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Happy Holidays from Team Unwritten

As the festive period draws in for us we wanted to take a quick minute to wish you all happy holidays and thank you all for your support this year.

We hope that you have a wonderful festive period, that it’s full of rest, joy and not too stressful. If you find Christmas hard, as many do, we hope you can get through it in whichever way is best for you.

Thank you all for the incredible amount of support you have shown us this year, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our incredible disabled community.

Be kind to yourselves, remember to fight the system but always prioritise rest. If you need some extra ways to look after yourself, we recommend last year’s Happy Holidays piece.

See you in the new year,

Rachel, Cath and Caroline

The Unwritten editorial team

ps please enjoy Rachel’s dog and editorial assistant Rusty in his Christmas outfits

a black and tan dachsung wearing a rd christmas jumper that is decorated to look like santas outfit with a hood that has a white bobble on the end like santas hat
a black and tan dachshund is a green coat decorated to look like an elves outfit
a black and tan dachshund wearing a green coat decorated to look like a christmas tree

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Why do Disabled People Have to be Tiny Tims at Christmas?

Charles Dickens introduced the young Tim Cratchit to the world generations ago. Ever since, the character has been an emblem of A Christmas Carol.

Whether humans, cartoons, Muppets or a single puppet in a cast of non-disabled actors, they all have one tie that binds them — they are the sickly but sanguine child whose plight helps convert miserly, seemingly non-disabled Ebenezer Scrooge.    

There is a dimension of perceived honesty and truth to that description that disabled people are still wrangling with so many years later — the plight that helped to improve Scrooge.    

Dickens was the author of a disabled character whose sole purpose was to be an object of pity and to beg for goodwill. 

A character that, in his time, would have been an honest representation of the place, so many disabled people held. But we can’t claim there has been a radical revision in attitudes or ideals across the eras — they simply lie underneath an increasingly worn veneer of respectability.     

Tiny Tim doesn’t develop from a sickly young boy to a frail young man to a middle-aged destitute beggar. Rather, little Tim exists at one point in his life.  

He is the idealised Dickensian child — a staple of the Victorian era. But his modern twin hasn’t altered in the collective public consciousness. So, in whichever period, in whichever form, we see Tiny Tim. We know that we, as disabled people, are tied to him, our throwback twin — but we grew up.  

His presence is still felt in every report, every charitable piece edited just so – sickly but sanguine – to warm the hearts of the non-disabled. 

His father, Bob Cratchit, recounts Tim’s words. “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cr*pple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made l*me beggars walk, and blind men see.” 

No significant change or development has occurred since these words were committed to the page. Disabled children are still being used as props and mined mercilessly for their weight in inspiration porn.  

As a commonplace Victorian character, Bob continuously moralises his son’s death and disability. 

Yet, the sentiment expressed in this passage feels thoroughly modern — this is still how disabled children are represented — until age transforms them into parasites. 

“I know my dears, that when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child, we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.”  

 In the modern world, Tiny Tim would be excellent fodder for a festive charity advert as a voice-over narrated his tale. His trauma would be reworked neatly with melancholic though stirring music. 

Or he might materialise on breakfast television to be dubbed inspiring — and patted on the head dismissively. Of course, there would also be a place for him, wrapped in a Christmas jumper at the end of any bland national news bulletin.  

He doesn’t develop from a sickly young man to a middle-aged destitute beggar. But he walks with a crutch and looks frail in both productions and illustrations.

However, know from bitter experience that Tiny Tim would transform into an adult who might be labelled a scrounger — a liar, a fraudster for daring to be both disabled and an adult. 

Those images are seemingly independent yet entangled, most disabled people have experienced a shift when they are no longer perceived as worthy of protection.   

Before his intervention takes effect, Scrooge quips that government-funded institutions should be sufficient to help impoverished and disabled people.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the reality: they are grave places and nowhere near enough — not funded well enough or given the proper support. 

The reality is that Tiny Tim would age out of societal sympathy. The divide between who we are and who they want us to be is never more evident than at Christmas. He would be a victim of the benefit scrounger rhetoric, which affects all disabled people’s lives.   

Suppose the adult Tiny Tim lived in modern times. In that circumstance, he might receive the Christmas bonus from the DWP but not in line with inflation.

Not without having to endure some non-disabled pre-conversion Ebenezer Scrooge-style rants, which speak longingly of ripping us back to some form of an idealised Victorian era. 

He might have to beg for help to fund equipment once he outgrew his crutch and be told he was lying about his disability across the media. 

In column inches, tweets and on the street – language is chosen more carefully and insidiously now than Charles Dickens’ work conveys. Still, it’s no less ableist and regressive.  

Positively Dickensian? Positively modern. It reflects the phrasing and sentiment seeping into some newspapers, mangled tweets, and the warped observations of media commentators. 

It might be pleasant for them to remember on Christmas Day that we are not here to be puppets or Muppets in Scrooge’s redemption arc — or their warped Dickensian fantasies.   

Disabled people deserve to exist outside of how non-disabled wish us to appear at Christmas and all year round – god bless us everyone!

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Christmas is the Only Time of Year I don’t Feel Guilty for Resting 

Christmas is a confusing and often stressful time of year. It both challenges and reinforces a lot of the organising principles of British society.

Gendered roles come to the fore for many, heterosexual nuclear families are idealised and huge strain is put on people on lower incomes to provide a ‘perfect’ Christmas in times of financial hardship and minimal state support. 

But there are also elements of escape and subversion. One of the ways this is most apparent is through the celebration – and indeed idolisation – of rest over the holiday period.

For the vast majority of the year, hard work is held as hugely important not just in terms of economic productivity and output but morally, too. We are told that being a hard worker is a virtue and conversely being ‘lazy’ is something not only undesirable but implicitly cast as selfish and a personal failing. 

The message is clear; good people work hard and those who don’t are either inferior – if they can but choose not to – or to be pitied – if they can’t work at all. 

This kind of hustle, work-obsessed culture is harmful for everybody, but especially for disabled people. 

Many disabled people can’t work or can only work certain hours, sometimes because of their disabilities, sometimes because of the inflexible nature of many jobs and the difficulties in securing reasonable adjustments – despite them being a legal requirement. 

This contributes to disabled people’s financial insecurity – especially as being disabled comes with its own extra costs – but also can be damaging to disabled people’s mental health in a society that places work in paid employment on a pedestal. 

So, that’s why Christmas feels like a truly special time of year. For me, it’s not about the usual ‘magic’ of Christmas but the chance for rest to be socially acceptable for once. 

Because Christmas is still the holiday in the UK that the calendar year is organised around, and that most workplaces organise themselves around too, it’s the only time of year that you can be confident that almost everybody will be off email for a few days and that there will be no expectation of a speedy reply. 

It’s also the one time of year where doing nothing feels socially acceptable. 

Obviously, rest at Christmas is far from achievable for everybody – particularly those with caring responsibilities or those who work in hospitality or other service industries – but it is the case that images of relaxation are promoted in a way that at other times of year would be unthinkable.

Adverts and other forms of media encourage us to ‘take a break’ and ‘put our feet up’. The pressure to have a great Christmas can be isolating and problematic, but it is also notable in its rareness to see how much pleasure and relaxation are turned into virtues for a brief moment in time.

As someone with a disability that makes work challenging for me, Christmas provides a break from the guilt that can come from not fitting into society’s mould that celebrates productivity in wage labour above all else. 

Despite the fact that I passionately believe that no one should have to work if they don’t want to and that so-called ‘hard work’ is by no means a moral arbiter, I still find myself feeling guilty when I prioritise rest throughout the year. 

It’s a kind of internalised ableism that I’m still trying to work through by being compassionate to myself, doing things at my own pace and learning how to truly rest.

But come Christmas, no one is surprised or disapproving when I get up late, don’t leave the house all day or choose to stay warm and cosy. 

Friends understand and even praise me for things that make my life easier and happier whereas they would usually be (at best) taken aback by. In fact, people often swap stories (sometimes competitively, which is its own problem!) about how ‘little’ they’ve done and how much they’ve tried to chill out. 

It’s like people’s desperate need to rest gets bottled up until the end of the year and then fizzes over because we all know that come January the pressure will be back on, often with the addition of punitive resolutions and goals for the upcoming year.

Resting is something many disabled people have to learn as a skill for their own survival. It’s not something we are taught to value or even taught how to do as we are grow up, despite it being an essential life skill. 

I’ve had to read articles and books on it, and schedule it into my calendar to make sure that I actually do it. But for about one week a year, it feels far more natural and normalised, far more of a core value, alongside aspects like community, love and shared celebration. 

Although it’s very far from perfect, Christmas provides an all too brief glimpse of what society could look like if we held up rest as a necessity both for health but also for its own sake – for pleasure and the sheer enjoyment of doing nothing. 

What is, in many ways, the most consumerist time of the year, also provides a glimmer of what life could look like if capitalist notions of work weren’t centred so completely. 

So, this Christmas, I’ll luxuriate in the knowledge that my rest isn’t only accepted but encouraged, and I’ll try to enjoy that as much as I can – while it lasts. 

But I also know that longer-term, this isn’t sustainable – for me, for other disabled people, and for not yet disabled people. We cannot live on the scraps of rest we are sanctioned one period a year. 

We need to take what is culturally permissible at Christmas, and think about how society can be organised differently to support it at other times, too. A liveable future must centre rest as an achievable thing for everybody – the true Christmas miracle would be seeing that translate to every month of the year.

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Pain Chronicles: Despite it all, we Deserve to Have the Christmas we Choose

Pain Chronicles is a monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Darwin about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown-in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way. 

Trigger warning: This piece contains the sudden death of grandparents, covid death and discussion of bereavement. Please take care.

If you live in the Northern hemisphere, Christmas comes in the middle of winter. The long nights, the cold weather, the having to leave the house while it’s still dark outside. 

Pain and fatigue often get worse in the cold (as well as the warm, which is why I much prefer Autumn!), and worsening depression and anxiety rear their heads in the form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

I’ve a rather personal bone to pick with winter as well. In 2017, on Christmas Eve, and entirely unexpectedly, my nan died.

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Why New Years Resolutions are Harder if you Have ADHD

As the months fall away like snow, we come to the time of the year that involves reflection and being berated with media messages over why next year will be, ultimately, better, because you won’t do any of the terrible things you did this year.

The end of another year signals a wave of messages about what next year could bring and what we should be doing. New Years’ Resolutions are the culmination of this; a perfect snapshot into the relationship we can often have with life that is often rooted in a shame and guilt cycle.

For anyone, it can be a stressful time. Focusing on all the ways you haven’t achieved is not usually particularly satisfying.

When these resolutions and these shoulds look to diet culture, exercise, calorie counting, or overworking and productivity, they can become toxic affairs, leading to mental health problems, physical health issues, and burnout. 

For ADHDers, the likelihood of having an unhealthy relationship with these New Years’ Resolutions is heightened. 

It’s simple: ADHD impacts executive functioning, which helps a neurotypical person stick to routines, carry out tasks from beginning to end, and even start them in the first place. What are, at their core, resolutions? A resolution: to stick to a routine, carry out a task from beginning to end and start something new in the first place. 

“This year I’ll change,” you might say to yourself, signing up for that monthly book club, or the gym (again). You’ll invest in all the gear you might need, and then, one day, you’ll skip the class, and everything will feel like it’s over.

This is not just the experience of people with ADHD, but, for those with ADHD, it is this feeling of “failing” (which, of course, is not true) reverberating across their life that can make resolutions feel daunting, or shameful…because why try when you know you’ll never do it?

These problems only become confounded for those who are diagnosed later in life, or who may have co-morbid disorders which makes these resolutions even more difficult. 

ADHDers may have gone a large majority of their life thinking that it is a problem with them, they are the reason that sticking to their resolutions is so goddamn hard. Words like ‘lazy’ and ‘scatterbrained’, phrases like “not trying hard enough” float around like labels, and these critical voices translate to the inner critic. 

Hester Grainger, Co-founder of Perfectly Autistic, who was diagnosed later in life in her fourties, found exactly this problem: 

“I used to set myself resolutions and get frustrated when I gave them up after a few weeks. Simply by setting them, I wanted to rebel against them

“Resolutions are difficult for lots of people to stick to, but when you are neurodivergent it can all feel too much. Having Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria really can mean that you beat yourself up over them.” 

Not only can the idea of resolutions be trickier for ADHDers to conceptualise, but the actual resolutions themselves can often be a stopping point. 

What makes this worse is that, for some with ADHD, making lists and plans may be a way of overcompensating for symptoms such as lack of object permanence, and memory problems and is a way to give dopamine, what we notoriously lack, by imagining how our life will dramatically change. 

So, we very much go into the new year wanting to achieve these goals.

The problem is that the idea of resolutions are usually big issue things: get “in shape”, eat “better”, keep the house tidier, and there is no pay-off that ADHDers can imagine at the end of it.

When does being “getting in shape” happen? What does it do? ADHDers need clear, often smaller, goals with a clear motivation to do them that’s embedded in a reason why, something to be excited about, rather than “just because I should”. 

The way we frame resolutions can be a great starting point to make them inclusive for neurodivergent disabilities. 

“Ruthless reprioritisation is an ADHDer’s secret weapon to battle burnout,”  Julie Bee, an entrepreneur focusing on burnout suggests. 

“If you tend to procrastinate (like I do), ask someone for help with accountability on specific tasks. Give yourself a break from time to time. Some days you just cannot do the thing. The task will be there tomorrow – address it then.”

Reframing resolutions into ideas or themes we can then be flexible with as opposed to time-focused, unspecific, and often larger than life, goals allows us the space to give ourselves kindness. 

Keeping in mind the bigger picture, the why behind resolutions, is also important so we don’t force ourselves into trying to “fix” ADHD traits which will, inevitably, result in frustration, as well as focusing on smaller, specific goals. 

What’s the solution, then? Should we all be lazier? It sounds like a joke, but, perhaps. 

Perhaps we need to re-frame laziness to simple grace and kindness. Obsession with relentless labour and productivity does nobody any good

Overall, however, we need to rethink our mindset toward these resolutions and step away from constantly achieving for the sake of it. 

Instead, allow every individual a chance to decide if engaging in goal setting this way is healthy for them.

Hello Pumpkin Logo on a dark background. Text reads: Fairytale homeware and ethereal gifts. Link to website decorated with mushrooms, maple leaves, oak leaves and fairy wings in autumnal colour

This piece is sponsored by Hello Pumpkin, a wonderful shop full of magical handmade gifts, by our friend Anneli Roberts.

If you’d like to sponsor a post, advertise on The Unwritten or discuss sponsored advertorial content, get in touch

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Scars are Beautiful, not a “Mark of Shame”

Last week, the popular BBC 2 quiz show, Only Connect, perpetuated a stigma we are all too familiar with: that scars are a shameful stain on our bodies. 

During the ‘Connecting Wall’ round of the game, the words “scars”, “stain”, “blot” and “stigma” were listed under the category name “marks of shame”. This language is an unacceptable display of the enduring stigma attached to scars and visible differences. 

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Applying for Disability Benefits is Traumatic and Exhausting- But I Think That’s the Point

It was earlier this year that my health took a turn for the worse and I found myself unable to work. My temporary job was coming to a close anyway, and a combination of my ongoing physical health problems and my newly worsened mental health meant that job searching wasn’t something I could do either.

I was left with one choice, the benefits system.

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Box-Ticking Exercise: Children in Need Shaped me, but I Wish it Hadn’t

Box-Ticking Exercise is the new monthly(-ish) column by Melissa Parker in which she dissects ableism and the portrayal of disability in tv, film and media. Being M, this is of course all done with her pen as a scalpel.

The silence pulls you in at the moment the camera lingers on a distressed child. Then images of disabled children in despair are artfully, soullessly, woven and twisted around the generically insincere Coldplay song “Fix You”, breaking the accidental, fleeting moment of compassion. 

This is Children in Need, the yearly telethon for disabled children.   

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You Don’t get to Change my Identity to Make you Feel Better

What is it with people trying to force toxic positivity into my identity? 

Enabled, different abilities, special abilities, people of determination. The common theme is trying to make my identity into something that doesn’t make non-disabled people uncomfortable.

Society has decided that “disabled” is a negative term. People think it means we’re being down on ourselves, but for many, the term is neither positive nor negative. 

The social model acknowledges that much of what disables us is the barriers put in place, and changing the word we use to describe ourselves is not changing that any time soon.

If anything, changing it places the pressure back on us just to get on with it and push through the barriers in ways that we simply can’t or shouldn’t have to do. 

My identity isn’t going to be twisted for your comfort. Your discomfort comes from the ableism you have been taught, compounded by every aspect of society, and it is your responsibility to unlearn it. 

Why do I need to use polite, nondescript language to be respected?

“Disabled” is a descriptive term, and an accurate one. The idea that using it means I’m putting myself down didn’t come from me – that’s come from your biases and your ableism. 

The thing is, if you can’t even accept the language we use, how can we get you to understand our needs and push us towards disability justice and liberation? 

When you try to enforce a new word for disability, you don’t make us feel empowered – you take our empowerment away from us. 

For a lot of us, being disabled is something that comes with not only pride in ourselves, but with a whole community of people who we wouldn’t have otherwise. 

Certainly, there is a form of grief that can come with understanding and embracing your disabled identity. 

Knowing you will always be up against an ableist society, knowing that something like chronic pain will never go away, finally understanding why you’ve been different all your life – those are all things disabled people can face during this acceptance. 

But there is beauty in it. There is a liberating feeling in embracing yourself, in finding the people who get it. 

There is resistance in being proud of being disabled no matter how many times people say “you shouldn’t call yourself that!”. 

When a petition went round last week arguing the UK should exchange disabled people for “people of determination”, it pushed a flare of irritation around my body and made me immediately protective. 

This term originates from the United Arab Emirates, and whilst it may work for their culture, it will not for the UK and its disabled population. 

It isn’t language that supports our needs or discussions around them – anyone can be determined, and we shouldn’t need to be determined to get the equality and access we need.

All of these terms based in toxic positivity, whether that be determination, special or enabled, are inherently linked to the inspiration porn that disabled people face every day. 

Society loves to tell us we’re strong, we’re battling against the odds, an inspiration to us all. Sometimes I just want to go to Sainsbury’s without it being compared to climbing Everest. 

Of course, sometimes these terms come from disabled people themselves – we certainly can’t pretend it doesn’t. I’ll always respect those who chose their own terms, but I will not allow them to be pushed 

On a purely practical level, acknowledging I’m disabled gives me certain rights – but it does so much beyond that. It helps me communicate my needs, and helps people understand that I need more support. 

The disabled community saved me when my entire world tipped upside down. 

What does special abilities do, except maybe make people think I can fly or turn invisible? 

Toxic positivity doesn’t help anyone. I am disabled. Yes, I have talents, hobbies, other things that make me unique. But the term doesn’t negate any of that, it never did. 

You were the ones who decided that disability is a negative or makes any of my other characteristics mutually exclusive to it.

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Matt Hancock is a Disgrace, I’m a Celeb Won’t fix That

Conservative MP Matt Hancock will appear on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! It’s a disgrace. In a just world, the former Health Secretary would face severe political and criminal consequences for being complicit in the following, a list of spite or stupidity which barely scratches the surface of his crimes:  

  • The deaths of tens of thousands of disabled people.  
  • Discharging elderly patients into care homes at the beginning of the pandemic without testing. 
  • Not providing proper PPE for NHS staff. 
  • Confusing messaging put people in danger and made enforcement difficult. 
  • Forcing DNR orders on disabled people.  
  • Undermining social distancing rules. 

He lied. He lied. He lied. He lied.