This is Lillian Davis, and she is a part of the Disability Link Community. Below you will see her answers to my interview questions for Shine The Light. Disability Link is a community center for the disability community. I’m not going to get into the specifics, but the one thing I will say, is that they offer different kinds of classes for the disability community.
1-Tell me about yourself and your story. What does your light show other people?
“I discovered that I had a disability during my junior year in college in 2001. Initially, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. For years, I felt different and isolated from the people around me. I was relieved and very happy to finally have a name for that feeling. The next 20 years would be a journey of self-discovery and understanding. I checked myself in mental facilities many times. Happily, I can now say it has been 11 years since I was last hospitalized. My light shows others now to never give up and always advocate for yourself and others until you find your solution. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Keeping knocking and it will be opened to you. Keep seeking and you will find.’”
2-What are some challenges you face because of your disability?
“Some challenges I face as a person with a mental disability are numerous. The main two are people carelessly using the term bipolar to describe situations and deciding when and how to let others know about my disability.”
“I find it hurtful and insulting when people, especially in the medical field, use the diagnosis of bipolar to describe everything from the weather to others behavior as a joke. When I introduce someone new to my inner circle of friends and associates, I feel like I have to “interview” them before I am comfortable with them knowing my disability. Most people I meet do not even know that I have a cognitive disability because it is well managed through therapy and medication. So, I appear to be “normal.””
3-What do you want people to know or understand about you or anyone living with your disability?
“I want people to know that living with a mental disability does not mean I am homicidal as we are often depicted in Hollywood movies and television shows. That misinformation makes it difficult, for me at least, to feel comfortable with others knowing my main disability. Also, I find it insulting that the government, including social security, thinks that my disability will impact my ability to defend myself with a weapon or manage my money. Statistically people with mental disabilities are the ones who are most at risk of violence from “normal people,” than “normal people” are from us. It’s as if the “Right to Bear Arms” or Self-defense does not apply to me because I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. Having a mental disability should not be a reason to feel ashamed or mistreated or to be in harm’s way because someone does not take the time or make the effort to understand my disability. People who have problems with any other organ in the body can Bear Arms and Defend themselves with deadly force. The brain is just another organ of the body that can and does malfunction. People should recognize that it is okay to have a mental disorder. As I mentioned earlier, a mental disorder is mainly a chemical imbalance in the brain and not something society needs to fear or mistreat.”
4-How has living with a disability led you to become a more compassionate person?
“I learned to show respect and dignity to everyone regardless of how they treat you. However, learning that I have a disability taught me to have more patience when others display bad behavior towards me. I realize that many are diagnosed with a mental disorder like I was for years. So, instead of getting upset when I have been mistreated, I try to remind myself of the time when I would have random outbursts and had a difficult time controlling my emotions. However, when other people that I know are disabled or elderly are being mistreated I speak up and try to diffuse the situation as much as possible. Also, I use my skills as a peer supporter to listen to those who just need to get stuff off their chest sometimes. Since I now know many resources for people living with disabilities, I constantly am directing people to them because I do not want others to feel lost and without hope like I was for many years. I started a passion project to create a directory of resources for people seeking help for various disabilities in most of Georgia. When I start my natural hair product business, I am seeking to cater to the disability community’s beauty and personal care needs. Once, my business expands, I will give preference to hiring from within the community as well.”
5-How can others show compassion to you or others living with your disability?
“People can show compassion by being patient with others and to just sometimes give a simple smile or wave. Even if that person does not respond in kind, you really do not know what the other person could be experiencing in his or her life. Just a simple recognition of your existence can have a greater impact than you will ever know. Lastly, when someone wants to tell you their ‘life story’ or to even complain about their life, please take the time to listen. Just the act of listening could potentially save a life. One day, you too could find yourself experiencing a crisis and just would want a listening ear and kind word to realize that the world is not all bad and life is worth living. I read an article years ago that said by 2020 there would not be anyone that does not have or know someone with a disability. The year 2020 was so stressful with the pandemic, isolation and death of loved ones that more people experienced bouts of depression and anxiety like never before. So, showing basic human kindness, respect and dignity to others who are different from you goes a long way. As someone once said, ‘the life you save just might be your own one day.” -Lillian R. Davis