Ableist Oppression, Close to Home

11Nov08

Can’t get much closer: I’ve been ableist-oppressing myself. Way to go, brain.

I am, and always have been, one of those Type-A, driven, overachieving bastards you meet on the first morning of kindergarten and before snacktime comes you’ve already tied their pigtails round a flagpole. And until a few years ago, I didn’t know that other people weren’t always aching, or always nauseated, or exhausted, or spent three weeks a month in crippling pain. I always just assumed that I was a whiny slacker and promised myself I’d work harder. And I never forgot to follow up with a hefty dose of guilt and self-blame for being such a crippled, nauseated, exhausted slacker in the first place.

Needless to say, I did not become a very compassionate caretaker to myself upon reaching adulthood.

In fact, I approached my career with the same overbearing self-blaming zeal I did my education: I had to work harder than anyone else, and when (because now it’s always “when” and never “if”) I crashed, I blamed, shamed, guilted, and terrified myself for my “failure.” “You’re going to LOSE your JOB” was my mantra of the first three months with The Firm – during which, of course, I never told a soul why I kept having “sick days” or what all those “appointments” were about, and I dosed myself with twice the verbal asskicking on weekends when I crashed instead of catching up.

I did this because I never saw myself as a person with a disability. I saw myself, rather, as an abled person who, rather inconveniently and probably due to her own failings, “got sick a lot.” Therefore, the disorder(s) were never something I had to manage or consider – they were something to ignore (they didn’t exist, right?) until they totally ruined my plans. Which, not surprisingly, they did over and over again.

Treating illness as an inconvenience is a luxury of being abled. Because to the abled, illness *is* an inconvenience. It’s a pain in the butt that rears its head a few days a year, confines you to bed with the Kleenex and the Nyquil, and then a few days later, goes to torment somebody else while you go back to your life. This is why most American workers can count the number of allotted “sick days” on one hand, and the number they’ve taken on a few fingers.

For me, though, the illness is not an inconvenience. It’s a roommate, a responsibility, a fact. I am responsible for managing this illness to the best of my ability just as I am responsible for managing my household or my job. That’s the only position I can take in response to this illness that will allow me to keep both my household and my job while still being ill – because I’m not going to be “not ill” anytime soon. There are no cures, not even time. (In the case of my suspected-RA, time is the opposite of a cure.)

This realization has been a long time coming and I haven’t yet figured out how to work it in everyday life, but the load it’s already taken off my shoulders is substantial. I finally get to be an adult about my illness instead of waiting for it to f*** off and hating it for failing to do so. Whoever said resentment was “drinking poison and waiting for the other guy to die” was right. I’m done drinking poison. (But not swallowing it, apparently, seeing as it’s Evening Pills O’Clock.)

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One Response to “Ableist Oppression, Close to Home”

  1. 1 Griffin

    OMG, you just described my situation perfectly. I’ve been having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I am disabled right now. I do feel very lucky in that my disability will hopefully get better or go away entirely with time and treatment.


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