Am I still disabled? Since having reached full recovery from total hip replacement surgery this is a question I find myself asking.
Before surgery I always thought of myself as disabled. No I was not fully wheelchair bound, but I could not walk long distances easily and I often found walking a painful experience. Now I can walk further than ever pain-free. I love how much more I can now do without having to think about it first and decide if I need my wheelchair with me or not. However having spent my life calling myself disabled I find myself in a confusing situation.
I am currently trying to get a job. When filling in an application form they often ask the question ‘do you consider yourself to have a disability?’ I now answer this with a no, as I do not see myself as having anything an employer would need to know about and do not need any work place adjustments. However sometimes I feel a bit like I am denying a part of myself in saying I am not disabled. Having called myself disabled most of my life I saw it as part of my identity, part of what made me. I went to a special school for disabled children for three years of my education and I attended a special needs youth club session in my teens. Some of my closest friends are disabled. At university I was part of the disabled students group within the student union. My disability had helped me make friends and join a social setting within society.
Now I feel a bit lost, where do I fit in? Officially I am not classed as disabled. One year after my surgery they stopped my Disability Living Allowance benefit money as my hip surgery was so successful. I agree with the decision, I no longer need to pay for taxis to places that are considered normal walking distance for most people and I was only on low rate anyway. This also means I no longer qualify for a free bus pass now, which I have to say as a non-driver I do miss, but I understand why.
I made a comment on Facebook about not being disabled any more. A friend of mine commented asking how could someone go from disabled to not disabled. I tried to explain that in my case surgery had worked and I was no longer getting any disability benefit. I still think she struggles to understand this concept, as do I in some ways. Looking back it was probably not a good comment to have made when I have so many disabled friends on my Facebook. It was tactless when most of them had conditions that no amount of surgery could ever fully cure and they would always be disabled. I find it hard sometimes to know the right things to my friends without sounding like I am showing off or thinking I am better than them. I honestly do not think I am better than anyone else at all.
I do still have some mental health issues and some learning problems. I am unsure as to whether they class me as disabled or not as they are mild and not a huge problem all the time. However they do at times make me feel like I have something in common with disabled people in that I am held back from getting on with my life in some ways.
More recently I have started to wonder if no longer being disabled I have actually made things worse in terms of getting on with my life. I have seen friends from school and other places moving on in life with jobs, homes and financial support. I am not saying these people do not need the help or deserve it, I am very happy for them. However it leaves me thinking, what about me? I am still living with my parents at home, unemployed and Job Seekers Allowance being my only income. If I was still disabled would I have had help to leave home and get my own flat, or would I have been put on a work trial that led to a job offer? I went from being disabled with extra support, to nothing almost over night, which was a bit scary. I remember how much pain I was in before the surgery and am very glad I had it, but no one told me that you suddenly have to deal with everything in life by yourself. I am lucky in that I have very supportive parents who let me live at home at the age of 28 and help me to prepare and get to job interviews, help me financially by only charging me a small amount of rent and help me to have some kind of life. I wonder how some people cope post surgery when the official support dries up and they have no one at home to help them.
Right now life has reached a sort of limbo, like I am waiting for the next part of my life to start, but I do not know how to get things going. I want to move out of my parents house, but that is unlikely to happen any time soon on my budget. I looked at the idea of local housing authority flats, but seeing as my parents are willing to put up with me and I have no health issues stopping me from living at home I would never be eligible. Before surgery I would have been as we have steep steps to our front and back doors and I could have claimed getting in and out of the house was too painful. I have tried the job thing, but after nearly two years on Job Seekers the best I could managed was a three-month Christmas temp job and am back where I was before. I do not get work placements that can lead to a job as I am not considered in need in that kind of help being a non-disabled job seeker. However I do get to walk pain-free and my life has improved vastly since the surgery. I now just need to figure out how to make the most of this new hip and to start living life to the full.