Let 2023 be the year of disabled joy
Not in a cheesy way, obviously
Hello and a happy New Year to you all.
So it's 2023. Everywhere you look this week there's talk of New Year's resolutions and starting anew. But I'm not buying into any of it, not least because so many of the aspirations we’re encouraged to have - exercise more, work more, be more - are steeped in society’s ableist obsession with productivity. So, let's toss the notion of more out on to the street with our drooping Christmas trees.
Instead of doing more, my hope (not resolution!) is to notice more. And not just generally - I want to notice something very specific. I want to notice it and seek it out and savour it.
I'm making 2023 the year of disabled joy.
Noticing joy in general is good for your mental health. It's why something as outwardly cringeworthy as a gratitude journal can genuinely make you feel better. I made a conscious effort in the pandemic years to notice the small, everyday things that brought me joy - the time to savour my morning coffee, nice skin care, how a well-bound book feels in your lap. These are things that everyone can access, and benefit from relishing, and they are immensely valuable.
Disabled joy, though, has a different texture. It’s thicker and more complex. When you're not used to looking for it, it seems much harder to find. But recently I've been keeping an eye out. And it turns out that it exists in abundance when you give it a chance.
The exact qualities that distinguish disabled joy from its quotidian counterpart will vary for each disabled person. But for me it has several defining characteristics.
The most obvious kind of disabled joy is joy you only get to feel because you're disabled. Some examples: getting the giggles with your PA trying to get tights on, being carried up a flight of stairs like some sort of medieval queen, passing annoying joggers in your wheelchair, seeing your best friend shout at an ableist, skipping the queue, having an entire second family comprised of ex-PAs, hysterically laughing because you misjudged the doorframe and crashed in front of your boss, being part of a global community that has your back no questions asked. This is disabled joy in its simplest form; warm and comforting and easy to enjoy.
Then there is a more complicated subset of disabled joy: joy found in things nondisabled people think are terrible. Often, this is the joy you have to learn to see. But once found, it has the potential to transform. This is the joy of receiving good care, of feeling comfortable asking for help, of learning to rest, of saying no to inaccessible plans, of making people notice ableism, of learning to like what you see in the mirror, of letting go of what could have been, of celebrating what is, of being proud of the battles you fought and won and forgiving yourself for the ones you lost, of carrying on, of believing that different is not worse, of formulating plan C when plan A and B have both failed, of accepting pain instead of denying it, of loving a body you were told to hate, of solidarity with the people fighting tooth and nail alongside you for a better future.
This joy is the joy of resistance. To feel it and revel in it is an act of courage, a statement of intent, a flag raised. It is, I’m slowly learning, the essential core of anti-ableism. It is the essential fuel of liberation.
For me, disabled joy has become one of the foundational building blocks of the life I want to live, both professionally, in my writing and activism, and in my personal life. Learning to recognise it has been one of the greatest lessons of my life. This year, I intend to find it everywhere I can.
See you next week,
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