So I just read this excerpt from Critic of the Dawn, and had an epiphany.
And I don’t know why I hadn’t had it earlier, because it’s been a topic I’ve been circling around for the past year or so, in multiple places in my life.
Because here’s the thing: what the excerpt says about dependence and independence and disability and ableism is all completely 100% indubitably true: we are all, each of us, dependent on other people. You can go off into the forest and live naked and only with what you make or grow or find yourself, and you’ll STILL be dependent on the people from whom you learned these skills, and you’ll be dependent upon them when things go wrong (or you’ll be dead). And what determines whether we call a given dependence “normal” and part of “independence” depends, entirely, upon whether it is typical for a “normal” (read: nondisabled) person.
And the thing is, the thing is: this is true for emotional and mental dependence, too.
Because here are things I know:
Every single person depends upon other people for emotional equilibrium; some of us depend on others more. I am bipolar. The only thing, the only thing, that has kept me out of the hospital at times has been my lifemate, the fact that he was next to me, that I was able to stabilize myself in relationship to him. Every bipolar friend of mine who has been hospitalized has said the most important part of their hospitalization was when a nurse was able to come and sit with them — just be with them — when things were hardest. (Meds and rapid access to MD attention and lack of access to tools of self-harm have also been cited as helpful, of course.) We all experience emotions in relationship with other people; some of us depend upon this more, and are called crazy.
Every single person depends upon other people for executive functioning; some of us depend upon others more. My child is ADHD. The only way he gets anything done sometimes is to have one of us standing next to him. We don’t even need to do anything, we don’t threaten him or nag him or yell at him, we just need to be there, be a brain for his own brain to regulate off of, for him to function at capacity. And although I didn’t know it for years and years and years, this is exactly a function I serve for my lifemate, as well, who is also ADHD. Sometimes I help him with systems and memory (generally without even noticing I am doing so); mostly I help him just by being with him, whether in the room with him or in this life with him. We all function at the executive level in relationship with other people, we all need reminders and deadlines and accountability and responsibility; some of us depend upon this more, and are called dysfunctional.
Every single person depends upon other people for identity; some of us depend upon others more. My favorite fictional character1 is highly emotionally sensitive, vulnerable, open, permeable, however you want to put it. The only way he knows who he is is in relationship with other people. And we all do this. We all form our identity by finding “our people”, “our tribe”, by joining (or rejecting) communities, by recognizing ourselves in others. Some of us depend upon this more, and are called codependent.
And of course, there are ways to be in relationship that are highly unhealthy. There are ways to be in relationship where you lose yourself, your stability destabilizes, you are never allowed to be centered in your own you-ness. It does not, therefore, follow that those of us who know who we are most thoroughly in direct relationship with other people, and who know this, are unhealthy. Because there are ways to be dependent on relationships, to be healthier and safer and saner and more functional in relationships, and this is… not a bad thing. It is the opposite of a bad thing.
And yet, when words like “codependent” are used, not to try to describe unhealthy relationships (and there are huge, significant problems with using the word for unhealthy relationships at all) but to label any relationship wherein one is dependent on the relationship, upon the other person, as pathological — this is wrong, factually, morally wrong, and it is ableist, reliant upon ideas of “independence” that are used solely to marginalize and discriminate against people with disabilities.
Emotional dependence is not inherently wrong. Mental dependence is not inherently wrong. Identity dependence is not inherently wrong. Dependence is not in and of itself pathological. Dependence is not inherently wrong.
Stop saying it is.
- Not the Doctor! *gasp* ↩