normal‘Just a moment, please,’ the festival car parking assistant said politely. ‘Disabled!’ the driver responded loudly followed by slamming the steering wheel.

In a previous post I wrote how issues around disability and health problems have been a thread throughout my life. In those years I have encountered the very best and the very worst of attitudes towards and from people who experience such difficulties.

Over the decades, I’ve also observed different ‘trends’ (although that is probably not the right word) in those attitudes and also in understanding. In my school days, pupils threw insults like ‘spastic’ and ‘mongol’. In the 70s the talk was about back problems and ‘shirkers’ using such issues as an excuse for not working. As the 80s and 90s progressed, dyslexia became more widely recognized and ‘yuppie flu’ became a commonly-used dismissive term for those experiencing M.E. or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The 2000s have brought a much greater understanding of mental health and mental illness and I am honoured to have been able to play a part in that development. There are still misunderstandings, of course – for example, nobody is a ‘little bit OCD’. Now, in the 2020s we’ve witnessed an increased awareness of the autistic spectrum and neurodiversity. And yet that too is accompanied by derogatory terminology: ‘They’re on the spectrum’ – viewed as someone who is not what society considers to be ‘normal’.

The rise of easy access to information, an increase in self-diagnosis and referring to what can be found by ‘Dr Google’ play a concerning role (long waiting times for formal diagnosis and treatment don’t help either, of course). As a result, some believe themselves to have a particular health issue and rework their sense of identity and way of living accordingly – sometimes helpfully but not always. As Angela Tilby wrote, ‘The description is not the diagnosis and even the diagnosis is not our identity.’

As for the festival car driver, their behaviour was unacceptable but perhaps it had become normal for them. Having a disability or health condition often brings with it an understandable and considerable impact on identity and behaviour – sometimes helpfully but not always.

Despite the improvements of recent years in understanding, attitudes and legal protection we continue to struggle with the different aspects of disability and ill health. And yet, are we saying that anyone who doesn’t think, talk, behave, appear, look like a particular set of (what are often undefined) perfect expectations of what a human being should be is not normal?

And if we believe we are made in the image of God – what does that make God? God can hardly be considered to be ‘normal’, after all…

Despite all the inherent suffering, difficulties and impact, I pray the knowledge that having such health conditions is a valuable part of one’s identity, made in the image of God: a part of what makes us normal for the person we are (even when we or other people don’t think so).


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Categories: Prayer