Personal Stories

Commuting on Crutches: By way of introduction

I’m on crutches for the second time this year—the third time since August (or “this academic year,” for those of you who, like me, live on that calendar). My condition is temporarily disabling, but it does currently limit my mobility and my access to places I want to visit.

I reverse-commute every weekday by train. Basically, that means that a number of my colleagues and I forge our way out of The City to The Suburbs for work. A number of my colleague-friends ride the commuter train with me; they ride by choice. I, however, ride by necessity. Smartly, the Powers That Be don’t want me to operate a motor vehicle. I can’t say I disagree with that.

My vision is corrected to 20/200. That’s the best they can do for me. I’m cool with it. I think I’d be claustrophobic if I perceived things being closer to me. My visual acuity is the result of oculocutaneous albinism, a recessive genetic condition, for lack of a different term at the moment. As someone with albinism, I have the typical pale blonde hair and pale skin. My eyes are a pale blue. The pigment I lack would have helped my eyes to develop in a typical way. I wear thick bifocals. My eyes move constantly because of two types of nystigmus. A sunny day in winter when there’s snow on the ground is a virtual white-out for me, in terms of what I can see. Stairs and some distances are difficult for me because of my lack (Total? I don’t know.) of depth-perception. Do you see why they won’t let me drive?

On a normal day, when my knees are in good shape, I walk 3/4 of a mile to catch the commuter train. Currently, my travel involves at least one bus to one of two train stations that I—sort of—live between. The station that I consider my home station, where all of my friends also board, is under construction. It’s about 30 steps up to the platform. My alternate station has a ramp, but that ramp is long in order to accommodate travel up to a similarly high platform. Lately, I’m taking the stairs. It’s faster. I realize that’s a luxury, that I carry my crutches up two flights of stairs to a train that requires I climb an additional four stairs to board. The train does have lifts, but they don’t even like to operate the lifts for strollers. Believe me; I know.

So, the crutches you can see. You can see the glasses and the trademark white-blonde hair of albinism, though not a lot of people understand that people with albinism inherently have vision problems. Sometimes, the most disabling condition I work through can’t be seen at all: dysthymic disorder with generalized anxiety. The anxiety is pretty well managed by SSRIs. The depression characteristic of dysthymic disorder is not.

Actually, it’s not entirely fair to say the depression isn’t managed. The depths of despair are held at bay. I’m able to get out of bed, go to work, interact with my constituents, go home, bathe my toddler, etc. My recent conversations with my therapist and psychiatrist have centered around not feeling good enough. I’m not looking for all-happy-all-the-time here, people. I’d just like to get back some concentration and motivation, the kinds of things that make me a better, more productive employee and human being than I think I am right now.

These are all things I feel, things I experience right now in my life. These things don’t define me; they are part of me. In fact, my identity as someone with a disability is one of my least salient identities.

You’re more likely to see/hear me identify in any/all of these ways:

  • feminist
  • queer
  • Mommy
  • graduate student
  • public transit nerd
  • Chicagoan
  • wife/partner
  • pro-choice
  • academic
  • urbanist
  • knitter/crocheter
  • listener

And now, again, because of this project: writer (blogger, if you prefer). Like most hobbies, all writing dropped off with my sinking through the quicksand of depression. I’m doing what I can to get this part of me back.

I’m lucky enough to experience joy everyday, even when I’m depressed. Even when he frustrates the crap out of me, my little boy is my shining joy, the love of my life, the best thing I’ve ever done. He’ll certainly be part of what I write here.

I’ll write about other stuff, too. I care deeply about access to healthcare and medical services/medicine. I care deeply about issues of class and poverty and the intersections with race and gender. I care deeply about making sure everyone has equal access. I care deeply about making Chicago—and the world—a better place for everyone.

As much as I’m a jaded skeptic, I’m kind of an idealist, too.

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teryn is a pro-choice queer feminist, a mommy, a part-time graduate student and full-time college academic support person, a public transit nerd, a proud Chicagoan, an academic, an urbanist, a lover of and maker of maps, a knitter and crocheter, an atheist with Buddhist philosophical leanings, and a fan of the Chicago Cubs.

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