Due to the influence of Hollywood, it’s easy to get a really skewed idea of what the human body is and is not capable of. I’m an EMT, so I have some idea of what life threatening injuries look like. I have an awful time watching most movies because of it. I’ve made it a mission in my writing to depict illness, injury and disability as realistically as possible.
In fantasy and sci-fi, you can have a pass with certain things; Wizards can be assumed to be more durable than Muggles (hence Quidditch), futuristic medical techniques can speed up healing. However, I dislike seeing a character sustain a life threatening injury and brush it off like a paper cut without some kind of mechanism to make it make sense.
And then there’s Hollywood’s depiction of chronic illness and disability.
Oh wait, there are no chronic illnesses in Hollywood. They all either kill you dead in a decently short time, or House or Dr. McCoy or someone comes in and figures out a cure. A pretty easy to manage cure; after which you need never worry your head about that disease again.
So much pop culture says that disability is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. Unless you can pretend it just doesn’t exist–then it’s okay. You have to haul your own O2 tank upstairs, otherwise you’re giving up.
Most of my main characters live with some kind of permanent disability. I write a lot about depression. Some of my characters struggle with things like chronic fatigue or autism-spectrum type problems.
In my current original WIP, one character has the magical equivalent of a traumatic brain injury. Another has epilepsy. Some of my character’s only disabilities are the perceptions of others.
I often get asked why.
My first ever fanfic (that I shared with the world) was written in 2008. Just a sweet little story about a much loved character dying of cancer. My father had just died of cancer–I was working a few things out
My characters all end up with disabilities of one kind or another, visible and invisible. Even the minor characters have disabilities, because that’s my experience of the world. Everyone is only temporarily able bodied.
It’s just a case of writing what I know. My health went to shit when I was a teenager. Living with an invisible disability when you are a young person tends to make you look for other disabled people to hang out with. So now, when I write about these teenagers in my head, of course I write about disability.
Barnum, one of my heroes from my WIP, reflects on the group she eats with at lunchtime.
Lester was smart, but so socially tone deaf that he was hard to be around, sometimes. His first words when he met Barnum in ninth grade had been, “Your hand is really cool! It’s like in the old circus photos!” If Barnum hadn’t been fascinated by freak shows and circuses herself, she would have punched him. But otherwise he was nice. It was clear he never said anything rude on purpose.
Amy was a huge drama queen, but Barnum suspected the drama was to distract everyone from her eating disorder and her cutting.
Terry was always sick with something, but they weren’t really sure what. A lot of kids thought he was making it up but Barnum had seen him once or twice when he’d had to leave class early. Poor guy would limp out of class looking like he was run over by a truck and he’d had about every medical test ever.
Even in the freaks and geeks school, she liked to hang out with the freakiest and the geekiest.
Barnum is the nickname this young woman has given herself. Her actual name is Lydia.
If you were to ask her about herself, she would tell you that she is Jewish. She loves steampunk, circuses and carnivals. She is a fair amateur stage magician who does sleight-of-hand. She loves old movies and will drag people to see them at the slightest opportunity. She is an avowed skeptic who doesn’t believe in weird shit, (although she is about to find out differently). The freaks and geeks school she attends is a magnet school. You have to score in the 80th percentile on standardized tests to be considered.
And by the way, she is missing all but two fingers from her right hand. If you ask her about it politely, she’ll tell you she was born that way. If you ask her rudely, she’ll say something obnoxious. No, she’s not interested in a prosthetic hand. Although, she could maybe be tempted by the cool ones printed on 3D printers.
Mine is not a world where disability is magically cured. Barnum may decide to use a prosthetic, if only as a fashion accessory, but there won’t be any miracles. If an illness is to be cured, it is not going to be easy or pretty.
Because life is like that.