We’ve gotten a few questions recently about the “differently-abled” and “mentally challenged”, so I’m posting this to say that we’re not going to answer those questions or anything like them. Assume that everything on this blog is written from the perspective of someone with a mental disability and take that into account because, after all, it is.
Below the cut is the rest, but that’s the long and short of it.
When I talk about fighting and combat, I don’t think about how it pertains to my mental disability. I don’t think about it like that because my ADHD isn’t a separate trait that’s distinct from my personality, it’s a part of who I am and who I have always been. We, each of us, are the lens through which we view the world. Through our experiences, we what define what is normal for ourselves. Outside of us, society may tell us differently, may apply us with labels, whether that label is based in our physical attributes or the results of a test that tells us we’re “not like everyone else”.
Ever since I was a child, I knew that I wasn’t like many of my friends, that I was different and while that hurt, there was nothing I could do to change it. Diagnosis, knowing how I was different, didn’t really help. Medication did, but there was always a gap between me and the “normal” people. Normal, for me, is me. I connect better with other people who share my disability. I connect better with other people who share my abnormal brain chemistry even if our disabilities are not the same.
How does this relate to fighting?
The short answer is that it doesn’t. I don’t relate my experiences in the martial arts through the lens of my disorder because my disorder never mattered there. In school, I was in the Special Ed department and the fact that I had ADHD was a known quality both to my teachers and to my classmates. Where I was the weird kid in elementary, middle, and high school, I was just another kid on martial arts floor with their own set of challenges. It wasn’t that my instructors didn’t know. It was that it didn’t matter. There were good days and bad days, but those days weren’t defined by: would it have been different if you weren’t X.
I don’t know if it would have and the truth is that I don’t care. I don’t define my martial arts experience by my mental disorder and if you want to write a character with one then you shouldn’t either. The problem with choosing a mental disorder and layering it onto a character is that you are in essence making them “other”. Don’t think about those of us with a mental disorder as a different species. Our brains do work differently, but the name of the disorder isn’t what matters, it’s the pieces of the disorder and how they affect a person that do. A disorder isn’t a flat metric, it’s a spectrum and each individual on the spectrum reacts to and experiences their disorder differently. The reason for that is because no one human being is the same, we are all shaped by our experiences growing up and the challenges we face are what define us.
Just as the fact that you should never define someone by the color of their skin, you should never define a person by their mental disorder.
It’s part of who I am and not the whole of who I am. Through learning and practice, we adapt. That’s the end of it.
(Somehow, differently-abled manages to sound more condescending than mental disorder. How does it do that?)