Ableist Crap

12Aug08

For having multiple ADA-recognized disabilities, for being reliant on a cane and the kindness of others, and for having dealt with my disabilities my entire life, I sure am being an ableist nitwit today. It’s small comfort, to anyone who is not me, that I’m only being an ableist nitwit to myself.

There’s a wonderful thread on Shapely Prose at the moment about body control. If you’re not into the entire thread, which deals with issues of size and fat acceptance as well as chronic illness, here’s the quote:

Idealizing the body and wanting to control it go hand-in-hand; it is impossible to say whether one causes the other. A physical ideal gives us the goal of our efforts to control the body, and the myth that total control is possible deceives us into striving for the ideal… In a culture which loves the idea that the body can be controlled, those who cannot control their bodies are seen (and may see themselves) as failures.
–Susan Wendell, “Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability”

Boy, do I know about that today.

Upon realizing that I would not be in the office today and there were no two ways about it, I promptly (a) called my secretary and then (b) spent a half-hour or so railing on myself for missing work when it’s only my second week at the new firm. I’d gotten all the way to “you only made it a week; god you’re a useless fuck” – when I suddenly asked myself, “what exactly could I have done differently to prevent this?”

The answer, of course, is nothing. I have fibromyalgia. My fibromyalgia flares up every other week, like clockwork, and the flares are worse in February, May, August, and November. I know this because I’ve been charting my symptoms since adolescence. Once a month, I get the flare in all its solo-performance glory, and two weeks later I get the flare secondary to a migraine (atypical without aura). I KNOW THIS. I also know that, while many things I do can deepen or extend the life of a flare and many other things I do can shorten it and make it tolerable, nothing, nothing, NOTHING I can do will prevent a flare entirely.

So there’s your “lack of control” = “failure” fallacy.

The other fallacy I’ve been nurturing, I found on exploring this more deeply, is the notion that fully-functional me is “normal” and in-flare me is “abnormal.” I noticed this when I realized that, despite flares coming every two weeks like clockwork since my early childhood, I am still shocked and dismayed to find that I go from able to disabled within 24 hours. For some reason, I always believe that the flare “won’t be so bad this time” or “will just go away if I ignore it” – even though neither have ever been true (in fact, that I even think these things is a major red flag that neither will be true, because they both indicate the sort of disordered thinking involved in my more major flares). When the flare is that bad and doesn’t go away, I’m frightfully displeased to find myself suddenly crippled.

The nonsense, of course, is that labeling my non-flare self “normal” and my flare self “abnormal” (and by extension “distressing”) is completely arbitrary. BOTH are normal, for me, and always have been. The only reason I label one “normal” and the other “abnormal” is that I’m suffering from a case of ableist bias – I believe, erroneously, that being upright, clear-headed, and (relatively) pain-free is “normal” (=”good”) and that being dizzy, confused, and in pain is “abnormal” (=”bad”).

Insofar as it helps me maintain a good self-care plan, there is some use to labeling my accelerating symptoms as “abnormal.” The problem pops up when we bundle “abnormal” with “bad,” “distressing,” “freakish,” and the like. Which I may have succeeded in the past of not labeling other disabled folk, but I have not avoided picking up that bundle myself. And since when do I deserve less consideration than I try to give other people? (Brain: “since you failed to control your own body, that’s when.” I need a rebooting.)

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