Hi, my name is Maryam, I’m a 21 year old undergrad student currently standing to be the next NUS Black Students’ Officer. I’m standing on a platform of intersectionality as I define into all of the Liberation Campaigns (Black, LGBT, women and disabled). The first three are aspects of myself I’m sure pretty much everyone knows of; the latter however, may not be so commonly known.
I define as disabled because of my mental health issues. I have struggled with depression on and off for years in varying degrees, I find stressful situations sometimes more difficult than most and am now realising that the ‘spoon theory’ is something which I increasingly find myself fitting into and indeed using. So, why am I bringing this up now? Well, at NUS events you can request something or rather someone as an enabler. An enabler is someone who helps you throughout the conference in terms of making sure you’re okay, that you’re keeping up with the proceedings and just generally looking out for your welfare and any concerns you may have during the course of the conference or event. It really is a wonderful idea designed to ensure that all disabled delegates are able to participate within NUS events and importantly, have the support that they may need.
It’s important to note that it’s not the fault of the disabled person being ‘broken’, but rather the fault of society for not actually making provisions for the diversity of human needs. I mean, everyone relies on other people every day. We can only eat, go to work and a whole heap of other things because of literally thousands of people who ‘enable’ us to do so by getting the food to the shelves in the shops and keeping the buses running etc. Our existence in the world is part of a whole web of interdependency; requiring an enabler is just one small facet.
The reason why I’ve chosen to speak about it before the Black Students’ Conference is because with the help (read: a firm telling to) from my campaign team and the NUS Disabled Students’ Officer, I can’t help but agree with them that it is in my best interest to have an enabler with me at the conference. As strong as I think I am, a friend quite rightly reminded me that (unfortunately) I am not a superhero.
Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘well, that’s all good, it makes sense and she can just request an enabler so I don’t really understand the point of this blog post…’ I wish it was as simple as that. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m running in the elections to be the next NUS Black Students’ Officer and while I understand the importance of enablers, I was genuinely and seriously concerned about how people would perceive me if I was to have an enabler at conference. It may sound a little silly but please, bear with me and let me try to explain.
The role of an officer, any full-time officer is to lead a particular part of the NUS movement. The Black Students’ Officer leads 1 million Black students in the UK. With such leadership or indeed any leadership comes great responsibility and there is a perception in society that people with mental health issues are in some way deficient of something or are unable to be as good as well, ‘normal’ people (whatever that even means) or rather people who don’t have disabilities so naturally, I was nervous, actually, scared of the idea of people judging me and looking down on me because of this. That fear of judgement (whether actual or perceived) is something that I’ve had to grapple with for a long time whether it’s in terms of my struggles with faith and sexuality, culture and sexuality and of course my mental health. I just didn’t want people to have the perception that having an enabler would render me unfit or indeed unable to be the Black Students’ Officer that I and all of my supporters know that I can be given the chance.
On International Day of Disabled People (3 December) which falls during Disability History Month (22 November – 22 December) so many people from across the student movement came out as disabled, shedding light on their thoughts, experiences and what being disabled meant to them. Their coming out as disabled was so incredibly powerful because it showed that we are not alone and that there really is no shame in talking about mental health (both positive and negative) or in seeking help when you need it. You may not need to tell the world as we have done in our posts but that strength in numbers and unity is so important.
There is always fear and stigma about mental health issues and the best way to deal with that is by talking about our lived experiences. Did you know that 1 in 3 people will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives? Think about it, consider your friends, family and colleagues and then imagine that a third of them are either already experiencing mental health issues or will at some point. It’s a lot of people isn’t it? Black people face mental health issues even more so. As Black people, we more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems, more likely to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital, more likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment and more likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, leading to social exclusion and ultimately, a deterioration in our mental health.
Given that I am standing on an intersectionality platform coupled with my naturally open character, I feel like I have a duty to talk about all of the aspects of the Liberation Campaigns which I define into which includes my disability. After all, if we don’t talk about such issues, how on earth are we meant to be able to change society and smash the stigma and discrimination around mental health and indeed all disabilities whether visible or unseen?
Right, that’s me done. I am going to sign off and deal with this little ‘vulnerability hangover’ now. I find that posts like these because of how personal they are to me, that I need to take a little time out. If you have any questions or comments about anything that I have written then please do get in touch. 🙂