Greta Thunberg: when disability becomes a gift

Greta Thunberg , L'opinion, Sipa press

By Emma Pascal

Greta Thunberg is a divisive figure. Some distrust her, they find her radical and unlikeable. Their dislike is often tied to her mental disabilities, which include Asperger’s, OCD and ADHD. Her diagnoses are often stressed by her detractors, either as rendering her vulnerable to manipulation by adults with an agenda, or as making her irrational and delusional. I believe this is both a strategy to discredit Greta, and a common reaction among people lacking an understanding of non-neurotypical behaviors. 


I will not claim to have a good understanding of either Asperger’s or ADHD, as I do not have either myself and have not discussed them enough with someone to truly understand, if that is possible. However, I do suffer from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and I relate deeply to Greta’s most probably illness-induced obsession with climate change. 


I see Greta’s relentless engagement as a clear sign of obsession. There is no other way one can be so rigorous, so committed that everything else comes second. That is what differentiates Greta from other activists: she sees the truth as it is and cannot escape it, while we are all still capable of sticking our heads in the sand and focusing on other things. Of course, she is angry and serious: she has understood the risks, while most of us only do for a fleeting, anxious moment before ignoring them again. 
And so, the sick person is the right one among the healthy. She is the most clear-sighted of us all. 


I am usually opposed to describing being non-neurotypical as a “gift” or a different perspective on the world, because that may validate the various fears or delusions the sufferer may have. I use the word mental illness for myself, because my OCD has truly caused me a lot of suffering and disrupts my life daily still. Whenever someone claims my OCD is a gift, I start wondering if my crazy fears and time-wasting compulsions are legitimate after all. 


But Greta is obsessed with something that is real and valid. Climate change is obviously real. We are lucky to have someone push for change. Someone who is incapable of looking away from reality, and thus compulsively needs to act. Greta’s obsession with hindering climate change is a gift – maybe not to her as she must suffer from it, but to the world. 


To me, she is an example of when a disability can actually be a strength, an exception to my opinion. Next time her opponents attempt to discredit or shame her based on her disabilities, they should keep in mind they are what make her such a good activist and leader. 

This article is part of the special edition in partnership with Agora

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