I have a degenerative disease that took 22 years to diagnose. Do not admire me for fighting a medical juggernaut that wouldn’t listen to me till I was clinging to the corridor wall of a doctor’s office, begging: “Please! Do not blow me off, there is something wrong!” By that point, I was in constant pain and had already lost the use of one of my legs. I’m not a role model for begging for help; I am a symptom of a system that dines on its own hubris while ignoring the lived experiences of its patients.
I have learned skills that enable me to interact with others in carefully selected social settings. At what expense have I learned these skills? How many times was I made to feel inferior before I figured it out? How many company parties did I organize, only to leave without being missed? How many of my quirks did I find ways to hide or translate into a form that wasn’t offensive? It’s okay to twirl my fingers, just not by my face. People will assume I’m making eye contact if I look at their noses. “I have sound allergies, that’s why I carry earplugs.”
Where are all the neurodivergent people that the studies show are out there? We’re hiding because we know what the world thinks of us. It points out our little quirks like they are inexcusable flaws till we scurry back into the closets of our minds. The world claims to accept neurodivergents… as long as we act ‘normal.’
I am the first disabled elected official in my city’s history, and the first non-binary elected official in my city’s history. Except, there is no way in hell that’s true. I am openly the first, but the likelihood that I am the actual first is infinitely small. I’m not a role model for living my liberty out loud; I’m a symptom of a slowly changing system that has kept others quiet. Let’s make living our liberty out loud the common thing.
Unlike many of my posts, I’m letting myself write this when my anger is on the surface. If you’ve ever met someone with a chronic illness, you’ve met an angry person. If you ever hear us say, “It’s okay, I’m used to it,” or, “No really, I don’t mind, go ahead without me,” or, “You know, I’m not really hungry right now, maybe I’ll just have a salad,”understand that 99% of the time we’re lying. We’re saying these things because we don’t want to inconvenience anyone. These practiced lines are all meant to make everyone else feel comfortable. We are not role models for toughing it out; we are symptoms of a society that we expect to be excluded from if we don’t make it feel better about us feeling bad.
Today my anger comes from a few directions. I found out via personal diligence that during a recent ER visit that ended in a quick trip through surgery, an additional problem was found that they didn’t think to mention. It’s a doozy that’s likely going to mean yet another surgery. That’s going to delay my plans for some new professional opportunities, because I don’t know what my schedule is going to look like till this gets resolved. I’ve got complex medical issues, but I’m only 44 and not even close to wanting to retire.
How many people like me — people who live in a medical house of cards yet insist on continuing to climb the ladder — do you see out in the world? I’m not a role model for managing two full-time jobs, one of which is keeping myself together. I’m a symptom of a system that doesn’t understand the amount of human capital that is being wasted because it’s not being supported. When we are communicated with, when we can plan, when confidence is placed in us, we won’t move mountains — we’ll fly over the damn things and we’ll take you with us.
On a parting note, since I’m feeling mischievous, I’m going to take this opportunity to call out programs like Leadership Tri-Cities who “seek diversity in virtually all categories, including: age; community experience; cultural background; ethnicity; gender; industry; leadership experience; personality; profession; and residency in the Tri-Cities.” Note the lack of disability being mentioned? Good thing, since one of the requirements includes a ropes course on a specific day! How many of our veterans does that leave out, just for starters? PTSD can lay you flat on a bad day, so a mandatory attendance requirement that would also require you to be able-bodied is just plain ableist, and I’d be a poor leader if I didn’t point it out.
Nancy Peterson was born and raised in Alaska, before leaving to become the first college graduate in their family. They hold a BS in elementary education with a minor in special education, an MA in teaching, an ME.d. in special education, and are in the process of completing an AAS in business administration. Nancy’s family consists of a husband, two sons, a giant cat, and all the local people that have become family over the years. Nancy enjoys watching documentaries and cooking shows, reading sci-fi/fantasy books, family game nights, and going out for coffee with friends.
Nancy has a long history of diversity rights activism. As a non-binary person with disabilities, they have their own experiences with discrimination, and use the skills they’ve learned as a self-advocate and educator to help others. They are a speaker, organizer, and writer. They have participated in local groups, such as Pride, Disability Day of Mourning, “Celebrate! Faith and Cultures,” and the Womxn’s March. Nancy has supported the BIPOC community by working to help create and support platforms that center its members’ voices. Nancy currently works as a disability services accessibility specialist at Columbia Basin College.
Nancy was elected to the Hermiston, OR City Council in 2020 to serve their first term in 2021.