When I read this post by Ellana, it really resonated with me, as I know it did with many of you. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disabling but largely invisible chronic pain and fatigue syndrome, when I was sixteen years old. (Read my story here.) I was already somewhat integrated in the disability community because my youngest brother is autistic, but once I had a personal stake in it, my understanding of the situation grew greatly. Recently, I was also diagnosed with OCD (the reveal post is here), making me legally both mentally ill and physically disabled, though I have both conditions under pretty decent control. All of my family members but one, at this point, have some kind of mental illness or physical impairment. As such, I’ve garnered a lot of disability experience.
Because of this, I’ve become much more aware of the pervasive nature of ableism in society, even today, even in America. Ableism, prejudice against or mistreatment of the mentally ill and mentally or physically disabled, greatly affects every person with these kinds of problems. Ellana’s post about the lack of disabled access in many areas portrays just one example of this, and one I’m quite familiar with. Stairs are everywhere, and unless you have a mobility problem, you don’t really understand how horrible that can be. Ramps, when they do exist, are often under-kept and excessively long, which really doesn’t help people with limited mobility but no wheelchair access, like me. Elevators are often hidden in corners that are difficult to find.
Both physical and mental problems cause a great deal of prejudice and misunderstanding as well, especially those that are invisible to outsiders. Every time I go somewhere new, I feel like I need to get “Disabled” stamped on my forehead so I don’t have to explain to everyone why I can’t do the things they so casually do. Much of the time, even when I do go through the full explanation, the other person will say something like, “What? I don’t believe you. You don’t look disabled.”
There are few things as frustrating to hear as that sentence.
While physical disability is much misaligned, I think I’d go so far as to say mental illness has it even worse. The stigma around it is so great and so pervasive that most people are ashamed to admit their sickness, even though these illnesses are just as legitimate as any physical one. There are so many words in the English language, slang terms, that are ableist (especially towards the mentally ill) as well, the biggest one being “retarded.” People are so frightened of mental illness that they allow stereotypes and pride to carry their actions towards people who have these problems. For example:
- As the sister of an autistic child, people often ask me, after learning about my brother, “Well, what’s wrong with you then? Are you autistic too?” The assumption there is very hurtful to me, and my parents have it worse, constantly being blamed for something that they can’t control. In this way, even those close to the mentally ill or disabled become mistreated, and the pain they suffer from it is exquisite.
- As an OCD patient, I’ve become more aware of how much the condition, which can be very serious and has had a hugely detrimental effect on my life, is treated as a joke. How many times have you, even, joked about having OCD when you wanted something to be organized just right? Think about it the next time you go there. OCD is so much bigger than the throwaway stereotype it’s been turned into.
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My Blog: http://kirabudge.weebly.com/
(A little P.S. from Ellana: I'm hoping to post an unofficial blog on Saturday, listing when things were first used, such as lifts. Stick around for that; you might be very interested to know just how long for example a lift has been used!)