I often feel as though I have to spend every second of my life explaining my worth to other people. As a 20 something disabled woman in the ‘high-risk’ category during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more and more difficult for me to read the news or go on social media. It has become exhausting to read comments sections and listen to debates about whether or not masks are effective. My social media feed has become akin to the 7th ring of hell as my peers return to bars and brunch dates. At this point, everything just feels insulting. I feel completely invisible.
To be disabled in America is to exist in between a rock and a hard place: the American health care system and the ableism of everyday life. After eight years of dealing with a life-threatening medical condition, I thought that I had finally learned to navigate this grey space. I’d braved health insurance companies, 80,000 ICU bills, and going to college bald. At every turn I found to push back, but I was always hopeful about my interactions with other people. Friends, professors, family, and passersby on the street were able to present some semblance of care in everyday life. I thought that I could function in the world with some level of trust in others.
I was wrong.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a lot about the American public in a short period of time, but the most disturbing is the very public devaluing of the vulnerable — the elderly, the sick, and the marginalized. Elderly Americans are dying off in nursing homes at unprecedented rates and people are refusing to wear masks under the banner of individualism. Black people are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates all over the country, and Black Lives Matter protests are still met with disgust and confusion. People that I have known for years, who have told me time and time again that they support me, have decided that I am simply not worth protecting and have taken to Facebook to condemn the public health measures that have kept me alive. And in the middle of it all, I find myself constantly returning to one simple question:
Why is my life worth so little to you? Why is my life not worth wearing a mask, washing your hands, and abstaining from brunch? Why am I not good enough?
When people say that they want to make an impact on the world, they very rarely realize that the important work is done in the tiny choices we make for one another. Impacts are made during protests and petitions, but they are most commonly made in quiet. Washing our hands, respecting other people’s boundaries, using their pronouns, or holding open a door. Wearing a seatbelt, recycling, calling an Uber for a friend on a night out, or donating blood. These are little things we do for ourselves and others every day, just like wearing a mask. And I just don’t know how to explain to you that I am worth at least that much.
Kathryn Poe is an undergraduate student in Columbus, OH.