Daniel Bryan's Retirement and What It's Like To Be a Disabled Wrestling Fan | Smark Out Moment

Daniel Bryan's Retirement and What It's Like To Be a Disabled Wrestling Fan

Posted by Steph Maxwell-Kavanagh Tuesday, June 14, 2016
When I first heard about Daniel Bryan's retirement, I cried. I wasn't surprised, but I was heartbroken for a man whose real love has always been wrestling, and that he wouldn't be able to do that anymore. But before too long, I found myself turning it into something about me, searching for meaning within his loss that would help me feel better about my own. I wanted an explanation for why I felt such a strong connection with someone who I had never met, and whose only shared trait with me was seizures and our birthdays being two days apart.

Former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Leaves Wrestling
I still struggle to even see the pictures without getting a bit weepy, to be honest!

I got mononeucleosis/glandular fever at university in 2008, and I never got better. I developed myalgic encephomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and before long, I had a host of chronic illnesses that stopped me doing everything I loved. I quit cheerleading, quit choir, stopped going to my classes, stopped writing, stopped reading. Everything stopped, by degrees, and there were days when I lay on the floor of my student bedroom and cried my eyes out, because my pain and fatigue was such that my legs would sometimes cease to function. My entire second year of university, I was trapped in a small room, almost unable to move and care for myself. My third year, I came back with a walking stick, and endured climbing stairs to inaccessible classes, the stares of my tutors who had worked with me when I had been healthy in first year, and the awkward silences from my friends, who no longer knew what to say.

When I first got ill, watching wrestling was too hard. How could I watch a show where people with working, healthy bodies performed feats of strength, athleticism and power, when I could barely leave my bed? How could I watch these people who pushed so hard, and worked with all their might, when I constantly considered myself lazy for being unable to make it to classes, or considered myself to be weak because I ended up in hospital after trying to go for a run? What did wrestling mean to me when I was so sick that moving was impossible, and I cried every night as I hoped beyond hope that I'd wake up and be better?

Eventually, what wrestling came to be is finding and making a connection with characters, storylines, and action. Watching it became no harder than watching other people walk, or stand without aid - that is to say, it was still difficult, but less so than before. I learned to avoid all the positivity messages from John Cena, or The Rock, and the calls to push yourself from Seth Rollins out of self-preservation, because I believe these things had no relevance to me. They made me feel like I wasn't trying hard enough, and the sort of disability inspiration porn where we see people who've lost a limb achieve great things has very little to do with people like me, where the fatigue is sometimes a harder beast to deal with than the pain.

Disabled Woman Talks Accessibility Over Inspiration
And no amount of The Rock telling me I can do anything I set my mind to will stop me needing my walking stick.

However, watching my favourite wrestlers get injured changes how I think of myself, and how I think of them. Daniel Bryan, Nikki Bella, Sting, Tyson Kidd—even Seth Rollins' knee injury—we always want to see parts of ourselves in our heroes. And in these people, I saw loss and hunger, and determination to get past whatever they were facing. With those who have had to retire off the back of injuries, I felt connected. They, too, had lost something that they loved; lost the ability to be part of a world that they so adored. Sure, they're also still super fit and don't have the same limitations that I have, but it helps to feel connected to someone else's pain—to look at another person and feel less alone in what the world has taken away from you.

Watching wrestling as a disabled woman, with little energy, little strength, and very little physical ability left, I find myself thinking that, actually, I'm not doing that badly. Sure, I'm not going to be trying a moonsault any time soon, but I write. My one true love, writing, is something I've never let go of, and by combining it with wrestling in the last year or so, I've only honed my craft and worked as hard as I can. In taking the inspirational quotes and the affirmations that wrestlers throw around so easily, and turning them not into something physical, but a mental strength, an ability to cope with what my illness offers in the next ten years, in what my shortened life expectancy has, I've turned something that used to hurt and upset me into something that I can cope with.

WWE Wrestling Star Tries To Be Inspirational
Oh, fuck off.

The strength of wrestling, it seems, has never been in physical acts of greatness, of great feats in the ring or shows of power. The strength of wrestling is how we connect to the characters, how we gather behind some and lambaste others, how we make choices on who to like and who to support, and how wrestlers connect to the crowd as human beings. Daniel Bryan was so successful partially because of how well he connected to us, how much we loved him for that, and how we felt a kinship with him. Against all probability, through good storylines and strong acting, I can feel connected to some of the most physically able people on the planet - and all without leaving my bed.

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