Ableism is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities”.
While that definition may seem neat and succinct; ableism behavior is so much deeper than that.
Beyond the most obvious forms of prejudice such as believing people with disabilities aren’t capable of living life; there is the subtle aspects of ablesim many of us aren’t even aware we’re indoctrinated with.
And I was one of those people until I had to grapple with my own disability.
Throughout this battle with arthritis and whatever other unknown condition I have that is causing severe and chronic back pain; I’ve been frustrated. Suddenly the mobility I took for granted my entire life is slipping away from me, and in it’s place is this unknown territory of having to live differently.
I’ve been going through the stages of grief like anyone else who has lost something dear and important to them. My doctors have been giving me solutions to circumvent my new set of circumstances including a cane and using a wheelchair in situations where extensive walking or standing is necessary.
I started looking at myself differently, retreating into my home, trying to avoid going into public spaces because of fear of being seen as this fat disabled person. And then it dawned on me; why was being fat and disabled such a terrible thing in my mind?
Why am I so stuck on being seen in a capacity of lesser than or weaker than?
And I realized I subconsciously viewed being a person with a disability as a bad thing. I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that I could entertain the thoughts of an ableist. How could I? I grew up with an uncle who had Down’s Syndrome. My own son has ADHD and Tourette’s Syndrome. I never looked at people in wheelchairs and felt like they were less than me. So how could I have these thoughts?
Because subconsciously we’re taught that having a disability is bad. We feel sorry for people when they have limitations whether mental or physical because we’re operating from a space of having all of our faculties.
And I imagine I would have continued in this pattern of thought if I hadn’t come face to face with my own limitations. I essentially stopped living my life the minute my physical pain required me to need a walking aid or assistance.
Mentally I’ve been berating myself for my inability to do what I used to be able to do regardless of the fact that it isn’t my fault. I found that suddenly for the first time in a LONG time I was ashamed of being fat but only because now I had a disability. How absurd is that?
Once I caught on to my own thought process I immediately began the task of dismantling my own hangups. I’ve been challenging myself to go out more; getting the mail utilizing my cane, going to the store and shopping for myself as long as there are motor-carts available to me. I’m insistent on doing the things that I can and not feeling bad about it or finding myself being apologetic about it.
My pain levels vary day to day. and that means everyday is not a great day. Some days I can do more than others, but I’m done penalizing myself for it. I decided that my need to live was more important than shrinking in fear because some strangers I don’t know may think I’ve done this to myself being fat.
As I continue my health journey, I’m putting my mental health at the top of the list and that means ensuring I have a healthy way to vent my frustrations without speaking to myself harmfully.
I may have a disability but that in no way has to limit my ability to be the best version of myself that I can be!