Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lexicon: "Normal People Sick"

An informal way of differentiating between acute illness, and chronic illness or disability. As in, “This isn't the usual fatigue, I'm normal people sick!” Short-term illness that anyone can experience, not illness that is chronic or a side effect of a long-term condition or disability. The term also helps to underscore the idea that disability is not the same thing as illness or sickness. One can be disabled and healthy, or disabled and temporarily sick. A paraplegic (disabled) can, for a short period of time, have the flu (normal people sick). It can be especially helpful and clarifying for people with chronic pain or chronic illness, by identifying symptoms that can be readily cured or relieved, (like appendicitis or a cold), as opposed to symptoms that are chronic, incurable, or that can at best be managed, (like asthma, or joint pain from arthritis) ... a.k.a. “Regular People Sick”.

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A Small Point About "Friday Night Lights"

Friday Night Lights TV show poster
On a whim, I decided to re-watch Friday Night Lights, the under-watched and highly rated drama about high school football in rural Texas, that included a character, Jason Street, adjusting to on on-field spinal cord injury. I blogged about him before a couple of times when I was watching the show for the first time. This time, I noticed a seemingly small point that I think actually says something pretty important about how most people view disability.

Early in the first season … soon after Street's injury ... his girlfriend, Lyla Garrity, chatters on and on about all of the spinal cord injury treatments and success stories she found on the Internet. It seems like a realistic plot point. In real life, a young injured man’s girlfriend, mother, or father are surely going to Google “spinal cord injury” to find out what can be done … by which I mean what can be done to repair it.

I wonder though, why doesn’t Lyla Google “living with spinal cord injury”? I can understand her not thinking to do so early on, but even later, after it becomes clear that Jason won’t walk again, nether Lyla, nor Jason or anyone else does any apparent research to learn about how people with spinal cord injury live. Jason learns some of these things through his rehab experience, where he also meets some bad-ass guys in wheelchairs who give him a more nuanced perspective on things. But nobody else seems to bring the same level of resourcefulness, dedication, and hopefulness to the task of helping Jason live a full life, as they did to the task of curing him. Once Lyla realizes that Jason won’t walk again, her fervor wanes. She doesn’t immediately drop him, and when they break up she’s conflicted about it, but she was massively fired up when the goal was to cure Jason, yet never mustered any enthusiasm for helping him live with his injury.

No matter what we think and say about it, in general, society still views curing or at least masking a disability as a mission, and adjusting to and living with a disability a compromise. One inspires enthusiasm. The other, resignation. I understand enthusiasm for recovery, especially while there’s still some reasonable hope for it. But why don’t more people bring the same kind of excitement to exploring life with a disability?

This little scene also raises another question for disability bloggers and blog readers. We know how much great stuff there is on the Internet, by and for people with disabilities and their families, demonstrating every conceivable perception of every disability imaginable. The question is, do people who most need to read our stuff actually find it? Or, is the problem that people new to disability aren't ready to explore disability life and culture, even if they do run across it?

More about "Friday Night Lights" in Disability Thinking: