Turning 20 as an Unemployed, Disabled Creative

Photograph of Sakara from the chest up, a thin white woman with medium length brown hair looking directly at the camera. There are tired shadows under her eyes and she's not wearing any make up but looks alert. There is a gold heart locket around her neck.

As I begin to write this, I’m a teenager. By the time you read these words… I won’t be. Last year I couldn’t imagine this month, couldn’t imagine getting to know who I am as an adult. All I can say on that one is it’s been a heck of a mess to untangle.

The top (or headstock) of a guitar and the beginning of the neck. There is a pink pick tucked into the strings.

[Image descriptions for most photographs are available via alt text, overall there are a mixture of brighter photographs featuring my floral colouring pictures and more muted pictures, often of me/my bedroom/my warm cream and beige toned surroundings. I do make my interior design tastes sound rather dull, but it comes across as calming and is always a good backdrop for that brighter artwork!]

Slightly blurred photograph of the book "Feminist Queer Crip" by Alison Kafer sitting on a small, glass topped table.

I’m no longer a “Student”

While I still identify with the term, officially it no longer applies to me. I’ll talk more about it another time, but want to introduce some thoughts today. I know university isn’t right for me at the moment, academic pressure has weighed on my health for as long as I can remember, until I forgot why I ever loved to learn. Reading ‘Feminist Queer Crip’ by Alison Kafer, and an online article referencing “crip time”, I found myself thinking not only of how disability has changed my personal relationship with time but also about the immense -time-based- pressures within schools. “The exams won’t wait for you,” as one teacher said to me. A quote I think I’ve used before and will no doubt bring up again. I’ve thought long and cried hard over the fact that those environments -both metaphorically and physically speaking- were never built for me.

The subject of education reminds me how we ask children what they want to be when they grow up, expecting a job title in response. So what am I? My job is absent. I’m unemployed. A statistic, a failing? “You don’t want to end up on the dole,”, “You don’t want to end up in a wheelchair,” nobody wants to be what I am. Yet this relies on each of us identifying as a “what”, a thing, a number. I want to be a “who”, a living being, a person. If I ask myself who I want to be in life, the answer doesn’t come in the form of a degree. It comes in colours of kindness, friendship, an open mind and an endless desire to question our world. That’s who I am. That’s ‘what’ I am. I hope one day that will feel enough.

I’m Disabled, it’s okay; you can say it.

Accepting that this is adulthood hasn’t been easy. I tied the two together; growing up and “getting better”. Perhaps it wasn’t as simple as that. I didn’t just tie them, I knitted, I sewed. I made tapestries and patchwork blankets and throws. These ideas of adulthood, independence and worth are so tightly woven together in our society, that picking them apart can feel impossible, leaving you surrounded by frayed edges and those frustratingly tight knots that refuse to be untangled… But are scary to cut away..

Photograph showing the shadow of a hand hooked over a twisted branch.

I find it hard to imagine how the support I need would feel coming from carers rather than my parents. I try to be honest on social media but I think I give the impression of being more capable than I am. I’m not sure anyone would imagine how few of my own meals I make (okay, unless you count that crumpet I toasted I really don’t make any). Recently, there are more times than I’d like to admit when I don’t feel safe to get my own drinks. Although I’m aware this is internalised ableism, it’s a tough thing to unlearn so here’s the truth: this situation makes me feel undeserving of anything beyond the basics in life. If I can’t cook my own food why should I sit in the garden painting flowers on a sheet? What right do I have to pleasure if I can’t hold a simple conversation with my parents, without becoming overwhelmed and flying off the handle? (By which I mean shouting. screaming, falling over -or a combination of the three- because cognitively (and often physically) I can’t cope).

If I can’t do “normal” what gives me a right to “magical”?

Disabled isn’t a bad word. An inherently bad “thing” to be. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad. If anything, all the trauma and segregation and pain tied up in my life, is all the more reason for me to want acknowledgement of myself as a disabled person. Say it, don’t wash over it, validate it. I’m disabled. And I kinda hate it. And that’s my right.

Let’s get Creative…

Something I do love about this life is my creativity. I create, I problem solve. Sometimes I feel like I’m one big problem in and of myself, so solving bits of it is the only way I can get anything done. Probably not the kindest summary but one which feels true on many days of the week.

Photograph of a keyboard with a hand drawn floral picture, magazine called Able and a small fairy toy sitting on the attached music stand, it looks homely with dark green tassels hanging from the keyboard stand.

I’m proud of the flowers I’ve been drawing recently. Years ago I wouldn’t have been happy to see myself as a 19/20 year old without a book published, an album half way done and a nice lover tucked away in a box somewhere. As it is? Perhaps my expectations seem to have lowered but I don’t believe that’s true. I want to make things. I want to enjoy the way a pencil feels as its edges rub off onto the paper. I want to remember to water my plants, I want to keep my blog going. Releasing an album would never have made me happy. Singing to my friends and improving the way I play guitar do. And if that leads to an album one day, wonderful. I’m already planning the cover art. But there’s no rush. That’s what turning 20 means to me. It’s the moment when I move away from wanting everything done before my next birthday and towards marveling at the fact that I might have another 10, 20 or 30 years ahead of me, full of days, full of normal, full of “magical”.

Photograph of a bed in the corner of a room with evening sunlight coming in across parts of the pillows. It feels warm and inviting in beige and cream tones. There are two cuddly toys sitting on top of a pillow (one rabbit and one dog) and a pair of headphones on the bed.

Final thoughts?

I’d say I best get back to bed but that’s where I’m laying to type this, so I’ll see if I can get a little more out of a flagging brain. Earlier this month I felt empowered by the idea of turning twenty. I felt determined to pursue creativity and happiness. I still do in many ways. But in the initial imagining of what I wanted this post to be I piled too much pressure on myself. Not perfectionism of the “release an album, stat!” kind. But a kind which told me how being gentler towards myself should feel, how embracing creativity should result in absolute happiness. It painted a world in which there was little space for screaming on the floor at the top of the stairs when I couldn’t compute how to get down them this evening. It left no space for the swimming brain fog and physical fatigue that resulted from reading more Feminist Queer Crip than usual. It left no space for the mess that is the experience of being human. I still fed into an idea of inspirational perfection I’m pushed towards as a disabled person (wheelchair pushing pun semi intended and fully appreciated).

I can craft magical moments all I like, as long as I leave space for sadness. For grief, pain and loss yet to come my way. This birthday is just that: another day. Not another world, another me or another life. And it won’t halt, this passing of time. We can’t stop for a rest at any of these mile stones. It keeps going. And I think for the first time, I’m sort of okay with that.

Hello adulthood, you unbelievably complex and manipulative social construct that barely anyone feels fully included in. Nice to meet you.

Until next time,

-Sakara x

2 thoughts on “Turning 20 as an Unemployed, Disabled Creative”

  1. Really enjoyed this post! I can connect to it, or almost doesn’t feel real to be an adult. Social norms make you feel that if you’re not ticking boxes you’re not getting anywhere in life. I hope at least COVID has taught people that life doesn’t go to plan, but that doesn’t mean your life’s over, it just mean you yell ‘plot twist’ and move on! Life isn’t about check boxes, it’s about magical moments. Even if that’s lying in bed appreciating the fact you have a fluffy blanket, or that you’ve got a pretty view out the window, or that your wheelchair wheels look nice. To me that’s what life’s about.

    1. Thank you for this Imali! There are so many more ways to live than the ones we’re shown over and over. I’m glad we’ve come to similar conclusions on appreciating all the fluffy blankets we can get in this life. <3

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