The Disability Closet

I have a mental illness. When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That was a very painful time for me—I spent a lot of it crying. At one point, my mother and I wondered if I would be better off in a psychiatric ward. We went to a friend’s Halloween party instead. I put on my Maximum Ride costume, carved a scary pumpkin, and resumed living my life. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I’m not alone. According to the informational posters displayed by UPS, one in six students here has an invisible disability. And mine is invisible. Most people wouldn’t notice anything different about me. I eat at the SUB, attend classes, and pursue my dream of being a writer. In short, I appear just like the rest of the student body. I may tell close friends about my disability but for the most part it remains “in the closet.” I do not want people to look at me differently. I do not want to look at myself differently.

Despite this, I was surprised when a professor said that admitting more mentally ill people made campus more “volatile” and that was why we didn’t have as many intense debates. I remember thinking that just because we are mentally ill does not mean we are jerks. This professor judged me without knowing anything about me or my situation. He didn’t even have to look at me. In that moment, I was glad my disability was “in the closet.” I did not want to be thought of as less than.

Why are remarks like these considered acceptable? It would not be acceptable to say that African American students made campus more volatile or that gay and lesbian students made campus more volatile. How are students with mental disabilities different? It is the same concept of isolating a particular group and disparaging it for its difference.

Last week, I heard the word “neurotypical” in conversation for the first time, used to describe people without mental disabilities. I don’t believe any of us are truly normal or neurotypical. We are all different, each and every one of us. I adore murder mysteries. My friend is fascinated by autobiographies. My sister loves anime. Wouldn’t it be nice if we supported our differences? Gave each other tolerance instead of judgment? Why do we feel this need to look down on one another?

None of us are less than because of the things that make us different. We all have the right to acceptance and encouragement. And most importantly, we should accept and encourage ourselves. Let’s all take that thing that makes us “weird” and let it out of the closet. Celebrate it! Because in doing so we celebrate ourselves.

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About lmcginnis

I'm a senior here at UPS . I'm working towards an English major and a Spanish minor. I love any kind of creative writing; I'm president of the Writers Guild. I'm working on completing my thesis, a novella titled "Like Butterflies." It's about a witch-figure who can take away people's memories. In my free time, I like to practice karate and read Agatha Christie.