I’m having a very strange month right now. A little over a month ago i started experiencing a huge about of pain in my back… roll on a few weeks and i find myself in a doctors office being told i have a spinal cord injury.
Today my life is more complex than it was a month ago. My body has changed and i am rapidly learning how to live with the body i have now, versus the body i had a month ago.
However, there’s also another thread. This entire experience has challenged my sense of identity. Am i the same Jamie as i was then? Is the spinal cord injury “part of me” or something i am experiencing? I’ve had to think a lot to work it out.
Before i dive into this topic, let’s start with some definitions. To me, identity means “would i still be jamie if this aspect of my life was removed”.
For example, being autistic is part of my identity. A non-autistic Jamie would not be me. It’s just so impactful in how i view and interact with the world. It would be pointless for me to pretend it was somehow separable. My autistic needs drive the entire design of my life.
However, my vision impairment (stigmatism) and need to wear glasses is not part of my identity. With or without glasses, i am fundamentally the same Jamie. Glasses are a tool to accommodate an impairment i have.
The condition i have is a rare type of spinal cord injury called cauda equina. Among a bunch of other things, It’s why i can’t walk anymore and it’s why i am about to become a wheelchair user. I am being measured for my first wheelchair later this week and we’ve been using my buggy extensively while we wait.
The spinal cord injury feels very abstract. I know theres a physical bit of me responsible for the issues, but it’s still pretty damn abstract. I don’t like it much as a phrase. I have been trying to use it, but it’s not something i feel much of a connection too.
“Wheelchair user” is a little better. It’s nice and simple and it’s also descriptive. I will shortly be someone who uses a wheelchair to move around.
However, i don’t think either the “spinal cord injury”, or the “wheelchair user” phrases are part of my identity. I wouldn’t be a different person if they changed. In many ways, it’s more like the relationship between my vision impairment and my glasses, then my relationship to autism.
With that in mind, i am pretty happy with my sense of identity. In terms of my identity, i am autistic. Separately to my identity i have impairments (cauda equina, stigmatism) and then use tools to aid me (wheelchair, glasses)
Or, to put it another way:
Hi, i’m jamie. I am autistic. I have speech, vision and mobility impairments, so i use AAC, glasses and a wheelchair. It’s nice to meet you.