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When We're Told to Be Grateful We Can Do What Others Can't

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What do you think about when someone asks you to be grateful for something you have or can do because some people can’t?

During a Qi Gong practice as part of my eating disorder day treatment, the sensei leading the group always says, “be grateful you can see and walk because some people can’t.”

I understand being grateful for the things you have and what you’re able to do, but I get a sick feeling in my stomach about adding because some people can’t. To me, adding because some people can’t implies that the people who have those limitations are less than or something to be pitied. I know there are some people in the group of those who “can’t” who are perfectly fine with or even grateful to have the life they have.

I feel like the message “because some people can’t” gives me, someone with a physical disability (who can walk), the message that I should be ungrateful for having cerebral palsy, because it does limit me and I can’t always keep up with my peers. I know being ungrateful for my limitations isn’t going to get me anywhere.

In an eating disorder treatment setting in particular, especially since eating disorders tend to be so body focused, these ableist attitudes are not helping anyone. Feeling grateful for your blessings without having to factor in those who are blessed differently is a wonderful thing. I need to work on being OK with my limitations and my body, and that’s hard when I’m surrounded by messages that people with disabilities are different. We need to make sure people aren’t calling into question the worth of their body and life based on physical abilities alone.

I’m not always a fan of having CP because of my limitations, and as uncomfortable as it is sometimes to verbalize because of all the shame I feel surrounding it, I’m still grateful (usually) that I have it. Having CP has made me who I am through the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the perspective it’s given me on the world.

What if the sensei said something like “be grateful you can run because some people can’t?” How is that supposed to make the people like me who can’t run feel? Am I supposed to be ungrateful towards my body because I can’t run? What if I’m perfectly fine not being able to run? Sometimes, on really bad eating disorder thought days, I’m glad I have an excuse to not feel guilty for not running.

Why can’t we just be grateful that we have air to breathe or be grateful in general, and not just because some people can’t? The words and language we use have power, and it’s time we recognize that. I think the message could still come across just as well without adding because some people can’t and that would prevent a lot of the uncomfortable, self-conscious feelings that arise.

It’s time to make a change.

Getty image by Maroznc.

Originally published: July 16, 2019
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