Do you use identity-first or disability-first language? This is a continual negotiation for people with disabilities or disabled people (depending on which language you use). Our diagnoses and conditions shape our identity and we shape how we relate to them with our language.
One way we also do this is by being possessive of our conditions. We say “my anxiety is really bad today” or “my OCD means that I already wash my hands plenty” or “I had surgery for my scoliosis.” We have illnesses or conditions and when we refer to them this possessive stance is clear in our language.
Even when the diagnosis may be temporary or descriptive (for example idiopathic conditions literally mean that the doctor does not know what is causing it), we still use these terms to shape our experiences and how we relate to our bodies. I don’t know exactly where to draw the line between anxiety and OCD. I was diagnosed with both and I know that OCD is an anxiety disorder so when do I refer to one or the other?
Despite this confusion, I still do refer to them with the possessive. For example: my OCD is causing me a lot of problems today because I can’t stop doing my rituals.
However, I also think this terminology recognizes how individualistic health and illness are. Just because I have anxiety does not mean it feels the same as anyone else with anxiety and by referring to “my anxiety,” I am saying this is specific to me and I’m not necessarily claiming that others do feel the same way. Obviously, many experiences may be similar but by no means all and this type of language recognizes that.
Describing my conditions as mine means that the table is open for others to say “Yes, but my condition is like this…” or “My condition is sort of like that…” It’s permits collaboration between people with illnesses.
And I like that—we don’t all have to be the same despite having a similar diagnosis.
It’s partly why I like that we have identity (such as disability) and person-centered language. Sometimes, I want to underscore a certain identity in a specific context and sometimes I want to underscore that I am a person with those identities.
For example, when I connect with the disability community, I prioritize my disabilities and at other times I want to highlight that I am a person who has these conditions but isn’t necessarily these conditions. OCD and anxiety and scoliosis and migraines and eczema and chronic pain are not my entire identity. I am also a woman and nerd who loves to bake, read, and watch Doctor Who. And sometimes, I need to underscore those parts of myself—sometimes, I will focus on being a reader and a writer, like when I write this blog or attend book club.
And yes, sometimes I am an anxious reader who is nervous about virtual book club meetings! And both of those things are going to shape how I interact with other readers. If we’re talking about a book like Get A Life, Chloe Brown being disabled is also going to shape how I read and talk about it.
I love interacting with a book from my perspective as a person with chronic pain. I love that I get to talk about a character who has fibromyalgia but she is also so many other things! She is a website designer, a wealthy Black woman with a big family, and a British cat lover. She isn’t defined solely by any of those things, because none of us are. Here’s a cheer for intersectional characters and the hope that we get more of them because my anxiety is not like your anxiety some of the time because I am not like you in many respects!