Former New York governor David A. Paterson published his memoir Black, Blind, and in Charge: A Story of Visionary Leadership and Overcoming Adversity. His first-person account has no trace of pity, bitterness, or regret.
On page twenty-eight Paterson asserted that the root of his adversity was not the disability itself only his reaction to it. He offered a fiery condemnation of not owning every facet of your identity. That your disability makes you who you are has been a war cry I haven’t wanted to utter.
Why do I fear telling others that I have a disability? Ironically in my first book I limned this “secret sauce” that compelled me to become an Advocate. Left of the Dial was a graphic pager-turner that detailed my early recovery.
Only Governor Paterson said it better than I could’ve when he wrote:
“This may sound strange, but whoever you are, whatever you are, you should be proud of it. If you’re proud to be black, if you’re proud to be a woman, if you’re proud to be American, if you’re proud to be a New Yorker, you should be proud to be blind.
Even though it causes you problems, it’s who you are. It’s what you are. The question is, ‘What will you be?’ And you’ll never be anything until you resolve the fact that God created you the way you are and even if there are imperfections, this is who you are.”
Always I have thought that I succeeded because of having an illness not despite living with a disorder. Shunted into the mental health system I fought to get a job and live in my own apartment. Two things people with normal lives take for granted that they can have.
By dressing in my “Greenwich Village” garb I sent a clear message to anyone who saw me: I’m not giving up until I get what I want. My clothes were as radical as I was–free-form like my thinking. A Visionary, I thought recovery was possible even in 1987 when I was told it wasn’t.
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” was T.S. Eliot’s famous quote. Often, I credit my sartorial risk-taking as being the genesis of my take-no-prisoners approach to achieving my goals.
According to Black, Blind, and in Charge, there’s a sixty-eight percent unemployment rate for blind people in this country. That David A. Paterson obtained a J.D. and rose to become a governor says it all–the fight is worth taking on.
Though this 55th governor of New York didn’t have a mental illness I recommend everyone read his book. In July I cohosted with Max Guttman L.C.S.W the Zoom workshop Editorializing Lived Experiences: Creating an Authentic Voice and Impactful Message in Professional Writing. At this event I told the attendees: “Don’t give up the fight.”
The reality is that fighting for our rights as individuals with disabilities has always been necessary. Stereotypes abound when you have schizophrenia or another mental illness. All too often mental health staff themselves persist in thinking that recovery isn’t possible.
Who are you going to believe–a person who tells you there’s no hope or someone like me that understands that recovery comes to each of us in different guises? Everyone’s recovery is as individual as our thumbprint. Bake a cake. Sing in a choir. Ride a skateboard. It’s all great whatever you choose to do.
If you ask me the bar has been set too high by outsiders as to what constitutes the definition of “recovery.” The average Joe or Josephine on the street doesn’t get half as much scrutiny as mental health peers do in terms of what we’re able to do.
For over five years in my blogs I’ve sung the praises of Rite Aid cashiers.. A lot of them have been ringing up customers’ orders for five six or seven years. Doing it with a smile every day. No one gives them grief for holding a minimum wage job.
Yet when a person with schizophrenia works behind a Rite Aid counter, suddenly they’re viewed with pity if not outright contempt. While a person like me endures an obstructive chorus telling me that I’m “the exception to the rule” because I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and have a Masters’ degree and work as a professional librarian.
You got a problem with a person with a disability who demands equity in society in whatever form their participation takes? That’s what I want to ask outsiders who don’t have lived experience with an illness who dare claim to predict our destiny in life.
David A. Paterson beat the odds that were against him. His book should be required reading. Whatever kind of disability you have, I recommend you think for yourself about what’s possible for you to achieve.