What does “Ableism” mean to me?

Ableism (officially means)- a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities. But what qualifies anyone to asses these “practices and beliefs”? How has it that ableism has gone unchecked for SO long? This is more than just discrimination against disabled individuals, this is about able-bodied people going out of their way to find fault in our disabilities.

It may not seem like it, but one of the worst forms of ableism is unwanted/unsolicited help. “Help” is a very vague term; sometimes it can mean physically helping someone with a difficult task, this is not the kind of help I am talking about (although there are cases it can be the case). I’m talking specifically about the times that able-bodied people suggest they are helping someone with a disability by giving them “advice” (whether we want it or not).

Let me make this VERY clear… not ONE case of invisible illness is exactly the same. NOT ONE! So, we don’t care if you know someone else with our condition that magically got better (insert enormous eye-roll here), or if you read an article one time that said if we did……. all our pain would disappear. You’re not helping! It’s ableism, whether you are meaning to or not. You’re assuming to understand how we feel, but you don’t, you can’t.

So, how does this factor in to the official definition? Perfectly, that’s how. Unwanted/unsolicited advice is both a belief and practice (on the part of the advisor), because they’re assuming the disabled person does not have the ability to properly care for themselves. When in fact, most people with disabilities are significantly more versed in their illness than most doctors (not necessarily specialists, but it can feel that way sometimes). When anyone without disabilities suggests that they “understand” what we’re going through and offer advice for potential cures, it is like a knife in the back! Unless you are my doctor… I don’t want to hear it!

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Another significant issue is people asking if we’re feeling better. No, we’re not and that’s a horrible question! Better than what? Better than when? We’re used to the common “How are you feeling?” it sucks and we have to lie every time, but at least we have an answer for it. Some of us completely lie and say “I’m ok” or “Good”, others say “Fine” and leave it at that. Personally I’ve found that saying “I’m here” is a good way to stop the conversation, without making anyone too uncomfortable. But when someone asks “Are you feeling any better?” I cringe! It’s ableism to assume that I will get better at all. “But don’t you WANT to get better?” I do, of course! But I have an incurable disease… this is not up for dispute. Think before you speak.

If we want to complain, we damn well are allowed to complain! If any able-bodied individuals out there think differently, see ya. Does this mean no one else can complain about anything else, of course not! But do NOT compare your headache to my chronic migraines. Never compare your back pain to my dislocated ribs and curved spine. Don’t say “I know how you feel” until you’ve been diagnosed with something comparable. Period.

I’ve been a little harsh today, more so than usual, but for good reason. The disabled community deserves to be heard and have our rights upheld! Let’s put an end to ableism!!!

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On-line groups… support, friendship, and much more.

For those of us with invisible illness and chronic conditions, Facebook Groups have become a staple! Not that long ago, social networks were not considered a place for support. It was where the younger generation went to connect, share, and play. But it expanded and now allows people from all over the world to come together and find a common ground. Groups are everywhere and can be found for almost every subject. Some are open to everyone, others are closed (requiring an invitation or friend in the group to join), or secret (where the admins has to accept every request to join). Each kind of group can be helpful for people with chronic illness, especially closed/secret groups that tend to become very personal.

But how personal is too personal? Why is it that we find it easier to open up and talk about personal problems to strangers on-line than our friends irl (in real life)? I have a lot of experience with this! Even though I am very open about my pain and illnesses, there are so many times that I want to vent or complain about how much pain I’m in, but the thought of posting it on my main feed just feels… wrong. I’ll look back at my recent posts and see the last time I “complained” and think twice about hitting send. I feel like a burden to my friends and it pains me even more. So I’ve started leaning more and more on my groups for support. These are people that know what I’m going through! They are dealing with the same pain I am, so my venting isn’t an annoyance, it’s an average day to them.

It’s easy to get “hooked” on that feeling of community and join every group imaginable, but I caution against that. I have made that mistake and had some bad experiences. Some groups are extremely supportive and have people in them that offer information as much as they do consoling words. Other groups are all about drama and gossip. They commune under the guise of chronic pain support, but all they do is talk about how horrible people are to them. I cannot stress this enough, don’t allow anyone to bring you down! Whether it is on-line or irl! Venting and complaining is one thing, but if all someone does is make you feel small or unimportant, they are not worth your time. Period.

I’ve made several wonderful friends through on-line groups! These are people that “get me”, they know what I go through on a day to day basis and don’t judge me when I need to let it all out. I also know that they will have practical advice for me if I need it on certain subjects. Do I know for a fact that if I had known these people irl, that we would have been close? No, of course not. But I know we are now, and that’s all that matters.

Some advice I would give if you’re thinking about joining an on-line support group. Contribute. Contribute. Contribute. Don’t feel like you have to be a spectator, unless that is where you feel comfortable (especially at first). But the more you contribute, the better you will feel about opening up and asking for help when you need it. Contributing isn’t just posting images and/or articles. It’s commenting on other people’s posts with some insight that you’ve learned through your personal life, it’s reacting when people say they’re having a rough day, or it’s offering a virtual hug when that’s all you can do for them. You’ll find that your experience with groups will be more rewarding and that it will take less time to incorporate into the fold.

A message to my friends (on-line and irl): Thank you! Thank you for being there for me whenever I need you. Thank you for listening to me whine and moan about every aspect of my life, especially my pain. Thank you for being you!

What Does “Pain Awareness” Mean?

September is Pain Awareness Month. For some people it’s an opportunity to share images that represent their particular chronic illness, for others it’s a chance to research methods of pain relief and their effectiveness, but for most it seems like just another awareness campaign that makes no sense. Well, here’s a little insight as to why it is so very important!

Everyone has been in pain… everyone. Ok, there are some people in this world that have a disorder where they literally cannot feel physical pain, but it is actually very dangerous and they tend to hurt themselves quite a bit (like burning their hand on a hot stove) because they don’t feel the pain. But even they have felt emotional pain. All pain is relevant! Yes, National Pain Month is specifically for physical pain, Mental Health Month is in May, but that is not my point. Stick with me.

Pain goes so much deeper than just the nerves in our skin. When someone deals with chronic pain (and I mean 24/7, all day-every day), it is exhausting. It drains every bit of energy out of a person, and it often breaks down the barrier between the physical and mental pain receptors. This is why the majority of people that have chronic illness also deal with some form of depression and/or anxiety. The longer we deal with pain, the worse it can get. More people with chronic and invisible illness die from suicide than any other complication of their disease.

Pain awareness is more than just saying “Hey look, I’m in pain and you should be aware of that!” It’s saying “Pain is a serious condition and it needs considerably more research, we need awareness/funds to make this happen. My life is hard and I need people to know how hard it is, so that we can keep other people from dealing with the same issues I have.”

That is what pain awareness is, that is what it should mean. Let’s spread the word and make people sick of how much we talk about it! Let’s make sure people know that pain is not something to keep hidden. If you’re suffering and feel like you can’t talk about your pain because you’ll just be branded a “complainer”, now is your time to speak out! Make people aware of the fact that chronic pain is a serious condition that can impact every part of your life. No one should have to go through that alone.

So for September (and beyond), spread awareness and share how pain has affected your everyday life. Make the invisible, visible.

A Day in My Shoes

How many times have you said “If they could spend one day in my shoes (one minute even) they might understand how I feel”? I’m guilty of saying this as well, but the more I really thought about what those words meant, I’ve cut it out of my vocabulary. Here’s why.

As someone with multiple invisible illnesses, I live every day in constant chronic pain. I manage that pain as best as I can, but it’s always there. I would never wish this on anyone… not even for a minute. It’s easy to think differently when your doctor is staring blankly at you while you are trying desperately to explain your symptoms (and all they do it add on another prescription). It’s easy to think that way when you see a post from a (well meaning) friend or family member trying to convince you that their product will cure everything. It’s especially easy to think that way when someone judges you for using your disability accommodations (like parking placard, benefits, mobility help, etc.), where you’re left feeling broken and alone. Why shouldn’t they feel your pain?! Why shouldn’t they know just how horrible they’re making us feel with their words? Because we have to be better.

Think about it. How can we advocate for our illness if we’re willing to allow anyone else to feel that same pain? For me to say “I want you to know what this feels like” is like me saying “I honestly think that you should be put in an iron maiden that’s set on fire, that might give you some indication of how much pain I deal with on a daily basis”. This might seem like an over-exaggeration to some, but for anyone that’s been through a flare… it’s completely accurate. We have to be better than that.

Let me put it another way.

As a parent, I strive to teach my children the difference between right and wrong. I honestly believe that most parents want the same for their kids. Not all people succeed in this goal, but it is an inherent desire we all have. Unfortunately there are some people out there that choose violence as the answer to every problem, and therefore instill that mentality onto their children. I hope and pray my kids never see that in me. This is one reason why I would never want them to hear me say that I hope someone else could feel my pain. They know what I go through every day, they’re not blind to my pain. So to curse someone else with the same infliction, would be as violent an act as any they could see on the news. Is it starting to sink in?

Education is key! Let’s annoy people with awareness posts to the point that they have no other option than to ask what’s wrong. Let’s make hand-outs for people that explain your condition, so when someone judges you for using a prescribed medical device or doctor issued handicapped placard, they learn something new. Let’s make our voices heard! Just because our illness is invisible, doesn’t mean we are! I never want you to feel this pain, now take the time to learn about mine.

The Positivity Police

“Just stay positive!”

“No one wants to be around a Debbie Downer.”

“When you have a bright outlook, nothing can look too dark.”

Shut. Up.

I know that being negative all the time is no fun for anyone, especially our friends and family. But there are some people who take it upon themselves to act as our positivity coaches, the one that’s going to pull us out of our “funk” (no matter the cost). Then it turns into a boot camp, instead of a counseling session. Every time they speak, the condescension oozes off of them like Slimer from the Ghostbusters. Guess what, I don’t need it! Surprisingly enough, I am a very positive person. If I were not, I wouldn’t be here.

Let me explain something very important (this is mainly for the able bodied people readers, but anyone dealing with chronic pain make sure to pass this along).

If we complained HALF as much as we felt like it, we would never stop! It would be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So, when we mention in any small fashion that we’re in pain, we are in extreme pain. Something different is going on that is over and above our typical pain, and it’s so bad that the barrier has been breached. It is to the point that something has to be said. If we don’t say it, we run the risk of everyone saying “Well, why didn’t you say something?!” when we end up in the hospital, can’t work the next day, and so on. So, do NOT blow it off as just another bout of negativity or complaining. It is serious, always!

To all the positivity police out there… stop it, please. I’m not saying to never pass on a positive message, we appreciate it! I’m saying, don’t expect us to never be negative about our condition. It is going to happen, and we have to be able to feel that. We are entitled to our feelings, as you are entitled to yours! My pain has forced me to see the world in a whole new light, and (even though I 100% believe in being positive) I just don’t need anyone else constantly telling me the best way to stay positive. Now, I’m sure I sound like a huge downer, I swear I’m not! I’m upbeat and tend to be a very strong person (I even pass along some of those positive messages on social media sometimes). My point in all this is when someone has chronic pain, the last thing they need is other people forcing a bunch of anti-negative rhetoric at them. Be an ally for people with invisible illness! Be there for them, don’t treat them like their pain is anything less than what it really is… horrible.