The second installment of SIN’s newest column ‘Ill-informed’, written by Jennifer O’Connor, a member of the Disability Support Services in NUI Galway.
I think that it is safe to say that so many of us have played the game Monopoly as children, and perhaps more competitively as adults. My first memory of playing the game is losing spectacularly to my father at the age of nine. At this age, the words ‘mortgage’ and ‘tax’ were a blissful mystery to me that only existed within the game. When my father explained the word monopoly to me, I resolved that my new technique was to refuse to spend my initial money on any property, to save for a rainy day when my sister would inevitably catch me out for landing on Nassau Street. This technique lasted until I was seventeen, when I decided that the game just wasn’t for me. Recently, the game sparked a thought in my mind I haven’t been able to shake.
Recently, I sat around a room with five other girls who are also mentors for the Disability Support Services. We were asked to give a brief introduction to ourselves, which seemed to hold the unspoken agreement to explain our disabilities. I stumbled, stuttered and all but tripped over the words explaining my chronic illnesses. I tried to turn my insides to absolute steel as my turn was approaching. I bit my lip until it bled. Yet when I spoke, I joked about my low blood pressure meaning I basically spend a lot of time of the floor, after fainting – which is sometimes the safest place to be. Everyone laughed and so did I. And the spotlight passed over me. The small, fragile animal inside of me that unfurls herself from her fearful hibernation could relax once more, content that that part of us, the most painful part, was no longer on display.
Yet, I listened to the other girls speak. Together, we are a constellation that was never meant to collide. Living with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, visual impairments, chronic illnesses, and partial deafness, we have surpassed the Land of the Varied and sped right though Eclectic Country. We are a fraction of the seven hundred students registered with the DSS. And of that registered number, there are undoubtedly more that fear registering. Whether they do this because of an innate false truth of not meeting some imagined barrier of disability or from a fear of judgement, I cannot say. I can’t speak for everyone, no matter how much I may try with this column.
However, what you need to know, regardless of who you are, is something I learned only recently. Life with a disability or impairment or specific challenge, is like playing monopoly on a grand scale.
You begin, bank full of energy and no worries. So far, everything is uncharted territory, with as much potential to be good as to be bad. Yet whilst everyone else steps out to play – your first round sends you straight to jail with no get-out-of-jail-free card. But that is not just your first round, but also your second – and every round after. You smell freedom, but a minuscule wrong move sends your body physically or mentally broken, back to jail. This happens so many times until you can lock the door on yourself. Why leave momentarily only to come back?
Yet, there is an upside of this. The most glorious upside that anyone could ever want – you’re in good company. Turn around after facing the bars of your cell for too long and you will see that no one truly has a monopoly on pain. Instead, you form a constellation once more with those who truly understand you, because they too experience marginalisation, pain and suffering as you do. The jail walls melt away and together, you form a haven where judgement does not exist – and if it does, it is only in the positive sense.
To be disabled in university truly feels like this. You lose nights out, sports and all things social, until you become a coin with a weight on one side, all work, no play. You are in jail when everyone is experiencing the joys of The Game around you. However, when you realise that you are both inmate and prison warden at the same time, things get better. Your perception can be changed by the beauty of friendship with those around you, and you recognise that there is no one else you would rather be with, in this pain and suffering. The DSS handed me the key to my own cell, and reminded me beautifully that whilst no one has a monopoly upon pain, equally, no one has a monopoly upon the College Experience. And everyone’s definition is different, and never lacking.
-By Jennifer O’Connor