stress

Struggling more with disability in the aftermath of the election

Everything gets harder under extreme stress. The aftermath of the election is an extremely stressful situation, and a lot of people are struggling.

This is not a normal situation. Donald Trump is almost certainly going to become President in January. He has promised to do awful things. His actions since Election Day have not been reassuring. This is a terrifying situation. For many people, it’s life threatening. It’s hard to function in a situation like this.

If you have a disability, this may be affecting you differently than it’s affecting nondisabled people. Most people are having trouble right now; most disabled people are having additional disability-related trouble.

If you have a mobility disability, moving might be harder right now. If you have a speech disability, speaking might be harder or impossible right now. If you have sensory issues, some sensory input you are normally able to deal with might be intolerably painful at the moment. If you have an eating disorder, it might be harder to control it right now. If you have seizures or migraines or other neurological problems, your threshold might be lowered. If you have trauma-related triggers, they might be harder to tolerate, or you might be more hypervigilant than usual. If you are hard of hearing, it might be much harder to understand spoken conversations right now. And so on.

Things you’re used to being able to do might be harder or impossible right now. Coping mechanisms you’re used to relying on might not be working. This is true for everyone, disabled or not. But with disability, we’re also having functioning problems that most people around us aren’t having. That can in itself be difficult to cope with.

For many of us, self acceptance as disabled people is a struggle. Under extreme stress, acceptance can be even harder. Acceptance is a skill just like everything else — and under extreme stress, many of us are dramatically more impaired. Acceptance gets harder, at the same time that there is suddenly more to accept. But you’re still worthy of acceptance. You’re not broken. It’s just hard.

Being disabled isn’t a failure. Being more impaired in a time of extreme stress isn’t a character flaw. You’re not alone in struggling. Nondisabled people are also more impaired right now; and they also can’t make it go away through sheer force of will. The particular things you can and can’t do may be different — because you have a disability, and disability matters.

Tl;dr The aftermath of the election is extremely stressful. This kind of stress makes everything harder. If you have a disability, some of your coping skills might not be working very well right now. Acceptance may also feel a lot harder. It’s worth remembering that it’s normal to struggle in situations like this — and it’s not your fault that disability matters now. Your body is not a character flaw.

Stress makes everything harder

Autistic people are autistic all the time. Sometimes some difficulties fade into the background, then come back out again when someone is particularly stressed out. This is true across the board for sensory issues, communication issues, movement, and all kinds of other things. (This is also true for people with any other kind of disability).

The intermittent nature of some apparent difficulties can sometimes lead to them being misinterpreted as psychosomatic. They’re not. Everyone, autistic or not, has more trouble doing things that are hard for them when they’re experiencing significant stress. Some things are particularly hard for autistic people, and those things also get harder with stress.

This is how it actually works:

  • Doing the thing always takes a lot of effort
  • Putting in all that effort has become second nature
  • When you’re not exceptionally stressed, you might not notice the effort it takes consciously
  • When you *are* really stressed, you don’t have energy to do the thing in the ways you normally can
  • So you end up having more trouble than usual, and probably looking a lot more conspicuously disabled than usual

For instance, with motor issues:

  • For those of us with motor difficulties, moving smoothly and accurately takes more effort than it does for most people
  • This can become second nature, to the point that we don’t consciously notice how difficult it is
  • But it’s still there
  • And when you’re really stressed or overwhelmed, you may not have the energy to make yourself move accurately
  • So things you can normally do (eg: handwriting, not walking into walls, picking up objects, pouring water) might become awkward or impossible
  • That doesn’t mean you’re faking or somehow doing it on purpose
  • It just means that things are harder when you’re stressed

Or with sensory issues:

  • Living with sensory sensitivities means that a lot of things hurt
  • For the sake of doing things anyway, a lot of us build up a high pain tolerance
  • To the point that we may no longer consciously process things as pain even though they hurt
  • Ignoring pain takes a lot of energy
  • When we’re really stressed, we may not have the energy to ignore pain
  • And things we normally tolerate can be experienced as overloading or intolerably painful
  • That doesn’t mean we’re faking the pain to avoid something stressful, or that we’re somehow bringing it on ourselves.
  • It just means that everything is harder under stress, including tolerating pain

Or with communication:

  • Communication can be hard for a lot of us in varying ways
  • For some of us, being able to speak requires juggling a lot of things that are automatic for most people
  • Or being able to use words at all, including typing
  • For some of us, that’s true of understanding people when they talk to us
  • Or of knowing what words are at all
  • If someone can’t talk, understand or use words under stress, it doesn’t mean that they’re somehow faking it to avoid a difficult situation
  • It means that communication is hard, and stress makes everything harder

tl;dr Stress makes everything harder. For people with disabilities, that includes disability-related things, including things that we don’t normally seem to have trouble with. Sometimes we’re wrongly assumed to be doing on purpose or faking to avoid a difficult situation; it should actually be seen as an involuntary, normal, and expected physiological response to stress.