they'll want accommodations and care. I've never met a eugenicist who died by their own sword. I've never heard an ableist say, "Let me die. I'm slowing down the herd."

Have you?

Eugenicists only believe in this "survival of the fittest" nonsense because they erroneously assume they're at the top of the Darwinesque hierarchy. It's just another convenient excuse that serves their self-interest. It's dropped the minute they're the ones who need something. Most of them will need help at some point. They'll need someone to take care of them. They'll need someone who understands what they're going through.

Nobody likes being called a eugenicist to their face, and yet that's the direction our society is heading in. The average person doesn't go around mocking disabled reporters, but they engage in eugenicist thinking every time they ignore or invalidate someone else's needs.

Every time someone pressures someone to conform to their version of normal and then denies their difference, that's eugenicist thinking. They're constructing a world where only people like them can exist.

For what it's worth, many of us don't see what's so great about this normal. We already opt out as much as possible. We participate as much as we have to, and then we retreat into our smaller worlds. We find these worlds far richer, more compassionate, and more meaningful than anything we could find in the world offered by endless growth economies. And we actually don't like being around people who force their normal on us.

We even prefer to be alone.

Even that offends them.

The biggest irony of all is that we're not even left alone. Every media outlet on the planet bombards us with videos and listicles telling us we have to go out and socialize, that it's good for our mental health. They insist it's good for us to spend time with people who don't care about our wellbeing. They warn us that if we don't, we'll die early from loneliness.

Most of us would be happy to bid farewell to the ableist world. We would love to be able to support and nourish ourselves without having to interact with it. We have no interest in indulging someone else's illusion that they're a good, kind person when they only do what they want.

That's part of the irony, though. The ableist world wants to deny our existence, but they also insist we engage with it for our livelihoods.

That's where most of us object.

We live in a reality where one person's behavior has an impact on someone else. There's no way around it. You never get to opt out. That's the reality eugenicists and ableists deny. They want to believe a single person's actions have zero consequences for anyone else.

That's how psychopaths think.

I don't know about you, but when I look at the world, I see a bunch of desperate souls who don't know how to function without an endless stream of superficial entertainment and affirmation. I see people who don't know how to find any joy or pleasure in cooking for themselves or spending a quiet night with a book or a couple of close friends. I see a bunch of people looking for distractions in evermore audacious spectacles. I see people so insecure in themselves that they don't believe they can do anything to stand out.

The society we live in only celebrates a certain kind of individuality. You can only express your uniqueness in a handful of ways, and all of them must ultimately be sanctioned by a higher authority.

We live in a world of the friendship bracelet.

It's easier to make some shiny, glittery trinket and wear it on your wrist than to engage in actual friendship. It's easier to buy and trade these worthless tokens than actually listen to someone. It makes sense. The more our actual values decline, the more society is going to celebrate and fetishize symbols and representations of the real thing.

Those of us on the outside, we see it quite clearly.

If you're different, then know one thing. You're not invisible. You exist. You're real. You matter, even if it doesn't feel that way.

Someone out there sees you.

It's us.

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