I know it’s been awhile

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(appeared in today’s Patterson Irrigator HERE)

Hello fellow Pattersonites! It’s me. I know it’s been months since I’ve written. Time got away from me. It really did. Seems like just yesterday we were washing our groceries with dish soap and feeling grateful to find 1-ply toilet paper at the store. We didn’t care that our butts were chafed, we were happy to be alive.

I apologize for the delay in checking in, of course, but I thought I should touch base so you know that I’m not dead. Also, I wanted to let you know that I haven’t done anything crazy since last I wrote, either. For example:

#1. I haven’t joined a cult.

#2. I haven’t wasted twenty million dollars to go to space with Elon Musk.

#3. And I definitely haven’t joined an online multi-level marketing scheme to sell organic lip balm to every person I’ve known since 1997.

(Come to think of it, both #2 and #3 are also cults.)

Anyway, I hope you’ve been staying well and safe— and that you aren’t dehydrated from sobbing at the gas pump. So, make sure you drink lots of water and refrain from other activities that are bad for your health, too— like watching TikTok videos or being within six feet of Aaron Rodgers.

A lot has happened since last I wrote— on the local level, on the global level and on the personal level. But I can go no further without remarking on a sad local event. The passing of Ron Swift.

Publisher emeritus, quip master, and all-around stupendous fellow, Patterson will never again know a man as dedicated as Mr. Swift. We were lucky that Ron made this town his home all those years ago. For while Ron knew the things that needed doing, Ron also DID the things that needed doing. And it was done with a wry smile, self-deprecating wit— and little fanfare.

We could all learn something from that.

Seventeen years ago, Ron welcomed me to the Patterson Irrigator columnist family with open arms and was always there if I needed him. I appreciated that very much. He was Patterson’s very own Yoda, offering valuable perspective in a unique way that was always genuine and always unpretentious.

What a guy, Ron was. Missed, he will be.

On the global front, the last two years have been seismic. And, no, I’m not just talking about when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. It’s been crazytown all over the place. For two years. Remember when a bunch of people attacked the US Capitol like zombies from The Walking Dead? Or when Prince Harry decided royal life was total crap? Or when Tom Brady retired from the NFL only to unretire himself a few weeks later?

It’s important to note that during much of this time many of us did not wear real shoes. Only socks or slippers with treads on the bottom for when we went to the grocery store. Or when we walked the 10 feet to our front door to grab the pile of Amazon packages sitting there. Sadly, we went so long without wearing real shoes that we can no longer fit them on our stumpy feet. But, when we go online to buy new (bigger) shoes, we now discover that shoes are 259% more expensive than the last time we bought them.

Yet, truthfully, it hasn’t all been bad. We did learn how to bake banana bread and what it felt like to spend 168 hours a week with our own children. So, there is that.

I do have to say, though, that some things that happened since my last column did come as a surprise to me. For example, I did not have “Putin Goes Ballistic” on my 2022 bingo card. Sure, I’ve made a lot of jokes about Putin in the past. About his shortness, his love of Botox, and the way his beady eyes look like death lasers. But I didn’t think he’d start a reenactment of the year 1939. Maybe I was naive, but you’d think he would have known that it was a bad idea. After all, everyone hates a bully. Everyone. It’s baked into our human genome. We hate bullies just as much as we love chubby babies, ranch dressing and Labradoodles. It’s even in the Bible. (Just ask Goliath.)

On a personal note, since my last column, two big events have happened in my life. First, I got an orange kitten. His name is Charley and he loves cheddar cheese, chasing tin foil balls, and taking naps on my wheelchair— mostly while I’m sitting in it. We’ve acclimated to life together pretty well, especially considering he tries to steal my breakfast two or three times a week. I’m sure I’ll share more about Charley in the coming days. After all, it’s hard for me to write about much else since he spends most of his day sitting on top of me. So, stay tuned.

The other big news? I turned 40. This may not sound like a big deal to most, but to me, it really was. After all, for most of my life, I didn’t know if I would live to see the age of 40 because most born with my disability do not.

As a kid, reaching 40 years old seemed like a mythical accomplishment. Something that was theoretically possible, but not likely to happen— like growing up to marry Indiana Jones or becoming best friends with DJ Tanner. While cool possibilities, it definitely was not in the cards for me.

In all honesty, the arrival of the COVID pandemic did not bode well for my chances to reach this milestone. I watched disabled and high-risk folks here, and around the world, lose battles with the virus. Yet, at the same time, I saw many doubt the risks. I heard jokes about masks, vaccines and other protective measures. Weirdly, I can understand this. After all, it’s easier to believe you’re immune from it all when you don’t look like me. It’s easier to push it all aside when you think you’re not one of those “pre-conditioned people.”

Coming into my 40th birthday during this pandemic was a surreal experience. For two years, each day has been difficult— for ALL of us. Yet, personally, I have keenly felt that each day has been a gift, too. Even though we still have a long way to go, each day I have survived has been a small victory.

Thus, when the clock ticked to midnight on my 40th birthday, I stared out into the darkness of my bedroom—contemplating how far I had come. And, then, I whispered:

“Watch out, Indiana Jones… I’m coming for you.”

The Pay Gap

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(the full-version can be found here at the Anthesis website)

Most are familiar with the notion of pay gaps— when different groups of people earn different amounts of money for doing the same work. Much scholarship has been devoted to gender pay gaps, and in recent years, to the pay gaps experienced by people of color. These conversations are essential— for these disparities deeply impact the daily lives of many people, and ricochet outward into society. They can influence social policies, laws, economic opportunities and— at the core of it all— who, and what, we truly value.

However, there is a pay gap that gets very little attention, even though it’s right there under our very noses: the disability pay gap.

While the statistics can vary, a disabled person earns an average of 15-37% less than their able-bodied counterpart. Given that many disabled people have added disability-related expenses that nondisabled people don’t have (higher medical costs, added transportation costs, adaptive technology costs, etc.), these pay disparities are extra damaging to the livelihoods and independence of disabled people everywhere. It’s worth noting, too, that these numbers can even be worse for disabled women and disabled people of color, as they also face the additional gender and racial pay gaps, too.

There are many reasons for these pay disparities. To fully grasp the heart of this issue, though, we must shed light on some of the ableist viewpoints that have made the disability pay gap what it is today:

Ableist Myth #1

“Paying a disabled employee less is okay because a disabled person is not as productive as a non-disabled person.” This myth is the cornerstone of the disability pay gap. Despite some evidence to the contrary, most don’t believe disabled workers are as productive as their able-bodied counterparts. So, this notion is used to justify lower pay for disabled people.

Ableist Myth #2

“Disabled people get lots of help from the government, so there is no need to pay them the same as non-disabled people.” The myth is a double-edged sword. First of all, not all disabled people qualify for disability benefits. Secondly, for those that do qualify for assistance, the broken benefit system forces the disabled to subsist on poverty-level (and often sub-poverty level) resources and aid. So, what the disabled actually receive from these programs is far less than society believes.

Ableist Myth #3

“I’m doing the disabled person a favor by hiring them in the first place. So, to expect me to pay them the same as a non-disabled employee is just asking for too much.” There is a lot to unpack in this. In fact, there’s so much to dissect that we’d need a steamer trunk and three overnight bags to fit it all. But, at its core— this is Ableism 101. And disabled folks have been hearing stuff like this for decades. Society’s view of a disabled person’s worth and potential is often so compromised by generations of ableism that even imagining that they should pay a disabled person the same as a nondisabled person feels unreasonable and demanding.

Ableist Myth #4

“If I hire a disabled employee, they’ll just end up suing me for something… and I just don’t want to deal with that.” There is a pervasive myth that disabled people are litigious— whether it be suing businesses for ADA violations or suing employers for discrimination. But, in reality, it is very difficult for a disabled person to sue anyone for anything. As lawyers work on contingency, and lawsuits are arduous and expensive, such legal actions are out-of-reach for the vast majority of disabled people. So, these lawsuits just don’t happen— especially on the scale that people think they do.

Ableist Myth #5

— “Sure, in theory, it would be nice to hire a disabled person, but they just aren’t qualified for this job.” This myth is very widely believed, and by people who, in many ways, want to do the right thing and be ‘inclusive.’ But ableism can be a tricky and insidious thing, often overriding all else— even well-meaning intentions. Of course, this myth also has it wrong. In reality, disabled people are more often overqualified for the jobs they seek. Given the pervasiveness of ableism and discrimination, disabled folks are driven to accept jobs that are beneath their capabilities. And at a lower pay rate, of course. They are also forced to seek advanced degrees and other qualifications or certifications in order to try to stand out in the applicant pool— knowing full well that being disabled is a mark against them.

These myths are just a small glimpse of the ones floating out in the world. You’ve probably heard variations of these, but possibly never had need to examine the impact such misconceptions could have on others.

Now that we’ve learned more about the disability pay gap, we can look to see what we can do to help. After all, it will take lots of allies to unravel these foundational disparities. First of all, we must vote for candidates that support disability rights issues. Read their platforms. Make sure they are actively seeking policy change in these areas. And we need to hold them accountable for it! Next, we must support businesses that hire disabled employees. Your dollar has power— use it wisely. Further, the barriers of finding and maintaining homecare can be a substantial challenge for disabled workers (something that is exacerbated by the pay gap, as well). So, we must tackle that issue, too, so as to fully support the disabled workforce.

Lastly, if you are an employer, there is a big thing you can do. Hire disabled employees!

It’s important to acknowledge that many disabled people are understandably cautious about the jobs they feel comfortable or safe pursuing. So, if you are an employer, perhaps you could add a line at the bottom of your job listings? Something like, “This is a disability-friendly workplace. Inclusivity is a top priority. We welcome people who share this goal.

While seemingly a small gesture, this could be a signal that brings qualified and valuable applicants to your business. By including disabled workers in all employment-related discussions, you make your business more equitable and forward-thinking.

It’s a win-win for all.

So, let’s get started! Together, we can make these myths a thing of the past.

Ableism: The “-ism” No One Talks About

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(repost from my article on the Anthesis website)

When you think about discrimination, what comes to mind? Take a moment to ponder it. In your mind’s eye, who do you picture being discriminated against? How does this discrimination manifest? Where does it happen? And, lastly, why does it happen?

I ask these questions because we all have preconceived notions about discrimination. We may think about racism. Or sexism. Or homophobia. Or religious persecution. Our shared history has taught us to recognize some, more blatant, forms of these discriminations— but, sadly, we have a long way to go to identify and rectify the consequences that have resulted from them.

But there is one “-ism” that very few people know about. In fact, if they’ve heard the word, they likely don’t even know what it means. Yet, it’s an “-ism” they’ve most likely witnessed, and, I daresay, even directly enabled at some point in their lives.

I’m talking about ableism. The textbook definition, itself, is even vague— as if the person writing for Oxford Dictionary wasn’t quite sure what it is, either:

a·ble·ism, noun

/ˈābəˌlizəm/ 

discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.

No offense to the Oxford folks, but this definition isn’t helpful. Yet, oddly, the sparseness— the vagueness of it— and the fact that the definition doesn’t even mention the target of the discrimination… well, that says a LOT about how veiled and insidious ableism can be.

So, let’s expand this definition a little. Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities based on the deep-seeded societal belief that they are inferior to the nondisabled. It is rooted in the long-held assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing,” and a notion that they are incapable of being full, independent members of society. Like other “-isms,” ableism classifies an entire group of people as ‘less than,’ and perpetuates harmful stereotypes and misconceptions of people with disabilities.

Ableism can occur in overt, obvious ways— through things like abuse, direct exclusion and denial of access. But, it’s the more subtle forms of ableism that can often be the most harmful to those with disabilities.

I am disabled. I’ve written about some of my life experiences here in this blog. Ableism is something I’ve quietly experienced my entire life— but during my younger years, I didn’t have the language or the ability to put it into words. Or, to really examine what I knew in my bones to be true:

Society saw me differently than others. I was measured to a different standard. Less was expected of me, yet I had to achieve FAR more to be taken seriously. To be heard. To be valued. I had to minimize my disability and shrink it down into the teeniest box imaginable. Even if I knew I couldn’t manage it. Even if I knew it wasn’t sustainable for me in the long run. 

You see, ableism demands these things of the disabled. Because being less disabled means that society values you more. You will have more access to education, employment, and economic opportunity. You will be listened to— and you will have more access to the healthcare and community services you may need.

Society perpetuates these values day after day. Ableism is baked right into the foundation of it— like walnuts in a loaf of banana bread. It’s the reason why the disabled are always one of the first groups to suffer during times of upheaval, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Ableism teaches us that the disabled are more expendable than the able-bodied. We see those values playing out right now in real-time.

There are undercurrents of ableism in the protests to masking, vaccine requirements and other public health measures. These protocols serve to protect the disabled and vulnerable, but as many of these protesters see themselves as “healthy,” they don’t see why they must do these things. They subconsciously believe their rights and their value exceeds that of others. Why do they think this? It’s not simply a matter of “selfishness” or a lack of “morality” (that’s too simplistic, and also, untrue). You see, it’s ableism that justifies this position in their minds. Ableism is what subtly reinforces the idea that they are superior to the ones they are being asked to protect.

This dark side of ableism can be very dangerous for the disabled. For that reason, it’s the one that many people don’t like to talk about. It makes folks uncomfortable. After all, society is invested in the narrative that it “takes care” of the vulnerable among us. We want to think this is true. And, while we do great things to care for others (we really do!), we still have a long way to go to achieve equity for the disabled. To achieve full personhood for the disabled.

No discussion of ableism, however, can be complete without acknowledging the added barriers and discriminations that disabled people of color experience. All the challenges of getting access, accommodation and resources are exponentially compounded for the disabled in communities of color. This is why disabled people of color are in the highest mortality group for COVID-19. Ableism and racism can combine in ways that can be deadly. We must not be afraid to acknowledge this and address it. No work to combat ableism can be fruitful without efforts to tackle these added racial disparities.

The disability community needs allies in these efforts. Our voices, alone, won’t make things change. Do you want to do your part? If so, I recommend that you learn more about ableism— and all the ways it can show up in our daily lives. My explanation above is rudimentary, so there is much more to learn. Here are a few links to check out:

Death by a Thousand Words: COVID-19 and the Pandemic of Ableist Media by Imani Barbarin

Disabling Ableism TEDtalk

What is Ableism?

This brief list is just an entry point. After all, the disability community’s experience with ableism is as diverse as the community itself. Yet, there are commonalities that bind us together. So, your first step is learning to recognize ableism when you see it— because, trust me, you will see it.

And once you do see it, you will have no excuse not to do anything about it. The power to make change will then rest with you.

Let’s get started, shall we?

New Gig

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Hello, all! It’s me. I know it’s been months since I’ve written. I’ll fill you in on the reasons for that later (nothing bad!), but I just wanted to touch base to let you know that I’m not dead.

Also, please be assured that I haven’t done anything crazy in the interim, either.

For example:

#1. I haven’t joined a cult.

#2. I haven’t squandered $20M to go to space with Elon Musk.

#3. And I definitely haven’t joined a multi-level marketing scheme to sell organic lip balm to every single person I’ve known since 1997.

(Come to think of it, both #2 and #3 are also cults.)

Anyway, I just wanted to give you a short update on my latest project. A few months ago, Anthesis, an organization that serves developmentally disabled adults, asked me to come aboard as a contributing writer for their blog. It’s been a fun collaboration and I’m fully supportive of every attempt a company/organization makes to amplify disabled voices and perspectives.

You can check out my recent work for Anthesis by clicking on this link HERE.

More from me soon!!

XOXO,

Elizabette

Cicada Hordes & Lots of Spicy Nuggets

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As I type this post, a massive horde of cicada insects in the Eastern US are preparing to re-emerge into the world after a loooong 17-years underground. Cicadas are masters of the “long-engagement” and you know that old phrase, “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” Well, whoever wrote that clearly knew a lot about cicada romance. After waiting years for this day, when the cicadas of Brood X emerge in the coming weeks, they will convene the largest orgy known to mankind.

Cicadas will be everywhere. After breeding on a tree, they will fly a little way, and then breed again on a shrub. And then again on the roof of a corner liquor store. And then again in the parking lot.

I can’t help but feel there’s something metaphoric about this. That after a long year underground, humans are also primed to explode into the world in a rabid frenzy of unprotected sex and really bad decisions.

But, please, have some restraint, people. We are supposed to be more evolved than cicadas. Our brains are bigger. Our wings are smaller. So, we should have the ability to control ourselves.

Right?

Even though I’ve been vaccinated, as a person with a high-risk disability, COVID19 could still pose a danger to me. So, I will continue to observe health protocols in public until more folks are vaccinated. In consultation with my doctors, I’m also still navigating which activities are safe/not-safe for me to pursue. This list will probably evolve & grow over time— like a Chia Pet.

To be honest, from an emotional standpoint, it’s also hard for me to quickly re-calibrate after 15 months of quarantine. I’ve been living like a bearded hermit. The kind that stores root vegetables in the cellar and makes whiskey out of old Corn Nuts. So, unsurprisingly, it’s gonna take a LONG time before I’m partying at Coachella. Or sharing a triple-order of Taco Bell nachos with 9 fun strangers I met outside a public toilet.

I don’t have the ability to shift gears quickly. It’s just not in my nature. I’m not a cicada. So, I am taking this one step at a time.

Earlier this week, I went for my 16th injection of Spinraza. These vital treatments for my Spinal Muscular Atrophy have been the only times I’ve ventured out since the beginning of this pandemic. These procedures are challenging because it’s tricky to navigate a 5-inch needle into my spinal fluid. Especially since I’ve got a twisty torso and two metal bars fused to my vertebra. So, these injections can be difficult and arduous.

Given Stanford is a teaching facility, I never quite know which neuroradiology fellow will be performing my procedure. It’s like having tickets to a really great Broadway musical, but you’re not sure if you’re gonna see Idina Menzel or her understudy. While you hope it’s Idina, there’s really no guarantee… especially if she ate some bad falafel the night before.

As I lay on the gurney before the procedure, waiting to be taken back, the on-duty neuroradiology fellow will come to introduce themselves to me. Often, this is the first time I’ve EVER met them. So, as you can imagine, this is the moment where I begin to silently judge this person. Do they seem trustworthy & competent? Do they have enough experience? Can they sing a high E6 while wearing green makeup?

In the nearly 4 years that I’ve been on Spinraza, I’ve met a parade of neuroradiologists. And I’ve judged each and every one of them. There have been quiet ones, cocky ones, ones that remind me of Meredith from Grey’s Anatomy, and ones that were rooting around in my spine for SO damn long that I wanted to charge them rent. Fair-market rent, of course, but I’m worth at least the same as Marvin Gardens with a hotel.

This week, when I met the neuroradiologist, I instantly got a really good feeling. You see, I have a radar for these things. And not to brag, but, I could probably sniff out a good neuroradiologist faster than it would take a police dog to find cocaine in Matt Gaetz’s nightstand.

And my intuition was correct this time, too. This 2nd-year fellow was competent and confident (without being cocky!) and he had that needle in position so quickly I almost didn’t even notice the nerve ‘zing’ that shoots down my leg when the needle has properly entered the intrathecal sac— which is the desired bullseye in the game of Pin-The-Tail-On-Elizabette.

Before I knew it, my Spinraza infusion was in, I was back in my wheelchair and on my way home. To celebrate the smooth procedure, I did something that I haven’t done in over a year. Something that felt like a huge step forward.

I went to a drive-through & ordered chicken nuggets.

Spontaneously.

I decided I wanted nuggets, and I got nuggets— all in the span of about 5.7 minutes.

This might seem ordinary. This might seem mundane.

But, this was a big deal for me. You see, I have not been eating food prepared outside of my home. I have not had fast food, or a chicken nugget, in nearly a year and a half. While some people may have gained weight during this pandemic, I actually lost weight. It’s amazing what just eating home-cooked meals and the on-going stress of fearing for your very life can do to a person.

So, instead of getting the 4-piece nuggets, I sprung for the 6-piece. My bony ass needed the extra calories. And those spicy nuggies were even better than I remembered.

As this summer begins, I plan to take more steps forward— maybe a trip to Target, or out for a smoothie with friends, or to an in-person book club meeting that’s not on Zoom. But, my ability to keep moving forward is conditioned on all of you doing your part, too.

So, be safe, be wise, and watch out for those cicadas.

One Year In.

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Hi. It’s been months since I’ve written here and, frankly, I didn’t intend to let this much time go by. But, the days go by faster than you’d think when you’re a high-risk disabled person trying to survive a deadly pandemic. My days fill up with tasks that I’ve never had to do with such sustained, long-term diligence before. Daily, I find myself musing…

  • Do I have enough PPE, masks, hand-soap, and hand sanitizer for me and for my home care assistants for the rest of the month? (Or will the masks be snatched up by the assholes in Idaho using them for kindling on the steps of the state capitol?)
  • When was the last time we wiped that doorknob?
  • Did I remember to include everything I’ll need for the next two weeks in my grocery order?

And, the most frequent thought of all…

  • Dear God, please don’t let one of my caregivers get COVID.

These questions, and hundreds just like them, have swirled relentlessly in my head for months on end. As I’ve written here before, this pandemic was a doomsday scenario that many of us with high-risk disabilities have, unfortunately, been preparing for our entire lives. So, the skills we’ve been forced to cultivate have come in handy in the last year. But, that doesn’t make it all any less exhausting or scary.

To give you an idea of what it has felt like: imagine you’re scurrying about, living your life, trying to get everything done, when suddenly, a giant ACME Looney Tunes hatchet materializes and suspends itself over your head. And begins following you around for 12 months— the sharp blade gleaming in the sunlight.

That’s what this pandemic has felt like to me… and to countless other disabled and high-risk individuals.

I’ve been told “it’s wrong to live in fear” — a narrative spouted most especially by those that are able-bodied and think the virus poses no risk to them… folks that are looking for a reason to dismiss the risk, to continue doing whatever they want, and to flip a metaphorical middle-finger at anyone telling them differently. But, this virus doesn’t discriminate— and I’m sorry, but I take little credence from folks that don’t know what it feels like to be on a ventilator, to have a suction tube shoved down their trachea, or the terrifying feeling when fluid builds in your lungs and you struggle and struggle to cough it out. People that don’t know what that feels like have no business telling other people what they should, or shouldn’t, fear.

The brilliant and eloquent disability advocate Imani Barbarin recently wrote of the pandemic:

I knew people were comfortable watching disabled and elderly people die, but I was wholly unprepared with the joy with which people would leap into harm’s way under the belief that only the vulnerable would die.

Despite the very real danger the virus poses to us, and the fact we have been sheltering longer than any other group, the disabled are still not prioritized for the COVID vaccine in many, many places. This needs to change. Several weeks ago, I was extremely fortunate to receive the COVID vaccine. This wasn’t because I was officially prioritized (I wasn’t!) it was solely due to the fact that I was lucky enough to have caring medical professionals that fought really hard for me once a vaccine shipment arrived in my area. This happenstance, this luck, this privilege, should not be the way that a disabled person, like me, gets the vaccine. For &%$@’s sake, I have a hard time coughing out a loogie, I should not be forced to get a leftover dose of COVID vaccine out the backdoor of a clinic at 7pm on a cold night. That’s how El Chapo makes a deal for 89 kilos of cocaine— not how a crippled girl with 42% lung capacity should be getting a COVID vaccination.

And what about the countless other disabled people (especially disabled people of color) that don’t have ready-access to a doctor or medical professional with the time or ability to help them navigate these very real hurdles? I was fortunate & privileged to get the vaccine when I did—  many, many other disabled people aren’t so lucky.

That said, I’m glad, though, to see vaccinations are expanding to essential groups, like agriculture & food workers, school staff, and other essential personnel. This progress is vital for us all— the only way for our society (and the world!) to get a handle on this virus is for as many people to get vaccinated as possible.

And that includes you.

I don’t care if you saw a “really scientific” blog posted by your friend Cassie on Facebook claiming that the vaccine will turn your reproductive organs into lemon-flavored jellybeans.

I don’t care if you think COVID is “no big deal.”

I don’t care that your gym trainer saw a “super believable” TikTok that said the vaccine will mutate your DNA as if a radioactive probe had been placed up your anus.

When the vaccine is available to you— get it!!

And don’t forget one more thing: never before in medical history have we seen scientists from around the world coming together for one purpose. There has been unprecedented, historic cooperation on these COVID vaccines. So, it’s important that we don’t falsely compare the timeline on these to other vaccines of the past. Other vaccines have taken longer to produce because they haven’t had the sheer number of scientists working on them. They haven’t had the resources to devote to it. To test it. To evaluate it. Other scientists of the past have had to balance other experiments, and research, at the same time. This wasn’t the case now.

To use an analogy: Two carpenters decide to build a hotel with 50 rooms. They have to build it all on their own because no one else will help and they have to be as cost-effective as possible because their boss offers minimal support and funds. Plus, they have other part-time construction jobs, too. So, it takes them 3 years to build the hotel all on their own.

Compare that to 25 carpenters that get together and decide to build a hotel with 50 rooms. Their boss gives them oodles of support, resources, half-finished blueprints, and extra staff. Working full-time, they build the hotel in 3 months.

How can someone say that the second hotel was built “too fast” when the builders had so much more help, time, and resources to devote to it?

In truth, you simply can’t compare them.

Lastly, I hate to be the one to break it to you… but COVID is not going away. The virus won’t just pack up and move to Costa Rica like your kooky neighbor Larry because he thought America was turning into a Dr. Seuss-hating, communist shithole.

It’s here to stay.

So, the more immunity we all collectively build against this virus, the slower the spread, and the less mutating it will do. For those of you that have had COVID, or don’t think the virus will do you long-term harm, you should know that getting sick with COVID results in far fewer immune antibodies than is produced by the vaccine. So, being unvaccinated, you will get COVID again sooner, potentially more severely, and likely shed more virus particles to those around you— like a drunk 22-year-old flinging contaminated beads at Mardi Gras.

And there are many people out there, like me, who are counting on you to not to be a sloppy, inebriated frat boy.

So, don’t be.

A Canary in the Coal Mine

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I have officially entered my Oscar the Grouch period of quarantine. When I was on Twitter earlier, I saw this tweet, and literally never felt more heard or understood.

Those of us with complex disabilities (like Spinal Muscular Atrophy) were one of the first groups to begin isolating in the early days of this pandemic. We knew COVID19 was no-joke and we knew the risks it posed to us (and society) were real. We were the “canaries in the coal mine” — and we’ve been chirping loudly for months & months warning everyone about what was to come. Unfortunately, like real canaries in the coal mine, some of us dropped dead before the miners and the mining company noticed the poisonous gas that was about to ruin their lives, their business and their community. I wish I could say this analogy is hyperbolic but it isn’t because Rudy Giuliani already used up the quota of dramatic embellishment about 3 and a half weeks ago.

To be honest, I really thought that I’d get into this cranky stage of quarantine far sooner than I actually have. I made it ten months without having a meltdown… and that’s pretty good. After all, most people started freaking out by June. Although, if we include folks from the following three groups, we would need to push back that freak-out average to April 27th:

  1. people with CrossFit memberships
  2. people with acrylic manicures more than 1/4 inch in length
  3. people that consume more than 2.6 White Claws a week 

So, frankly, I’m proud of myself for enduring this as long as I have. What has changed, might you ask? Well, frankly, in my daily routine, not that much has changed from the early days of quarantine. I’m still observing all the health protocols— and I’m being more diligent than ever. The only people allowed in my home are my select few caregivers— for I need to keep my “bubble” as small as possible since COVID19 is raging faster in my area than herpes at a frat party.

This sustained diligence is not easy (for anyone, of course). But, personally, it’s not been the hardest part. I expected to have to undertake these health protocols. And I knew this would all go on for a looooong time. I was prepared for that. And prepared for an extended period of time at home. But, what was I not prepared for?

Well, I wasn’t prepared for… ALL THE REST OF IT. All the ‘Holy shit, are you for REAL?’ moments of this year. And there were a LOT of those moments. For brevity, here is a short list of examples:

  • The mental exhaustion of trying to ignore the many people with biology degrees from InfoWars that actually believed that a worldwide pandemic could magically disappear after Nov. 3rd.
  • The pain of biting my tongue while Facebook aficionados shared “facts” on social media that masks didn’t work and could actually make you *get* COVID19.
  • The willpower it took to not lash out at people that believe the weirdest shit I’ve ever heard. (i.e. That the COVID19 vaccine is a conspiracy led by Bill Gates to implant tracking devices inside our bodies so that the Illuminati can turn us into zombies.)

I really could go on… and on. So, that just goes to show that I was always destined to turn into Oscar the Grouch before the year was over— no matter how many Xanax I took.

So, where does that leave me now? I really don’t know. But, one thing I do know is that I will keep doing what I must do to stay safe and well. I can’t do any more than that. I can’t control the decisions of thousands (millions) of others that decide to ignore health protocols “just this one time.” Decisions that, when they ripple outward, endanger so many others. And, yes, even endanger my life. Because, the fact is: we canaries aren’t in the coal mine alone. You are with us, too.

Another thing I can do? Talk about my experience. Tell my story so that you know that there are countless people like me out in the world chirping loudly in the hopes you’ll hear us. And do the right thing.

There’s one final thing you should know: despite the fact that we have been sheltering the longest, those of us with complex disabilities & medical conditions are still not yet prioritized for the vaccine. So, we are counting on you to not be selfish assholes for just a little while longer. Not sure how to do that? Here are a few ideas:

  • You can wear a mask.
  • You can wash your hands.
  • You can be kind.
  • You can stop taking group photos with friends… or neighbors… or random people you met at Wendy’s… for social media to prove to the world that you aren’t letting 2020 ruin your life. (It’s embarrassing, and trust me, no one believes you, anyway.)

And last, but not least… For the love of sandwiches and all that is holy, DON’T gather for maskless meals with people outside your household!! I can’t emphasize this enough. Find another activity, or way to be together. Maskless gatherings (where food and drink are consumed) are one of the biggest engines of viral spread.

        (No masks) + (close proximity) + (touching serving dishes/utensils/cups) + (consuming food) = COVID19 Dance Party!

So, with that, I’ll sign off for now… Be well. Be safe. Be smart.

And listen for those canaries…

“Nobody wants to see that.”

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In my writing, I haven’t shied away from making a joke or taking a snarky jab at people in power. I can’t help myself from doing it. It’s a compulsion. Like cussing and eating too many pumpkin-flavored products. As you might know, President Trump has been a recipient of this on multiple occasions. It’s just soooo easy when the man rabidly tweets nonsense at 3am, has a squirrel nest living on his head, and can’t address someone without adding a schoolyard insult in front of their name like he’s Biff from Back to the Future.

Yesterday, The Atlantic published an investigative report (the content of which has since been independently corroborated by The Associated Press, The Washington Post, and Jennifer Griffin of FoxNews), that the president has repeatedly disparaged military service members, calling those who died “losers” and “suckers” and that wounded and disabled veterans should be kept out of military parades. This article, and its contents, are currently being dissected all across the Internet, the Twitterverse, Middle Earth and Narnia— so, there is no need for me to delve into the article, as a whole. That’s being done by many others.

However, having said that, there is something in the piece that I do want to highlight. Something that I haven’t seen properly examined. Something, that as a disabled person, I read with deep sorrow, and, yet, it didn’t come as a surprise in the least.

The editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote:

“‘He has a lot of fear,’ one officer with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s views said… Several observers told me [Goldberg] that Trump is deeply anxious about dying or being disfigured, and this worry manifests itself as disgust for those who have suffered… Trump has been, for the duration of his presidency, fixated on staging military parades, but only of a certain sort. In a 2018 White House planning meeting for such an event, Trump asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. ‘Nobody wants to see that,’ he said.”

Many have attacked this article as being unbelievable. A hit job. And “fake news.” That the president would never say such things. But, as a disabled person that has lived in the United States of America since my birth, I can say without hesitation, that the message and the view that I quoted above is utterly believable.

For centuries, the disabled were hidden away from view, believed to be curses from God, and were not allowed to live full, meaningful and proud lives. The ultimate evidence of human frailty and mortality, the disabled were to be shamed, pitied, and in some cases, exterminated. For disabled people of color, this marginalization is even more profound and insidious. Something we, the disabled, are definitely not? The mascots of strong, advanced, and powerful civilizations. (Just ask Russia. In 1980, they said that disabled people didn’t exist there at all.)

Some think these attitudes are a thing of the past, that we’ve come far as a society. After all, a few buildings now have ramps and crippled folks have designated parking spots to use— but, truthfully, these are often filled by privileged wankers who park there “For-just-five-minutes-while-I-drop-off-this-package-of-LuLaRoe-yoga-pants-at-UPS-to-ship-to-my-cousin-DeeDee-while-I-keep-my-motor-running-so-you-believe-that-I’m-not-breaking-the-law.

But, deep-seeded notions, including those about disability, don’t disappear overnight. They persist. It’s why FDR knew he had to hide his disability to be President of the United States. There’s no way this country would elect a man in a wheelchair to be Commander-in-Chief. No way.

It’s probably also why Chadwick Boseman sadly hid his medical condition until after his death because he knew Hollywood movie studios wouldn’t continue to employ a man (especially a black man) with a serious illness or disability. Chadwick understood that if too many people knew, he would have been sent on his way with pretty words, a hug and maybe a really big fruit basket.

So, is it surprising that the current President of the United States allegedly thinks these things about disabled veterans? Hell no. Is it surprising he said these things out loud? Maybe to some people it’s surprising. To me, it isn’t. And I suspect it isn’t surprising to many other disabled people, too.

Say what you will about Mr. Trump. But, one thing he surely is? A mirror. A mirror that shines back at us some of the ugliest truths about ourselves. Some people are disconcerted by this lack of filter. But, maybe, just maybe, we should try to learn something from it. To look at how we elected this man to the highest office in the land— and what that says about us. About what that says about the things we say to ourselves when no one is around to hear.

But, in the words of Mr. Trump, “Nobody wants to see that.”

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Further Greetings from Quarantine

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(this piece originally appeared in The Patterson Irrigator today)

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, an occurrence for which I heartily apologize. In fact, this is the longest stretch of time that I haven’t written a piece in the nearly 15-year history of my column. Perhaps you’re wondering what happened to me. Well, I’ve just been working really hard to not catch COVID19— a virus that my doctors have said would probably kill me.

As you might have guessed, due to my Spinal Muscular Atrophy (a neuromuscular condition), I am in the highest mortality risk-group for COVID19. At the end of February, my doctors advised me to self-isolate. Since that time, the few people that enter my home must be symptom-free, wear a mask and wash their hands thoroughly and frequently. They also must be able to juggle, speak Vulcan and play the banjo.

During the last four months, other than two necessary doctor’s appointments, I literally haven’t gone anywhere. Anywhere. Not even to get my favorite tacos. Not even to see my friends at a “social-distancing” BBQ. And, I definitely haven’t snuck into someone’s random garage to have an underground haircut.

I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences here for some time, but, have been reluctant to do so. During quarantine, many high-risk folks (including the disabled) have attempted to share scientific information about the importance of social-distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing. And many of us have been harassed for doing so. A disabled friend of mine wrote a column in a newspaper about this topic and received hate mail. She was called “selfish” for even asking people to alter their lives and routines to protect high-risk people. Her life was devalued. Her viewpoint, muffled.

I, too, have encountered such attitudes. It’s a big reason why I haven’t written here in months. The emotional challenges of COVID19 are difficult enough without having to keep justifying the value of your own life. The value of elderly lives. The value of the millions of high-risk people around this country.

But, with things opening up now, and case numbers surging locally, I’m done being quiet on this subject.

I’ve seen the massive denial many people have of how interconnected all our lives are. How we all rely on one another. No one wants to admit how vulnerable they might be, and, in turn, how vulnerable society is, to a crisis of this magnitude. It’s why the online conspiracies about this virus are so rampant. It’s easier to make yourself believe that the virus was manufactured in a Chinese factory like Tickle-Me-Elmo than it is to accept the more frightening truth: that economies, nations, and communities can be ground to a halt, at any moment, because of a random and naturally-occurring mutation in a virus.

That’s some scary stuff. It can make a person feel very small. And no one likes to feel small.

Therefore, I urge you to exercise caution in the coming months. With things opening up, you don’t want to be that horny college kid, do you? The one that celebrated freedom from his parents’ house by sleeping with the entire Alpha Phi pledge class and getting a bad rash on his man parts.

No one wants to be the guy with chlamydia. So, don’t be that guy now. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Don’t be an arsehole.

P.S. If you want to write me hate mail, please use a quill pen, calligraphy and then shove it in a box under your bed. All other comments welcome at: http://www.elizabetteunplugged.com

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#ThanksForDistancing

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Under the advisement of my doctor, I have been in self-quarantine for the last 58 days. In that amount of time, I’ve only been ONE place, and that was to receive a life-sustaining Spinraza spinal injection with my SMA neuromuscular specialist. To be honest, I would have taken these precautions even without my doctor’s advice. After all, I did have an awareness that humans are reeeally great at spreading germs around— just like monkeys love to throw their poop. I knew in my gut that COVID19 was coming— just like Randy Quaid knew that the aliens were going to attack in Independence Day.

As someone that is high-risk, not just for COVID19, but for other respiratory illnesses, I have a well-developed radar for danger. I’m like one of those police dogs that can sniff cocaine in a Toyota Corolla parked 9 blocks away.

By the end of January, I started to get a twinge. An inkling. I started to feel something looming on the horizon. I had seen the news reports from China. I knew it was impossible to contain a virus in this modern, fast-paced world. It was going to spread. It probably already had. Ever try keeping an entire litter of kittens contained inside of a box? Good luck— because at least one little bugger is going to sneak out of the box when you aren’t looking.

When I went into self-quarantine 58 days ago, I began to mentally prepare myself for the long-haul. I knew that this virus wouldn’t go away quickly. It would linger and I would have to be careful for many, many months. Possibly over a year. It was a lonely & isolating thought— removing myself from the world with no reasonable end in sight. Yet, I had some experience in this regard, thankfully. Cold & flu season is dangerous for me… so quarantining and socially-isolating is not a new thing for me. I do it at various points each year. Never to this extent, though. Not by far.

But, I had been training my entire life for this. It would be my personal Mount Everest Moment. My Reese Witherspoon Trying To Do The Pacific Coast Trail Moment. My Donald Trump Pretending To Not Want To Fire Dr. Fauci Moment.

But, as the virus spread (which I knew it would), and many grew sick and hospitals became overwhelmed, people actually began to take the threat seriously. Cities issued stay-at-home orders. States & nations shutdown. Governments finally responded. And, most amazing of all, people learned how to wash their hands. To be honest, I was surprised that these measures were actually being undertaken. And I was even more surprised that they were being followed.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think these measures were valid. Yes, they were— and still are! But, I guess the skeptic in me didn’t think our society had it in us to do something like this… to take drastic life-altering steps like this. To buy hand soap… and to stay home— on a massive scale.

It’s a huge deal.

As someone that has experience with quarantining, and living life within physical restrictions, I understand how difficult these times can be. Logistically. Financially. And especially emotionally. It is a mental hurdle that is not easy to surmount— especially when you have no experience doing so. So, I want to acknowledge that.

The stress of all of this is real. The burden of all of this is real. For the young. For the old. And for all the ages in between.

But, the steps we’ve taken (and continue to take) have given me hope. The curve is flattening, and many lives are being saved. We are buying time for science to catch up with this virus. We are giving hospitals time to prepare. On a personal note, the murky specter looming of many months of isolation now feels less gloomy because of what society has done… what you have done.

And I’m so very thankful.

To help get through the days until communities are able to loosen the restrictions in place, I thought it might be helpful to share some survival tips that I’ve honed through the years. I am a veteran Quarantiner, after all.

    1. Create A Routine — this is an essential component of surviving shitty times. For reals. Don’t be going to bed at 2am one day, and 7pm the next. Eat meals/snacks at a set time. Schedule Zoom sessions with friends. Write down a schedule. And stick to it. This helps regulate your nervous system & your anxiety.
    2. Create Benchmarks In Time — Having something to look forward to, however small it might be, is key to getting through each day. I recently instituted “French Toast Fridays.” Each Friday, I have homemade French Toast for lunch. It’s simple, but it’s something I look forward to because I get to put a mountain of whipped cream on top.
    3. Create Small Daily Goals — Often people think that a feeling of achievement can only happen when it’s something big. This is not true at all. Small achievements, even arbitrary ones, can help occupy the mind & give it direction.
    4. Create Gratitude — At the end of each day, write down (or say out loud) three things you are grateful about that day. It could be something serious, or something silly & inconsequential. For example, you could say “I’m thankful for… 1) my home… 2) my family… 3) the mute button on the Zoom app.”
    5. Create Your Castle — A “castle” is a safe-space. A place that protects you from harm. Instead of thinking of your home as a place you are confined to, think of it as your “castle.” A castle can also be something smaller than a home. It can be a bedroom, a corner of the living room, or even the 15 minutes spent alone in the shower. It’s a space, or a time, where you can just BE.
    6. Create Moments of Joy — Despite what you may think, little moments of happiness can be manufactured. You can conjure them up from anywhere— like a Patronus charm. For example, about a month ago, my friends & I decided that our group text messages to each other must be written in rhyme. (Shel Silverstein can kiss my ass.)

I think it’s important that we all are aware, though, that many people live in unsafe environments— whether it be from abuse, domestic violence, or extreme poverty. So, during these times, we must be aware of the struggles of others and offer compassion, aid & understanding when we can.

We can be kind,
If we just set our mind.

❤️

[If someone you know is struggling… the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) & the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233)]

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