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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Is Giving In… Giving Up?

For months now, I have been on a steady decline and that is saying something, because I was already not in very good shape. I’m not saying this to elicit sympathy or prayers, it is simply a statement of truth.

I’m going to go on a little detour from my main post topic for one second to address my last sentence there, because as soon as I wrote it I realized this has to be said. Please let people talk about their health without feeling like you HAVE to comment on how sorry you feel for them or that you will keep them in your prayers. Now, I am a Christian (see my post called “Faith in the Midst of Pain“), but there are times I feel like I can’t vent about how I feel because I know it will just be taken as a solicitation for sympathy. It’s not! Pray for me, by all means. But when a friend with invisible illness is talking to you about their symptoms, it means they trust you… a lot. Don’t break that trust, don’t make them feel like what they’re saying should be pitied. Ok, back to what I came here to say.

Is giving up, giving in? The short answer is no, but (as we all know) there is no such thing as a short answer (well maybe 2+2). My point is that, there is almost always more to the situation than just saying “Don’t give up, no matter what!”. Here’s an example…

When I got married just over 15 years ago, my husband and I were living in San Antonio, TX. We loved it there, and only moved because of job opportunities and family. If it were just for location alone, we would still be in Texas. Anyway, we honeymooned in the Hill Country and it was beautiful! Not far from where we were staying there is this huge rock, the size of a giant hill (but a rock). It’s a big thing to climb this rock, there were hundreds of people there (like all the time) walking, crawling, and climbing up this thing. Well, up until this point I still didn’t know I was sick. All I knew was that I had back problems, headaches, and that I most likely had carpel tunnel (the only explanation my doctor could give me for my wrist pain). I also knew I had asthmatic problems, but had never been diagnosed and was therefore never given an inhaler. So climbing this giant rock was NOT high on my list of things I wanted to do on my honeymoon. But my new husband really wanted to do it, and he thought it would be a romantic thing to do together. It. Was. Not. Less than half way up I started hurting. He decided to try different motivational techniques, like cheering me on and even negative reinforcement (I put a stop to that one right away). Eventually I made it to the top, but it took several hours. I was in so much pain by that time I had learned something about myself… it doesn’t matter how much someone is trying to motivate me, I can only do what I can physically do. Period. I should have given up. I should have stopped and gone back down as soon as I felt the pain searing through my body. But I didn’t, I allowed myself to be pushed and because of that I had to be (practically) carried down the rock and back to the hotel. I spent the rest of the honeymoon miserable. I don’t blame my husband! He was only doing what he thought was the right thing to do, neither of us knew about my chronic conditions. If we did, we would never have even attempted to make the climb.

So now I’m faced with another rock to climb… mobility. My legs are losing the battle and even though I can walk, if I have to walk for long periods of time, I’m laid out for at least a day (often more). I know that I will have to have a serious conversation about this with my doctor at my next appointment, but I have other people pushing back. I get everything from “You’re too young for a wheelchair!” to “I’m just going to believe that you’re going to get better!”. These are not helpful. Of course I want to “get better”, but reality dictates I look at facts. The fact is that things are going to continue to get worse. I am not just giving up! I will take my vitamins, I will do my physical therapy, I will be an advocate for my disability rights. Getting into a wheelchair is not giving up on myself. It may be giving in, but not giving up.

There’s Simply No Excuse.

We’ve all seen them, those inspirational pictures and stories of people who have endured great odds to become successful. People with disabilities, but still managed to overcome and win a sport or defy expectations. These are often (ok, pretty much always) followed up with the phrase “What’s your excuse?” and I’m here to say, “Who are you to ask?”.

Some people may find motivation in that medium, but most of the disabled community find it demeaning. Think about it. Unless you’re looking in a mirror, you have NO idea what that person goes through every single day. There are some amazing people out there with disabilities, that do incredible things with the hand that has been dealt them, but to judge others lives based on what how those people live is not doing anyone justice. Here are a few examples.

Morgan Freeman has Fibromyalgia. Many people do not know this, but it’s true. He has said that after a car accident, tendons in his arm were so badly damaged that he could barely move and the Fibromyalgia developed as a result. So, how can he still work and make insanely incredible movies when other people with the same condition complain about even working? Because no two people are the same! He has different symptoms and I know for a fact he uses his pain in his performance. He also smokes a lot of medical weed, he has made that very clear in interviews. It’s his main medication and it works.

Rick Allen (the drummer from Def Leppard, you know… he’s only got one arm). Seriously, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this one come up! “Well, if Rick Allen can do it, I bet you can too.” Yeah, well I am not Rick Allen. He’s a unbelievable talent and how he does is frankly beyond me, but saying that anybody can do anything just because someone can drum with one arm, is not motivating.

Paralympians. I have SO much respect for all the athletes at the Olympics! I cannot even imagine all the hard work that goes in to getting there. Especially for those competing in the Paralympics. Each and every one has obviously endured some amazing journey to get where they are, and there’s no doubt in my mind that most of them deal with pain on a daily basis (as do many of the athletes in the Olympics as well). That being said, each and every one of those Olympians/Paralympians are unique! Their conditions are constantly monitored by doctors and specialists. To suggest that another’s pain is less valid because someone with the same condition can win a gold medal, is degrading and disrespectful.

Elderly individuals that stay fit. I love to see senior citizens doing yoga, jogging, and lifting weights. I think we all do. It means they’ve either taken good care of themselves throughout their whole life, or they’re doing everything they can to add years onto their life now. This one means a lot to me. As many of my readers know, I recently lost my Grandmother. It was a difficult loss because we were at odds for many years and only recently became close. I miss her dearly and would give anything to see her up and running or doing yoga. I just cannot stand the images I see that say “85 years old… what’s your excuse?” and have an older gentleman with bulging muscles. Well, I’m 39 and I am now using my Grandma’s old walker. This is not a choice we make. I am not sitting around, eating bonbons, and just feeling sorry for myself. If I could do what these amazing people are doing, I would (maybe not the bulging muscles).

There are plenty of other examples I could add here, but honestly I will just get overly riled up and that won’t benefit anyone. This is an emotional topic for those of us with invisible illness, because we deal with a constant barrage of “motivational” images on a daily basis (especially on social media). We’re going to see it a lot more during the Paralympics, so I wanted to get this out there and make sure people really understood the true damage they cause. Now, there is no excuse for posting it.