Content warning: mention of mental illness, internalised ableism

If you told eight-year-old-me that I’d be disabled at 24, fae would be confused. They’d probably look at older me with wide eyes and question what had happened to me.

Growing up as the older sibling of someone disabled, I knew that some disabilities were ‘invisible.’ I knew that you don’t need to use mobility aids (like a wheelchair or a rollator walker) or assistive technology (e.g. hearing aids) to be disabled. And I knew that young people could be disabled.

But I wouldn’t have considered myself disabled. And I’d be confused about why I call myself disabled today.

I’ve had anxiety since I could remember. My health, social life and school life was majorly affected by it. I have paediatrician reports stating anxious attachment to a parent. By the time I was in year eight in high school, I avoided spending time with friends because of severe anxiety.

I’m also asthmatic. As a kid it was seasonal, but now it’s severe. Despite these conditions, in addition to being diagnosed as an adult with depression, CPTSD and ADHD, and living undiagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I only started self-identifying as disabled in the last two months.

I had the idea that I wasn’t disabled ‘enough’ to call myself disabled.

In August I was a part of the YDAS Young Leaders program, which connected me with other young disabled leaders. It was validating but also confronting being identified as disabled. I felt like an imposter, even though I knew I’ve been greatly impacted by my conditions. A facilitator put it in a way that I resonated with: “think of it like a binary of disabled or abled. You’re either disabled, or you’re not. There is no ‘less disabled’ or ‘more disabled’.”

This helped me feel more comfortable with taking on the disabled label. I don’t need to place myself in between people who are ‘more’ or ‘less’ disabled than me.

It’s not a competition! It’s a community.

Disability is simply any condition that impacts your daily life. That includes being D/deaf, hard of hearing, being neurodiverse, autistic, an ADHD-er, blind, vision impaired, having a health condition or chronic illness, and having lived experience of mental health issues/mental illness.

So if that’s you, know that you’re welcome in the disabled community. We’re grateful to have you with us- the more the merrier!

Charli Gayheart (fae/they/them) is a disabled queer person living on Wurundjeri Land of the Kulin Nation. Fae study health promotion and gender, sexuality and diversity studies and is a collagist. You can find their artwork on instagram @gayheartcreative.