chordatesrock (chordatesrock) wrote in accessportrayal,

Cures and Treatments


Cures, especially miraculous and unexplained cures, are far more common in fiction than in reality. Miracle cures do occasionally happen, however. I would suspect that they’re multiple orders of magnitude less common in real life, so there aren’t likely to be any others willing and able to tackle this subject. This isn’t precisely what I’m hoping for from this community (I’m not even using my own template), but it’s in keeping with the community’s general goal.

Gradual, unexplained cure

When I experienced the gradual, unexplained and unprecedented disappearance of a specific disability, it happened over the course of several years. My self-image lagged behind my ability: I thought of myself as someone lacking the ability for a while after I began to gain it, I continued to expect myself not to be able to successfully use it, and I was surprised when I was able to do it consistently. In this case, the disability was congenital. I had never before lived without it. I also did not know what it was called, or that it was documented, until it had already started to go away. This complicated the process of coming to identify as a person with this condition. It was awkward to come to identify with it just as that stopped being true. I also continued to describe myself as having no ability in this area well into the process of gaining ability.

The first and only time I have ever met someone in person who had the condition in question was after I no longer had it and no longer thought of myself as having it. Even so, my initial instinct was to assume something equivalent to N-word privileges: knowing xe had the disability, I made a joke about it that could easily be taken as making fun of xem. Realizing that xe had no way to know about my experiences, I explained about my history with that disability.

Sudden ability gain

When I experienced the sudden disappearance of a disability, I noticed immediately. I did not assume it would be permanent. I did not jump up and down rejoicing at being cured. I took advantage of it, striking while the iron was hot to maximize productivity while I could. I expected it to come back.

Explicable miracle cures

People wouldn’t try medical or desperately ridiculous-sounding treatments if they never worked, and when two worked for me on two separate occasions for two separate conditions (only one that I would consider really disabling), I was glad of it. In these cases, it meant an increase in quality of life. In both cases, the miracle cures themselves were pleasant enough and they directly caused me to experience less pain and suffering, which is not true of every possible cure for every possible disability. For me, it meant going about my life and having my life be slightly more pleasant. After structuring your life so that you never need to go anywhere inaccessible, you find that being able to surmount accessibility barriers doesn’t matter, because you stopped trying and got on with a different kind of life a long time ago. On the other hand, the extent to which they could make my day-to-day life painful and annoying anyway is the extent to which I was relieved. However, the absence of something is harder to notice than its presence. The absence of pain or discomfort is invisible, even when it’s new, unless and until it comes back.

Just getting over it

I did this with something that I’d never identified with. That doesn’t mean identifying with something makes it permanent-- if it did, I wouldn’t have some of the experiences I’ve already described-- but it’s important to know that to understand how I felt about it. It’s also relevant that this one involved suffering as an integral part of it and was acquired, not congenital. I didn’t immediately trust that I really had “just gotten over” it. The day after I did, it came back, but after that, it went away again. It took a while to believe that it was permanent. Actually, it didn’t completely go away when I “got over” it; after that, it continued to improve for a long time afterward. It might have been months or even a couple of years; I don’t remember for sure now. Now, I don’t expect it to come back, even though the most likely possibility is that it will. I never expect to deal with it again. I got very worried when I thought it would come back after a while, but it didn’t come back again after all, at least not then. I don’t miss it. I never have.

Return of cured disability

This is not like the onset of a new disability. This is immediately familiar. If you once identified with it and never really stopped, and if you had relatively neutral feelings toward it, then it’s like the return of an old friend that you don’t like and have no nostalgia for. You settle into dealing with it, explaining it and living with it as before. I’ve given serious thought to trying to cure it again. I have every reason to believe it would work, but it would also be expensive and now that I’ve experienced it coming back again after a relatively short period of time (a few years, maybe six; I’m not looking up exact dates as I write this), there are concerns that weigh against making my life more convenient.

If something that went away suddenly comes back just as suddenly and after only a few days of being gone, then you can move on like nothing happened. At least, that’s what I did.

Living as nondisabled

This is the oddest and most difficult part of cures. (It’s also, for me, a visceral lesson in the social model; I don’t have the typical CND body and mind.) People treat you differently and it’s impossible for me to tell who would have treated me how when I was at my worst. I don’t think of myself as CND (currently nondisabled). I’ve thought more than once about the possibility of forgetting everything and living as if most of my life never happened. I can’t do it; I can’t turn my back on a community that needs me and I can’t stop identifying this way, even now, even though I should.

While I’m grateful for the inclusion and respect, I don’t always feel as if I’ve been let into something worthwhile. Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve been kicked out of something comfortable and left entirely alone and bewildered to live like I never have before. Sometimes, it feels like a door has been slammed behind me.

I think it might be a little like Ariel might have felt when they gave her legs.

This involves identity politics very strongly. In themselves, I think most disabling conditions aren’t particularly fun or pleasant, but there’s a desire not to identify with the people who designed society to exclude you. It’s a relief to have more possibilities for your future, to be able to choose to do things you couldn’t before and no longer fear things that were once very plausible threats, but it’s also disconcerting and alien. Anything you couldn’t do before is new and how you react to it will depend on how you react to new things in general. Additionally, if you find that most of your social contacts are based on disability and most of what you spend your time on involves discussing disability with disabled people, then it can be a loss of your credentials. If you’ve sought the one space where disability actually gives you an advantage, then losing it means losing that advantage.

That doesn’t mean it’s all bad, or that your character can’t get used to it, but it does mean your character might occasionally wish to just get hit by a car, especially at first. If it’s your character’s normal to face access barriers and to have xyr activities significantly restricted, then it’s your character’s normal, and it’s alien and might be disconcerting for that to change, even if your character wants it to. This probably applies more to congenital disabilities than acquired ones, for the same reason that a disability coming back is not the same as acquiring a disability in the first place.

There is one new ability I have that I savor every time I use it, which is often. While it was surprising to gain it for no particular reason, I don’t feel disconcerted by it and would hate not to have it again. I find that it makes my life much easier and I can’t take it for granted. I really am thrilled to have this one. Of course, while I tried to structure important things around not having it, I was never quite able to do that while achieving everything I wanted to achieve. Additionally, it’s not visible to other people and doesn’t have much effect on interpersonal relationships or on what places I can go.

Problematic representation

What’s the difference between a blind person and a sighted person with a blindfold? Practice.

Disability is about the day-to-day ways things get done differently. It’s about managing your spoons, if that’s the kind of disability you have, from now till Kingdom Come, not now till a miracle cure comes. It’s about the day-to-day workarounds. It’s about learning to read typical body language by rote. It’s about spotting and avoiding potential access nightmares when you’re invited someplace. Disabled people know their disability and whatever assistive tech they use, if any. If you’re disabled, you’ll be familiar with things like the pills you take if you take pills, or how to push a wheelchair if you use one (specifically if you use a manual one), how to use your preferred type of AAC device if you need one (and you’ll have a preference, something someone with no communication-related disability would probably not). If you have chronic pain, you’re different from a TAB experiencing that pain because you work through it while the TAB can just wait it out.

Cure storylines in fiction are often problematic because they can portray the cure as an integral part of a happy ending (a depressing message to people in the real world who can’t be cured) or as a reward for the protagonist’s morality or awesomeness. In real life, cures are not correlated with the disabled person’s awesomeness. None of the times I’ve experienced them have been because I did something to deserve it. They have not come as the culmination of an epic battle against the forces of evil. Nor has the resurgence of disability been caused by anything to do with my own character.

For further reading, see:
Dear Author, Please Don’t Heal Me
Disability and the curing thereof

A few final words

I hope you will seriously consider why you want to write about a cure. If it’s only as a reward, or a way to complete the happy ending, then please don’t. Also, remember that identity politics can tie very strongly into cure issues, especially for specific disability communities that view their disabilities with pride, such as the Deaf community.

If you want a protagonist with varying abilities, there are many disabilities which cause exactly that: varying abilities. Multiple sclerosis, autism, some speech disorders and many if not most chronic illnesses are all examples. If all you really need is for your character to be able to do something at the end of the book that xe couldn’t do at the beginning, any of those could be suitable.

That said, if you truly want to write about a cure-- and not merely throw it in as an extra perk, or because a permanent disability seems too terrible to contemplate-- then I wish you luck.
Tags: acquisition and cure, general disability resources, resources

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