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How I'm Defeating My Internalized Ableism

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I struggle with internalized ableism. And though I try to fight it, I can’t really help it.

After all, I grew up in a society where what you do, how much money you make, and how you spend your time is imperative to your identity. I mean, it’s one of the first questions people ask each other when they first meet after “how are you?”

I will be the first to admit that when chronic pain started to limit my abilities, I judged myself. Even though I knew I couldn’t do things like walk easily or do chores, I was so quick to hate myself. For being so weak as to let a little (or a lot) of pain and fatigue get in my way. After all, it’s “just” pain and tiredness. Surely I could just buck up and move on like everyone else!

Every time I talk to family, friends and strangers, I have to remind myself that this past year was not a waste. It was not a waste of time to do oodles of medical tests. It was not a waste to spend months going to doctors several times a week. It was not a waste to relearn how to move my body. It was not a waste to try dozens of treatments. It was not a waste to get a diagnosis by exclusion.

It just feels like it.

It feels like these are things that don’t need a year of non-stop work to accomplish. It feels like wasted time. Like I should have been doing so much more – learning languages on the side, getting part-time work, developing goose juggling skills. Something. Anything. To prove it wasn’t all just…. A waste.

Part of the problem, I think, is that there’s the lingering memory of who I was before fibromyalgia. Before chronic pain. When I could do so much and barely break a sweat. When I was just exhausted every now and then.

I keep seeing this picture of me, who I was and who I could’ve been, in my mind. And I can’t get rid of it.

Then there’s the issue that I can’t seem to convince myself that I’m chronically ill. Yes, I have chronic pain.

Yes, I often have mobility issues. But am I chronically ill? Me? No! I just have a debilitating health issues that leaves me incapable of functioning and craving accommodations.

Things like a cane. (I never thought I’d day dream about getting a cane.) Or regularly placed benches that I could sit on without being judged. Things that would help me not have days where I can’t do a damn thing because of pain. I also have a slew of mental health issues that also impair my ability to function but, I mean, who doesn’t?

To any other person, I’d be so quick to tell them, “It’s OK. You can call yourself chronically ill. It just means that the world was not built for you but we can work together to fix that. We can get things to help. Like a really fucking cute cane. You are still a worthwhile and awesome person.” I just can’t say that to myself. It would be admitting that I’ve failed. It would mean admitting that there really is something wrong with me and it’s not going away. It would mean that I might have to give up my most basic dreams. It would prove my fear, my greatest fear, that I am effectively worthless in my own society. A waste of space and resources, leeching on family and friends.

So I challenge myself. I challenge myself to call myself chronically ill. To talk about my chronic pain. To stop thinking of all the time I “wasted” and see it as time to get back on my feet. To accept that this is my life now. That, yes, it will be hard to accept. It will be hard to accept that I can’t do everything I thought I could. It will be hard to accept that I will need to ask for help. It will be hard to accept that I’ve changed. It will be hard to think of myself as a whole and worthwhile person in spite of my many health issues, while living in a society that thinks of illness as a personal fault. That I am still worthy, as productivity is not a sign of worth. But that’s part of growth and a big part of defeating internalized ableism; and it’s something we all need to do.

Getty Image by baharhun

Originally published: April 10, 2018
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