The Perfect Disabled Person

Hi everyone.  Sorry that it’s been so long since my last post – particularly unfortunate given that it is Endometriosis Awareness Month.  I was struck down with a bout of gastro and writing was the last thing on my mind.

As part of Endometriosis Awareness Month, Buzzfeed has been running a series of articles raising awareness about endo.  One of them is “Things You Shouldn’t Say to People with Endometriosis.”  I’ve written on this before here, here and here, and given some suggestions about things to say instead here, so it’s always interesting to hear things other people are sick of hearing.

The Buzzfeed article, written by Lara Parker, is fairly tongue-in-cheek.  She gives some brief explanations about why you shouldn’t say these things, but she also writes how she would like to respond when these questions are asked.  It made me snicker.

Unfortunately, the responses on Buzzfeed’s facebook page and on the article were deeply disappointing, mostly from people who obviously do not get it and can’t be bothered to try, and even some from people with endo who apparently forget that we are allowed to be a little bit upset and annoyed about this horrific disease and people being arses about it.

People of colour in majority white societies have often noted the pressure to be the “perfect minority” – the model for all their race.  If they do a wrong thing, it just goes to show that “all people of X race are like that”.  I think there is a similar-but-different pressure on disabled and chronically ill people.  Whilst we aren’t required to represent the whole demographic the way people of colour are, there is a pressure to be this “ideal” disabled person.

What does the ideal look like?  Basically, inspiration porn.  Preferably, they were able-bodied and had a promising future, but they lost something – usually their ability to walk – in a horrific accident.  Doctors said they would never move again, but they regained use of their arms and took up Olympic paragliding, spouting mantras such as “the only disability is a bad attitude!”  They overcome every obstacle that a world built for able-bodied people creates for them rather than asking that maybe the world undergo some reasonable adjustments.  They are an inspiration to disabled people everywhere!  They teach lessons about the power of positivity!

They are a stick used to beat disabled people who are tired, cranky, depressed, or whom able-bodied people don’t think are trying hard enough.  “If they can do it, why can’t you?” And if a disabled person suggests that perhaps that isn’t actually the best attitude, we are rude, unhelpful, and bitter.

Here’s some examples of comments on the article:

So you don’t want us to try and relate to you, or feel sorry for you? After what you wish we didn’t say, maybe add something saying what we SHOULD say. This is such a negative post.

 

This is a tad aggressive. I understand that it is frustrating to live with a chronic illness that has no cure and limited treatment options, but I think people suggesting options to help your pain is clearly out of trying to help ease your pain and out of caring. If you’re going to get that upset every time someone tries to offer you a helpful suggestion (even if it might not be helping) than you must have a terrible attitude. Especially regarding the questions of “can you have children with this condition?” I think it’s safe to say a person asking you this is probably trying to understand your condition and the implications of it. Sounds like the person who put this article together needs a therapist.

 

What a bitter way to look at the wolrd, I think a lot of times its our instinct to try and help people we care for. So even if I’m sure it’s been suggested to you, you have to look at it from positive angle, this person is suggesting something because they care about you and wants to help you. I have endo and while I know our journey is different, I can relate to all the suggestions but every time someone gives me one, as silly as it is, I can see in their eyes that all they want is to figure out how to make you feel better. How can you be so upset about that.

 

A tad aggressive…. I have a few unseen conditions too and if people offer some advice I simply say thank you or thanks I’ll look into it. No more no less….”

 

Here’s a thought…. If you don’t want anyone to comment on your illness / problem, don’t bring it up to begin with. If you just keep it to yourself, like most people do with their health problems, others won’t have any reason to comment or suggest anything. Rather than get on here and bitch that people are suggesting things, just shut up all the way around and it will solve all your problems before they even have a chance to start.”

 

Here’s what I think able-bodied people who say this kind of thing don’t get: most of it.  Possibly all of it.  But specifically:

  • That relating to us or feeling sorry for us is all well and good, but it doesn’t come in the form of suggesting we try yet another fad diet, or that we should be fine if we have this treatment because it worked for their cousin’s girlfriend.
  • That sometimes we get sick of people making unsolicited suggestions and rude comments, or asking really personal questions, and we are allowed to be frustrated that people actually seem to think that this is ok.
  • That this is not the same as aggression.  Passive-aggression, perhaps, but like most people, we really have to be pushed to breaking point before we morph into some sort of were-beast and start tearing faces off.
  • That the questions and comments stack up.  We might be hurt or frustrated by a single question that, however well-intentioned, is invasive, rude or dismissive, but that when you get them all the time, it is hard to stay calm and patient.
  • That intention is not the same as impact.  Someone could care deeply about me and my pain, but if they are asking a string of really personal questions or insisting that I would be fine if I tried the keto diet, their intention doesn’t matter as much as the impact it is having.  And surely, if they care, they would care about my feeling on the subject too?
  • That we educate people about this all the time.  We are generally happy to explain what endo is, if it is the right time and place.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t get sick of having to do it again and again and again, or when someone starts demanding answers that a quick google search would provide when we just want to get on with our days.
  • That we don’t tend to bring our problems up out of context, and when we do, we are either looking for a specific solution, should as flexible work hours, or explaining why we can’t do a thing.  That doesn’t mean we want to be told to have a baby or a hysterectomy.  Also, we can’t shut up and take opportunities to educate people.
  • That endometriosis is utterly exhausting, physically and emotionally, and we cannot always be happy, positive, and polite.  There are some days I can’t even speak to people without literally feeling the conversation draining me of energy, however much I love the other person and enjoy the topic of conversation.

What I’d really ask people to do this March is to listen to us.  Listen when we say that things hurt or upset us, and listen to why.  Even if you don’t get it, please respect it, and understand that it’s not an attack on your freedoms or your character.  We’re just asking for a little bit of shush, or perhaps for you to say, “oh, that sounds awful,” and give us a hug or a nice cup of tea.

And don’t tell us to be more positive.

January Gratitude

In the spirit of keeping some positivity in what could otherwise be a fairly gloomy blog, this year I want to commit to finishing each month with a post on things I am grateful for that month. I’m going to push myself to list ten things per month and to look for the silver lining even in the bad things.

Not every bad thing will have a silver lining, and some months will have far more good than bad, but I like being happy and I am trying to wire my brain to go to a happy place more than a sad place.

Before I begin, I want to note that I do not want the fact that I or other chronically ill bloggers do this as a stick to bludgeon those who don’t. Depression and anxiety can’t be cured simply by “choosing happiness,” and the realities of chronic illness are that happiness can be hard to find. It is not the duty of the ill to be positive.

This sickly sausage, however, is going to try. Without further ado, this is what I’m grateful for in January:

1) Three weeks of holiday

As readers will know, last year I made a very quick and terrifying decision to leave my old job and go into a different role. Between leaving the old and starting the new, I had about three weeks without work. This let me relax properly, let go of the tension that I had built up during the year, get on top of some outstanding domestic tasks, and really focus on my health. I was able to use the time to run, swim, sleep, play computer games, take mornings slowly. I was able to build some good habits around fitness, getting 5,000 steps a day and doing some form of exercise daily, even just walking the dog (who was delighted to have me home).

2) Beach time

After not having gone to the beach in ages, in January I got to go twice. I love being at the sea, swimming, diving, smelling the salt air and hunting for tiny fish to watch. My husband reintroduced me to boogie boarding, which I hadn’t done since I was a little girl. I’d forgotten how fun it is!

Image description: a man holding a lead with a corgi jumping on the end. They are at the beach, in the surf. This is my little corgi Pearl finding out that waves are wet and splashy, and bigger than her.

We also discovered that our dog hates the ocean, possibly because she is so stumpy.

3) My new job

Nice as my break was, paid employment is a privilege. Even more important than my income, however, is that my new job is interesting and challenging – I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m actually really enjoying it. Equally important is that my colleagues are truly lovely. I do miss my old work besties, but we still chat regularly on facebook and in the meantime, I’m building relationships with (mostly) women I already admire and respect.

4) My catio

One of my Christmas presents from my parents was some money to put towards an outdoor enclosure for my beautiful, noisy, pest of a cat. This 1.8m enclosure lets him feel the wind in his whiskers whilst staying safe from the various perils of cars, dogs, and other cats. It also stops him from terrorising the local wildlife. His favourite outdoor activity is eating the grass.

Image description: a ginger cat looking at the camera. He is lying on the top platform of a grey, multi-tiered cat tower. He is inside a large cage made of netting covered in a green shade cloth. There is a litter tray, a kennel and a pink chair in the cage, which is placed in the corner of two brick walls and floored half in grass, half in pebble-dash path. This is Max enjoying his outdoor time while I do some garden chores so we can hang our together outside.

I think its super cool and I can’t wait to deck it out with more stuff for him.

5) Thunderstorms

My dog may be scared of storms, but I love them. I love watching the horizon glow with sheet lightning, or see bolts flash and crackle across the sky. Summer thunderstorms here are brief but generally very impressive.

6) New Pathways

Some news that I haven’t yet shared on this blog is that I was recently given a tentative additional diagnosis of adenomyosis. I’ll blog more later on what that is and how it affects the sufferer, but for now I am focussing on this: my ongoing post-surgery pain has a possible explanation, and therefore a possible treatment pathway. I’m not just a weirdo and my surgery wasn’t a waste of money.

7) My parents’ lovely Czech neighbour

He gave them a whole bunch of plums from his garden, which is an act of sweet neighbourliness that I just love, and I profited because my parents passed some on to me.

8) My new diaries

I’ve talked previously about my cool new diary set from Leaders in Heels. I’ve really loved how they’ve worked for me throughout January to keep me motivated and organised, whilst still giving me space to doodle and journal.

Image description: four books in a stack; a black one with white writing, a pink one, a lilac one and a dark navy one. A ginger cat is lying behind them and his tail is flopped over them. The books and cat are on a blue checked bedspread with a red wall in the background. Max keeping me company on a flare day and looking after my diaries for me.

9) Fun hair

I bought a bunch of wigs recently. Some were purchased last year during my horrible experience with tramadol. Some were purchased in January when I realised I love wigs.

Image description: a head-and-shoulders shot of a twenty-something white woman against a cream wall. She has long grey hair in a half-up style and sparkly blue lipstick. She is wearing a blue cold-shoulder dress with white nautical symbols on it. I love this grey wig from Wig Is Fashion. My real hair will never be this long, and I’ve always loved the way grey hair looks but didn’t want to bleach my hair or commit to dying it. This wig finally let me have it and I feel like a witchy mermaid. It’s great.

It’s too hot at the moment to take advantage of them, but this year I’ll be able to change my hair up easily and without having to commit to a different style or colour. Exciting stuff.

10) How privileged this list is

The fact that I can celebrate these small, trivial things like wigs and plums is because I was born into and continue to live a white, middle-class life in a developed nation. When I turn a tap, I take it for granted that I will immediately see clean water. When I open the pantry, it might not have as much chocolate as I’d like, but it will certainly have food (usually 16 million tins of diced tomatoes, for reasons I don’t fully understand). I am highly educated, I have a stable job, and I am not persecuted for my gender, religion or anything else. My government may change PM more often than I change jackets, but we are unlikely to see coups or major bouts of civil unrest. I am safe.

What are you grateful for this month? Do you keep a gratitude diary or something similar?