Laura Lee is an elegant, intelligent writer who writes herself into and out of the most interesting mazes of inquiry. She was my student at Purdue and on March 2nd, her debut essay collection, A History of Scars, was published. The manuscript rose out of her MFA thesis and I could not be prouder to see this book making its way into the world. It is a lovely, haunting collection about the scars we bear from mental illness, and the physical brutalities of life. Links to various book purveyors can be found here. You won’t regret buying this book. Or requesting it from your local library.
Laura has written an essay about living with a disability and the anxieties of the world getting back to “normal,” and she was kind enough to let me share it with all of you.
Laura Lee is a writer based in Chicago. She holds a BA in comparative literature from New York University and an MFA in creative writing from Purdue University. A History of Scars is her first book.
The world has slowed down to my pace, during COVID times. My own daily routines changed very little. As someone with schizophrenia, it has become much easier to keep socially distant from others, as I already prefer, without appearing rude. Newfound access to telehealth means I no longer have to worry about difficulties getting to and from the doctor, which also lightens the load on my partner. Interactions that used to be difficult or impossible for me to manage now no longer exist, as with contactless deliveries, where people don’t even need to talk to or see each other to conduct transactions. It’s not that this contactless world is pleasant, exactly, so much as that it eases the symptoms of my illness. There’s no need for explanation in keeping one’s social distance anymore.
I’ve enjoyed relative stability and fortune during this time period. Still, the economy has affected my family, like anyone else’s. My partner enters the job market in conditions less than ideal. I’ve also lived through my fair share of turmoil in the past. The only positive of this time period has been the feeling that we’re all in it together—that at least some of this suffering and uncertainty is shared and understood by all, universal, even if the individual toll we each endure is completely disproportionate, depending on circumstance.
My own concern lies not in COVID times, but in what comes after. I wonder what will happen to people like me, those who are disabled, once the world returns to its normal pace. I wonder how the world will move on once the pandemic begins fading, and whether that world will be more inclusive.
We read now in the news about symptoms like psychosis, which used to be confined to the realm of people with serious mental illnesses such as mine, in relation to the experiences of some COVID survivors. I’m curious if we will now view these symptoms with more empathy for the sufferer. I’m curious how other symptoms suffered by COVID long haulers, such as chronic fatigue and brain fog, which are already familiar to people disabled by other illnesses such as mine, will be viewed and treated.
Now that we’ve seen on such a large scale how fragile health can be for any single person, and how random health shocks can be, I hope we can have different conversations about disability, ones that are less harsh on those unable to work or function independently. As the pandemic subsides, will we forget everything we’ve learned, or will we have more serious and compassionate conversations about disability?
I fear the ways in which people like me will be left behind, once the world resumes its normal pace. I fear that those of us who are disabled in invisible ways will once again be left out of the conversation entirely.
As lovely as it might sound to sit at home doing nothing all day, surely more people understand now that this lifestyle of disenfranchisement is not something one would choose voluntarily, and that people who are disabled and who suffer from serious mental health conditions want more in the way of fulfillment, access, contribution, and connection.
I also see hope for a different path forward, one in which shame exits the conversation around disability and mental health. In which we instead recognize how fleeting and fundamentally precious good health is, and in which we come together to find ways to include, accommodate, and support more ways of being in everyday society, whether through individual, technological, or structural change.