practicing empathy with Devon
At a glance, Devon appears to be healthy and able-bodied. However, at times, she struggles to stand or brush her hair. Diagnosed with polymyositis, a rare inflammatory muscle disease that impacts her immune system, she depends on friends and family to help her.
She describes it as an invisible disability because there aren’t any outward signs that she requires help. She must navigate and plan her life very carefully, based on her physical limitations. Because of this, she is extremely empathetic to others who also struggle, including those who face social and racial injustices. Devon, who is an artist, is also an activist and advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement and survivors of sexual assault.
“Having an invisible disability, you’re going through life kind of holding on to this inner pain that is pretty difficult to share with others because it’s so complicated to articulate. I think you become very empathetic to other people’s pains because you feel those things,” she says. “You see when someone needs help, because it’s something that you are always needing.” Here’s what she has to say about what she stands for, how she eliminates the nonsense in her life, and being vulnerable while disabled.
Why is embracing vulnerability important when living with a disability?
I think vulnerability is key to life. If we, as people, can approach relationships and situations with kindness and love, it can allow people to be more vulnerable. I think a big reason why we’re not is that we’re afraid we’ll be taken advantage of. But I think that’s the biggest thing, to not let that fear overtake your life and to just keep working through that and building the trust.
By saying “Can you hold my hand?” or “Can you help me up?” or just what you need that day — that’s vulnerability. And I think we, as a world, need to get used to encouraging, accepting, and being open to that. The minute I began becoming comfortable with that, it’s like a whole new world opened up for me because I had people around me who were ready to help.
“I think vulnerability is key to life.”
How do you eliminate the nonsense in your life?
I think by learning to surround myself with people who value me and also by creating boundaries. So knowing when something is too much and knowing when to say no. And then also plants. I like having something living that I can take care of and watch them grow. It kind of grounds me to remember life and the simplicity of life.
“We, as a world, need to get used to encouraging and accepting.”
If you had 30 seconds to address the world, what would you say about who you are and what you stand for?
I would like to show my flaws. I would like people to know I’m a 35-year-old person who identifies as a woman, who still lives with her parents because she needs their help with day-to-day stuff, and also financially. I have this disability where I can’t really function. I can’t work a full 40-hour week. I’ve got tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.