I was paralyzed 6 years ago and now I struggle with suicide — but not for the reason you think
Editor's note: Scott Jones was attacked outside a New Glasgow, N.S., bar in 2013, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. The musician and music teacher founded the Don't Be Afraid campaign shortly afterward to encourage others to speak out against homophobia.
I struggle with suicide.
I struggle with suicide on a daily basis.
I never used to struggle with suicide so strongly until I became paralyzed almost six years ago. Most of the 27 years prior to the attack, I was very happy. Yes, I struggled with depression while I was in the closet as a teenager, and anxiety once I was out of it, but I never seriously considered suicide like I have these last few years.
I know what some of you may be thinking: "Of course that makes sense — the loss of ability that comes with paralysis would make anyone suicidal." But when I really think about it, it stems from so much more than that.
Paralysis and the resulting bodily changes, although very hard pills to swallow, have become more normal over the years. And with the healing capacity of time, I have become more and more aware of the beauty and resilience that my disabled body represents — that every disabled body represents.
So, you would be wrong. Paralysis is not the main precursor to these suicidal thoughts.
The hardest pill, the one that sticks to the side of my throat unable to go down, is the way in which society disables me, isolates me and cages me in. The way in which able-bodied folks construct a world that limits my happiness. The ways in which inclusion, accessibility, and barrier-free environments are afterthoughts, diminishing the quality of my social life, my work life, my creative life, my love life — and my life itself.
The way in which pity permeates 90 per cent my interactions with non-disabled folk. And the aggravating part is that it is a pity that reeks of complacency and a lack of awareness of its root cause: the belief that disability alone would cause one to consider suicide.
It is not my disability that causes me to consider a way out — it is the people, the buildings, the opinions and beliefs that convey to me that I do not belong in this world.- Scott Jones
A few years ago, I left my wheelchair on a dock on Halifax's Northwest Arm and rowed out to sea with a coach boat following me. Partway through the workout, my coach got a call: a concerned citizen had contacted police about the empty wheelchair. When we got back to the dock, there was a woman on her deck shouting, "We thought you'd killed yourself. Next time leave a note!"
While her intentions, I'm sure, were from a genuine concern that someone had taken their life, the message was clear: What do disabled people have to live for?
Let me tell you.
Disability culture is quite possibly one of the most beautiful cultures I have ever experienced. The determination and resilience that I have witnessed at rehab centres, in hospitals, in public spaces where inclusion is embraced, and especially in spaces where it is not, is nothing short of miraculous.
It is not my disability that causes me to consider a way out — it is the people, the buildings, the opinions and beliefs that convey to me that I do not belong in this world.
Make room for accessibility
I'm sure as you are reading this, you are worried about my well-being, and I am grateful for that. I am eternally grateful and fortunate to have a loving and supportive community that surrounds me, something that many disabled folks do not.
But, honestly, I want you to be worried. Not about me and my disability, but about the message we as a society — well, the able-bodied folks — communicate to the beautiful, magical human beings that live on a different part of the spectrum of ability.
Move over. Make room. Consider and educate yourself regarding the rights and needs of disabled people.
Prioritize them. It will save lives.