chronic pain / internalized ableism / mental health / Spoonie Challenges

Internalised Ableism, Week 8: Ableist in My Mind

So, today, I decided enough was enough—I was doing the dishes. We have a dishwasher, so you would think it would be a breeze. Unfortunately, my particular injury makes bending painful, especially that halfway bend to load something above floor level.

Then, in my infinite wisdom, I decided not to stop part-way through for a rest but to keep going. Get ’er all done at once, eh?  Eh, no. This was not my best idea.

Minutes later, my husband walked into the kitchen to find me braced on the counter, panting in pain. And now in too much pain to even go sit down.

Why do I do this?  Why don’t I learn to sit the frig down when it hurts?  There is only so much I can blame on my Scottish heritage. Pride goeth before a fall; in my case, sometimes literally. If I ignore my body’s warning too long, I can and have had my legs drop me to the floor.

So, why don’t I learn?

I was a small child, wearing a 6X into grade 6 (that size is supposed to be for children aged six, not in Grade 6). I couldn’t play sports, I wore glasses—all in all, a bully’s delight. Except even then, I didn’t give a rat’s patootie about their opinion. I didn’t fight back. If I got sent to the office, I deserved it. Strange thing to be proud of.

Point is, I stood up for myself my own way, I did things for myself, and got in trouble myself. And this independent streak is still getting me into trouble. Only now it’s my own body and not the school bullies.

A couple of years ago, my doctor noticed I hadn’t published anything new in a long time. We usually talked about what was going on; from her new baby to my latest sale. Except I hadn’t made a sale,  or even submitted,  in two years.

Turns out that my brain doesn’t make enough of that chemical that makes you feel good. The one that rewards you for finishing something or working out. I just get tired and cranky. Crankier.

I looked back at that small child who hated gym because there was no reward, just spending the rest of the day tired and sweaty. So, she learned to fake a lot of things. She faked liking to run but not enough to get put on the running team. She faked being able to fight and landed one lucky punch that scared off the bully. Especially, she faked that she could do things that took a physical toll. (There were also migraines from a young age and scoliosis twisting my frame, but I’ll stick to one or two topics.)

Now, at nearly sixty, I’ve been finally diagnosed with clinical and long-term depression. I hated it! It meant I was incomplete, flawed, and clearly had been faking my independence for my whole life.

While the pills work great and are a miracle for my mental health, I am not kind to myself.

That small, petty part of your brain, your inner critic, that disparaging voice…well, mine not only repeats my Grade 7 English teacher in saying that my writing is awesome…ly terrible, it also tells me that if I’m not “whole” and independent, I can’t be loved. My husband would realize I’m a drag on him and leave, my friends would get sick of helping me, and I would be alone.

The first few years after I became unable to work a regular job, I met my husband at the door after work with a list of what I’d done that day to deserve being loved. I did the dishes, I tidied up, I made supper…

And in so doing, hurt my back. The one thing he didn’t want me to do. I still do that a bit. But I’m getting better. I’m learning to slow down, to listen to my pain when it speaks. The worst and most ableist person I know is that little b-word in the back of my brain. And she is me.

I’m learning to ignore her and listen to my body.

I’ve also been writing again and feeling that surge of happiness when it goes well or I find that perfect insult. My brain chemicals might come in a bottle, but you know what they say: if you can’t make your own,  store-bought is just fine.

Now, if only I could convince myself not to “stubborn through” and to take breaks.

Author Laurie Stewart

Laurie Stewart lives on a hobby farm in rural Ontario (Canada) with the love of her life. She writes medieval fantasy, urban fantasy, and gritty YA dramatic fiction. As a proper renaissance lady, she also paints landscapes, is active in food preps for the zombie apocalypse, and loves gardening.

Lastly, because she refuses to let it define her, Laurie is a proud Spoonie. She battles chronic migraines and debilitating pain from a degenerating spinal fusion on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. She usually wins.

You can follow Laurie on TwitterFacebook, and her website.

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