‘’Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires re-imagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of 'how long things take' are based on very particular minds and bodies. Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds."
-Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip
Crip time is a concept used to explain how chronically ill/ disabled/ neurodivergent individuals may experience time and space differently from their able-bodied counterparts. Crip time is a key concept in crip theory, the core subject of disability studies, that focuses on the experience of marginalisation of the disabled, and the consequent exclusion and neglect of their needs and rights in a capitalist society. It was brought to attention primarily due to the work of disability rights activists like Alison Kafer and Mike Oliver.
Image Description: A large hour glass surrounded by a group of people of diverse age groups including men, women and children of various ability levels including a wheelchair user are seen moving together, hand in hand with each other against the backdrop of a pale blue brick wall.
Historically and culturally, disabled people have been seen as less productive or capable than their able-bodied counterparts in a capitalist world where one’s productivity is linked directly with one’s self-worth. Perhaps, however, this is less a result of the incapacity of their bodies, but rather, the result of working according to an understanding of time built by and for only able-bodied healthy individuals.
Labour movements have ensured that able-bodied individuals would be expected to work a regular 9 -5 schedule, no more than 40 hours per week, in an effort to safeguard the rights of workers. Any kind of slowing down would be seen as an unproductive waste of time. However, this might not be physically possible for someone living with a disability or chronic mental or physical illnesses.
According to the spoon theory, if we were to assume that all of us have a finite reserve of spoonfuls of physical/mental energy, which need to be allocated to various tasks in a day, in a manner proportional to the effort that they take to be accomplished. Disabled/chronically ill folks’ bodies might possess limited functioning such that they might need more time or deplete greater amounts of their energy reserves to accomplish these daily tasks.
Consequently, they might need to pace themselves to have a different balance between work and rest so as to be able to be ’’productive’’ throughout the day. This could look like needing frequent breaks, getting longer hours of sleep, or perhaps even working on flexible schedules. For chronically ill/disabled folks, therefore, crip time becomes not just a rehabilitative self-care practice but also an act of resistance against capitalism.
The capitalism-fuelled obsession with productivity and the adage “Time is money” can further the guilt and shame experienced by neurodivergent/disabled / chronically ill folks when they’re unable to live up to the ableist standards and live their lives in accordance with the clock. However, it’s important to recognise that these are unrealistic standards and it’s almost inhuman to expect ourselves to live in this normative way while inhabiting bodies that function so differently.
An understanding of crip time and disability can help us build a culture of greater compassion for ourselves and our colleagues living with visible or invisible conditions, and a kinder and gentler society as a whole.
We need to stop glorifying the grind and applauding hustle culture and begin to value the humanness of the people around us. People are not expected to be money-generating machines for the capitalist economy. They aren’t immune to frailty - illness, disability, or injury- that might impede their ability to achieve their professional goals.
The struggles that come with a disability with respect to even the most mundane parts of daily living can cause losses in so many other significant milestones of life - friendships or romantic relationships, for example.
People living with certain disabilities might find travelling and public spaces inaccessible thus making it hard to have a social life. Mainstream educational institutions, and the traditional “college experience” is often very different for individuals who live with chronic conditions, because they are expected to “fit in” and work on neurotypical timelines, thus further alienating them from their peers, and making the more social aspects like meeting friends or even considering dating can be a stretch,
Crip time also may be applied to the understanding of identity formation for disabled individuals. For most able-bodied people, teens (or perhaps even earlier) might be the time one would normatively recognise one’s sexuality and gender identity and perhaps even start seeking out romantic partnerships. However, since much more routine tasks such as adapting to a neurotypical education system or even daily chores like mobility (climbing the stairs/walking), doing the dishes or a grocery run might take up all the time and energy they have, it’s only natural that other aspects of one’s identity- such as personal likes, dislikes, hobbies, and even sexuality and romantic relationships might take a backseat.
Consequently, there may be “delays” in the personal understanding or embracing of one’s sexuality and/or gender identity. However, this is yet another area where we need to account for crip time, acknowledging that the added struggles that disabled folks experience in simple activities of daily living that able-bodied individuals d without giving it a second thought, almost on autopilot can naturally mean they might take a while before they explore other aspects of their identities - such as gender sexual and romantic orientation, etc. In fact, often the invisibilisation of their sexuality or the mere presence of sexual desire in disabled people remains so unacknowledged, that they are often mistakenly believed to be bereft of such desire, which couldn't be further from the truth.
Crip time and mental health
Living with not just limitations and challenges of their condition but also navigating through life in an ableist world that does not make any room for difference can force individuals to adhere to neurotypical schedules of achievement or productivity, can necessitate a lot of self-neglect, and self-betrayal by disabled/chronically ill folks as they are forced to mask a lot of their pain and symptoms and push themselves to live up to these ableist expectations. The stigma, guilt, and shame can surround asking for help or any other support, leading many individuals to overcompensate by working harder, beyond what they’re physically capable of. This masking can inadvertently affect their mental health and predispose these individuals to conditions such as depression anxiety and adversely affects self-esteem.
Spending a lifetime fitting into a system or a mould that one was never designed to fit into can often leave individuals with chronic conditions feeling like ‘“misfits” who “deviate” from the norm, but what no one acknowledges is that we are not meant to all be the same - the human race was built to be diverse, and disability is a natural and beautiful form of this diversity.
How can therapists intervene?
A therapist may also serve as a source of immense support to those living with chronic health conditions or disabilities not only emotionally in the adjustment of life to their conditions but also in advocacy and supporting clients access relevant support services, legally and medically, especially for the purpose of getting disability reprieve or accommodations legally at school or work.
Therapy might also offer a nonjudgmental space for them to process the grief of all the numerous intangible losses that living with chronic illness and disability could bring. For individuals living with a chronic illness, every single day can feel like a struggle to fit into a system that was not designed for them in the first place. There may be grief surrounding the loss of opportunity, autonomy, and even in the seemingly every day “trivial” losses like being unable to meet friends at inaccessible public spaces, or not being able to go shopping or to the movies or on errands independently.
Therapists must also adopt a disability affirmative approach which addresses mental health from the psychosocial lens of acknowledging the mental health consequences of living and exclusionary and marginalised existence and their needs are constantly denied and the existence of a disabled population is often neglected at the larger policy level. Disability affirmative therapy not only acknowledges the intersection of disabled another identity and its consequences on mental health and well-being but will also be centered around making mental health more accessible to clients with support needs such as through the use of sign language interpreters Braille consent forms having accessible offices, and also even just allowing the clients to have a space to embrace and even visibilise their disabled identities, and do not need to mask it as they do for their employers or at school.
The therapy room can serve as both a liberating and empowering space where they can be accepted for who they truly are with all their humanity and fullness of their identities including their disability.
How can families/caregivers / significant others understand and make space for individuals living with chronic conditions?
It’s extremely important for people with chronic illnesses to have spaces in their life when they can truly be themselves. Caregivers and family members such as significant others are often the closest to these individuals, looking after their daily support needs. Families and caregivers can play a very important role in bolstering the morale of these individuals to make them feel like valued and worthy members with a voice at the table. This could look like fostering agency and letting people make their own choices or decisions and even letting them engage with tasks at their own pace, even if it’s done a bit slower or not to the same degree of perfection.
More often than not, spouses or family members might feel the need to do things for the disabled individual because they inherently feel like they do it quicker or better but this only serves to further take away the agency and lower the self-efficacy of these individuals to assure themselves that within the constraints imposed by their limitations, they are able to still do things for themselves.
What does accessibility / disable affirmative institutions look like?
It’s not only therapists or caregivers who need to become more disability affirmative but also institutions at large. Mainstream educational institutions and workplace settings can work towards being more disability affirmative by ensuring that inclusion exists not just as an infrastructural policy, but also as a mindset. Employers and teachers can make reasonable accommodations for those living with chronic illness and disability so as to ensure they are able to meaningfully contribute through their work without compromising on their physical health and emotional well-being.
Providing reasonable accommodations at the workplace or at school should be seen as a fundamental right of persons who live with a disability. Reasonable accommodations are in no way meant to expect any less from the employee or the student in question but rather a way to ensure that they are supported such that the limitations of functioning do not impact your ability to work and contribute to the organisation.
How can society account for crip time?
The truth is, everyone could be disabled or otherwise marginalised in some or another area of our lives, where we all turn to each other for assistance, but it’s just more visible in those who may have a diagnosis. None of us is immune to the frailty that comes with age, illness or injury. We need to slow down and take the time to consider not just how far we’ve yet to go, but the long way we’ve all come already. “Independence” and “achievement” can mean different things to all of us, and in understanding crip time, we are all embracing our own fallibility. Perhaps holding space for the imperfections or limitations of others can also foster an acceptance for our own, and greater compassion for ourselves and others, and build a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate world.
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Javed Abidi Foundation. (2020). As A Disabled Person, Embracing ‘Crip Time’ Helped Me Define My Own “Normal”. Retrieved 30 July 2021, from https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2020/10/embracing-crip-time-lessons-from-teaching-and-learning-during-the-pandemic/
Kafai, S. (2019). “Sleeping-in Is How We Crip Time” — The Queer Futures Collective. Retrieved 30 July 2021, from https://www.queerfutures.com/sundaysentiments/2019/1/27/sleeping-in-is-how-we-crip-time-by-shayda-kafai