Ableism and Internalised Ableism
One massive downside of having a disability, that no one prepares you for, is ableism. Wether it be people assuming you’re young healthy and shouldn’t be using a mobility aid or people giving you unsolicited advice, it’s shit.
One form of ableism that I’m learning to control is internalised ableism. Basically giving myself a hard time for being disabled.
I never thought I’d ever be in the position that I am just now so did not prepare for my own internalised thoughts of my disability. A big part of my internalised ableism is a funny sort of “imposter syndrome”. Imposter Syndrome is when a person wether be it in their job or hobby doesn’t think that they deserve the praise, popularity, earnings that they get for their job and are scared that one day they’ll be outed as a huge phoney. I have been feeling that way towards my disability. With the diagnosis of M.E, I feel that plays a huge part in my disability Imposter Syndrome (it sounds like another ridiculous illness). As M.E isn’t widely known as a “real” illness due to the attitude of doctors and the press when M.E first started getting diagnosed in around the 80s. It was widely known as “Yuppie Flu” or disregarded altogether. The stigma attached to the illness M.E really is harmful to sufferers, research, funding and benefits plus so many more things. It’s made me doubt my own symptoms previously, my lifestyle choices and even my mental health as I didn’t want to be known to have an illness that some doctors don’t even believe in. In the past I’ve pushed past times when my body really needed to rest to almost prove that I was ill to people, showing that my body does not do well with physical and mental pressure. I shouldn’t have to push my body to breaking point just to be believed by people and by myself.
I often find myself waking up on particularly good health days, say I’ve managed to make breakfast myself, woken up before 1pm and brushed my teeth, I automatically think “shit what if I was making it all up yesterday when I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without my walking stick”. My body is literally at an extremely low functioning level for an adult human being and I am doubting my own illness? Bullshit. This internalised ableism has stemmed from years of parents, relatives and peers all saying “you’ve just got to push through it and you’ll be fine. I don’t want to go to work some days but I still have to”. Would you push your body if you had the flu? Probably not.
Media coverage of the benefit system has also had a massive part to play in my feelings towards my health. I constantly am ashamed to be “unfit for work or work related activities” as I feel at a 21 year old I should be working my arse off at the start of my career ready to face the real world, but I just simply can’t. It’s not an option for me. Now I don’t know if this is a way of me justifying my use of benefits or me fighting my own ableist thoughts but either way I need to start realising that things like Universal Credit and ESA are there for people who are ill/ injured/ long term unable to work.
If the shoe (or slipper, I hardly wear shoes these days) was on the other foot, I’d be supporting anyone struggling with these thoughts telling them not to be so silly and to stop giving themselves a hard time but I simply can’t. These thoughts have been conditioned into my head from a child, “people on benefits must be lazy, you’ve got to work work work”, “young people can’t get ill, it’s old people and people with cancer who are ill”. It’s going to take a lot to unpick all of these thoughts and feelings towards my own disability before I no longer feel ashamed to be ill.