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June 3, 2019 | by  | in Token Cripple |
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Token Cripple: Issue 12

In a recent Dr Phil episode, our favourite pseudo-intellectual asked his audience members if they would ever enter into a relationship with someone who is disabled. 58% said they would date a wheelchair user, and 29% said they would date a person requiring full-time care. He then told his guest, a young woman in a relationship with a disabled man—“You can be his lover, or you can be his caregiver, but you can’t be both… It won’t work, 100 out of 100 times this won’t work.”

 

I hadn’t planned on writing about this topic. Firstly, I don’t have a caregiver of any sort, so I don’t really understand the caregiver dynamic. Secondly, I’m not in a relationship. But then I got to thinking about the theme ‘friendship’ and began to wonder how ableism may have harmfully impacted on modern-day relationships.

The last few years have seen calls of “self-care” eating away at our wallets and doubling our Netflix watch-time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first person to tell you that you can’t love anyone else before you love yourself, that codependency is a recipe for instability, and that you’re wasting your emotional energy on sad bois telling you their life stories when you meet them at parties. But I do grieve the way capitalism and colonialism has shat on other, more community-focussed ways of life to create an individualised dog-eat-dog society.

The fear of being a burden in a friendship or a relationship is universal, regardless of disability. When Dr Phil said that 100% of relationships involving both love and caregiving will fail, I wonder what his relationships look like. Because what kind of relationship doesn’t involve caregiving?

 

Society is constantly sending us messages that we can only rely on ourselves. The competitiveness of courses like Law and Medicine at university encourages us to hide our notes from our friends. The breakdown of the welfare state reminds us that our community is not there to fall back on. The “self-care” culture scares us off from leaning on our mates in times of need. Disabled people disproportionately bear the brunt of this fear. I’ve mentioned it before, but we often feel a need to overperform in both our personal lives and professional lives to ‘compensate’ for the feared burden, a burden that Dr Phil perpetuates. What Dr Phil may have been trying to say, and what is true, is that relationships require balance, which maybe this particular relationship lacked. But to suggest that a relationship with a disabled person is inherently imbalanced suggests disabled people have nothing to offer.

 

A healthy friendship is one that takes turns doing the caretaking. If your friends aren’t willing to go that extra mile at times when you need it, whether that be physical help or emotional, then the problem isn’t that you are “burdening” them. The problem is that they probably just aren’t your friend. So, please, know your worth and never feel that you are not enough. At the same time, go that extra mile for the friend who needs it today. If they are really your friend, they’ll do it for you too.

Helen Keller was once asked whether she desired her sight more than anything in the world. Her alleged—never trust the internet—response?

“No! No! I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light.”

 

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