My Fingerprints Dissolving into Air
By Carol Krause
My friend says I should try not writing about disability. I am not sure what to say. It’s true I write about disability a lot. And lately I have become bored with the disability narrative I am creating. So, I try to write about sensitivity instead. I am too sensitive for the world, I write. This seems a little better, but I still can’t stop writing about how I am so sensitive that I am disabled.
I tell him I will try to write a piece about my life that is not about disability. This will, the argument goes, make me freer to be the person I want to be. Not the person I don’t want to be.
I try to go through my days without mentioning disability.
I select the best possible solution to any barrier I am faced with and call myself competent. Capable. Dependable. This is how I write the story of my life.
Does this make me feel better?
I like to say that I am human. I write it at the top of the About page on my website. This reminds me that I am like every other human. But am I?
I don’t usually say that I am neuroatypical, even though I’m sure that I am. My brain, and it is not just my brain, is rather disobedient. Inconvenient. Uncalled for. I call it naturally psychoactive because that’s what my inner world can feel like. In between madness and the mystical, I attempt an ordinary life. Write poetry. Pet my cat. Walk in the woods. My medication keeping me within certain boundaries. Even as, in bold moments, I call myself boundless.
But then, are we talking disability again?
The opposite of disability is strength, right? Or is disability a strength? The ability to be different, beautifully different.
I try to be “strengths focused.” Should I list my gifts under the heading, “Carol’s Gifts?"
I list a checkmark next to my gifts. This affirms that they really are my gifts. I do not list my disabilities on the opposite side of the page. Though I’m pretty sure that the way my brain is wired makes me a potent poet. Not to mention that it opens me to the spirit world and makes me prone to empathy. I make no mention of my diagnosis – schizoaffective disorder – anywhere on the open space. I do not label myself on the spectrum of schizophrenia. I am on the spectrum of humanity. Even though I don’t always feel part of the human species, there is no evidence that I am an alien.
I am leaning against a wall on a busy street. One hand raised in the air. Staring blankly into space. Disappearing into a great absence, the swarming world around me dimming. It takes me awhile to register that a stranger is asking for water. The words slowly gaining meaning. I cannot give the stranger water. I am not here, not anywhere. There is no one to cry for help.
When my friend comes to rescue me, she recognizes me, though I’m not sure where I am. She gives me a cigarette, even though I don’t smoke. She leads me to a quiet apartment. I return slowly.
Is it my brain? Or is it the bus that stopped at a different place? The noises of the city. Not finding my way. The bang bang of lights. The way sound snatches you from yourself. What is it to blame?
My doctor shows me my disability tax credit application over the computer. Under diagnosis she has typed, schizoaffective disorder (continuous). There are boxes listing the degree of disability. She has checked the boxes. In a couple of months, a stranger will add up the checkmarks and come up with a special number. This number, in addition to my diagnosis and the lists of supports I require to live “independently,” will determine whether I am considered disabled on a tax form. This shouldn’t be a problem, my doctor assures me.
The list of supports is rather long. But I will not call them disability supports. I will call them human supports. I will not list them in a long line, like this: case manager, primary care coordinator, occupational therapist, short-term therapist, psychiatrist, Wheel-Trans services, support from parents with basic tasks, home cleaning services, was there something I’m forgetting?
This list of supports doesn’t belong in this piece. But I will leave it here. Then I will inform you of the outcome: approval of the disability tax credit for five more years. This is good news, right?
I have grown accustomed to these applications. There was the Ontario Disability Support Program application, the previous disability tax credit application, the Wheel-Trans application, the application for student-provided therapy, and the case management application. I am used to applying for services out of a position of lack. I am used to being put inside a box and squished down until I am real small, someone you can pity. This is a process of becoming, make no mistake. It’s just best you don’t believe you are the person you become.
There was no need to believe a thing. The tunnel opened before my eyes, inside my eyes. A peace drawing me deeper into a circle without sides. If I was moving, I was not moving. And if I became someone, she had no face or name. There was a space with nothing inside it. I was part of that space, but I was on the edges. Looking in. I could not call it an upper or lower world, for I could not sense a direction. When I was inside the outside of the tunnel, I inhabited a bliss that got inside my eyes. I saw through the darkness. Here, within the moving circles, I lacked nothing. The void welcoming me deeper.
I cannot form the formless into words, but I will try. The characteristics of my body-mind grew so bright that they were vague before my eyes. Could who I was be described in the language of the tongue? How much I could do could not be counted. I was neither abled nor disabled. Even my humanity was something without outline. I softened before a great radiance that drew me deeper into my own breath.
I move between the particular and the universal. I find myself in this time and place, with this exquisitely unique brain. It is not a very good fit for the city. Or the city is not a very good fit for it. I live a simple life, having had to say goodbye to many of my wants. But I have been given so much. Grateful for family support, and the ability to care for myself, while also having the privilege of being cared for.
I have certain characteristics that give life a terrible beauty. I rest in this beauty, in between fidgeting at the edges. When I abide inside the timeless, I forget how to identify myself. My fingerprints dissolving into air. I open my eyes by closing them.
I ask for help from the place beyond, and it is not called social assistance. I am guided towards a great light that I do not see with my eyes. But I feel it everywhere. There is nothing wrong with me. I come in a whole that is neither broken nor repaired. To say I am disabled is to say that a tree is crooked. Well then, I will say it. A tree is crooked. And when I travel underneath the tree to an invisible river that moves through me, I forget what crooked means for a tree.
Disability is natural. I am not the first person to say this. To be limited, either by one’s own body-mind, or by an environment that does not adapt to one’s body-mind, is to be human. Disability is part of a human life. Whether one is considered to have autism, multiple sclerosis, schizoaffective disorder, dyslexia or Down Syndrome, these differences are part of what it is to be alive. They are not even necessarily limitations. As many folks have said before me, whether the environment around us accepts or rejects these differences makes all the difference.
I am suited to a natural environment – trees and caves and mud. When I am underground, I do not have a disability. I am not designed to be in a city. But I find myself here, disabled by the bright lights and loud noises and frenetic frequencies. Or by the interaction of the bright lights and loud noises with my own mind.
I try to expunge the presence of disability from my life, but isn’t this erasure? Nearly every area of my life is affected by this wretched tension between the way I am and the way the world around me is. It’s not just the world around me, it’s the world within me. For I am composed of the cars that drive over my belly, their vibrations disrupting any sense of inner harmony. There is no line between where I end and where I begin. So, who or what is disabled?
And how does death fit with disability? If we can convince ourselves that we will escape disability, what about death? Is not this great passing the ultimate disabling of our dreams and longings and attachments?
I saw my own death once. After I saw three older visions of myself. I was not frightened. For a great light filled the space around me. And there was only joy in this great departure. Was the body that had grown old disabled? Did I need to tell a story of my limitations? There was no story left to tell. And who it was that was dying asked nothing of no one. For she was carried along by a light that was not other than the darkness.
I carry this experience with me as a reminder. I will be there soon, in between form and formless. I will not carry an identifier anymore, although my name will be said by those who mourn my passing. It will not be unique, this voyage into the nameless, though it will be unrecognizable. I will be joined by many, though some will resist. Death, the great unifier, will still my grasp, my fingers settling into stillness. My breath passing from me into the room.
Carol Krause, human.
And then a date.
November 19, 2022, 12:42 pm.
Cleansed. Clothed. Fed. Breathing. Watching the words appear on my screen. Telling another story about disability?
Gratitude for Randall Baker and Barbara Sheppard for your help with editing this piece.
Carol Krause is a writer whose naturally psychoactive mind often disrupts her plans. Sometimes this results in joy. Her poetry has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Minola Review and PRISM international, among other publications. Her debut poetry collection is forthcoming with Guernica Editions. You can find her in a cave at carolkrause.ca.