There’s been a trend in my recent writing topics, that I can only define as WTF. I’m not being very eloquent about it, but there it is. WTF stretches a broad range of experiences that I’ve discussed both in my blog and for National Pain Report. One of my doctors telling me he doesn’t believe I need a cane, based on my MRI, but not offering me an explanation as to why I feel I need it because I’m unsteady on my feet, bumping into walls and my knee giving out on me. But it’s perfectly okay to shame me about using it and offer physical therapy as the Holy Grail of cures after three years of procedures and surgery. There’s also been the well-meaning “I hope you feel better,” that while well-meaning, becomes an irritation after you’ve explained your situation multiple times and are not truly heard. Something I haven’t written about but will be covered soon, that also falls into this, WTF feeling, is when you are made to feel as though you are faking your illness with those very people who are supposed to be taking care of you. I’m talking about the medical professionals in your own doctor office and hospital. Today, I’m discussing the very many ways that people (close to us as well as strangers) are in denial about our disability and aren’t afraid to tell us.
· You’re not really disabled, you’re just fat: Yes, this happens. I have heard it time and time again and it makes me livid. I’ve never been explicitly told this, but I don’t think it matters. In my case, when I was just beginning this chronic journey and trying to figure out what was wrong, my first place to start was my PCP. Instead of sending me for tests or at least another doctor if they didn’t know what was wrong, I was given diuretics for my swollen fingers and forced to speak to a dietician who told me losing weight would be best for me and I should eat from smaller plates. Yes, she actually said that. My experience is a fraction of what people out there experience. I’ve heard of a woman who did not look obviously disabled, parking in a disability parking spot and when she returned, finding a note on her car saying that she didn’t actually need that spot because “she was just fat,” and she was taking spots from “people who actually needed them.”
· Your disability doesn’t look like mine: This problem isn’t just among the -abled, it’s pervasive everywhere. The basic idea is that because your disability doesn’t look like mine, then you must not actually be disabled. This can be with anything, and I guess it’s because we are judging the progression of the disease or the severity of it through other people. The thing is, we are all unique creatures. Just because I have fibromyalgia and my neighbor has fibromyalgia, and we’ve both been suffering for seven years but I’m younger than her by ten years and use a mobility aid, doesn’t mean I’m not disabled or I am exaggerating my illness. I feel it is hurtful to make those insinuations about someone because we don’t know their entire medical history, nor is it any of our business. We should be supporting one another, not becoming part of this culture of undermining those who are chronically ill/pain. We have enough people doubting us, we don’t need more.
· You aren’t disabled unless you are using a mobility aid: Almost contrary to my thoughts above, is the idea that you aren’t disabled unless you are using a walker or cane or wheelchair. I don’t know if this thought comes from the way the disability icon is drawn, with the figure in the wheelchair, but it is something even I had a bit of difficulty working my head around when I began using a cane and received a placard. People do not realize the wealth of issues that can prompt usage of a disability placard or identifying as disabled. A cane doesn’t make you disabled. Your disability makes you disabled. PTSD is invisible and the person can run and jump without issue, but needs the disability placard to get in and out of a facility quickly. There are many illnesses and many who have chronic pain but do not use a mobility aid, who are disabled but you would not see. Disability is not something you can necessarily see and society should understand that.
· You’re not really disabled; you just don’t want to work: This has got to be one of my favorite misconceptions. While I will concede that there are some out there who would use a fake or exaggerated illness to get out of working, I don’t believe that the majority of us do this. Working compromises so much of our identity and is so important to our ability to survive and just support ourselves, that I believe most people who cannot work, truly can’t work. There is a feeling of guilt when a person comes to the decision that they can no longer work and it affects them psychologically too. I know from my own personal experience that you feel defeated and you feel betrayed by your body. You also feel diminished as a person and as though you are no longer allowed certain things because you don’t have your own money. It is a lot of work recognizing that none of this is your fault and feeling good about yourself again. Disabled people want to work. It’s the accessibility of work that is the issue and the reason so many who have a disability can’t work.
· You aren’t really disabled if you only use your mobility aid part of the time: There are many who are pretty insistent that because I do not use my cane, 24/7, that I am not truly disabled. My humorous come back for this, because I can be snarky now and then, is, “Why no, my cane is actually a walking staff and I’m really a wizard.” After which I proceed to roll me eyes. Just because I feel safe to navigate my itty-bitty house, without my cane, doesn’t mean I am not still disabled. I cannot navigate outside terrain, from grocery store to parking lots without it because I never know what I might encounter. It could be a crack in the road or just someone who is inconsiderate and pushes their way in front of me because I am slow and I lose my balance. The cane helps me not to fall, it helps when I get tired from walking and begin to hurt. It’s my prerogative to use to help me feel safe in an unfamiliar environment. I think I deserve that. So, yes, I’m still disabled.
There are many more instances, but these were the first to pop into my head. Feel free to message me with your experiences and I will do a follow-up piece to this one. As always, thank you for reading.
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