Our American white colonizer culture loves a plucky underdog story. We swoon over stoic suffering. We adore an inspiring boot strap story about a person who overcomes great adversity to succeed in an emotionally satisfying mainstream way.
But what happens when our suffering isn’t sexy and silent? When we aren’t productive “enough”? What happens when we aren’t getting better? When we struggle, flailing, desperate for some sort of support? What happens when we don’t know how to reach out or build the “right” sort of connection?
I’m far from the first person to ask these questions.
As disabled people we are given both more room to be imperfect, and listened to more intently, the more intersections of privilege we hold. That means that I get more room and grace from the abled people around me than my disabled peers who carry intersections of oppression I do not. It should be common knowledge that IBPOC, especially black non-men are given no room in our dominant white culture to be human, to struggle. This lack of acknowledgement doesn’t end or magically disappear with the disability community. We are not absolved of our racism or anti-blackness because of our, or their, proximity to disability. This is something that we white disabled people should never forget or gloss over.
How does this cultural expectation for graceful silent suffering impact me personally? It’s isolating.
I don’t know who or how to talk to people anymore. I lack a conversational template for reaching out to casual friends. When my social role seems to be support person or advice giver as far as I can tell most of the time? When everyone misgenders me as older woman, team mom if you will, and we all know what moms are for. How to talk to people when all I have is sadness and negative self image to talk about? who wants that? who can I subject to the pain of standing next to me while I drag them down.
Even knowing that isn’t an accurate assessment of the situation, how to undo a lifetime of being told that my expression of feelings or discomfort were an undue burden on the people around me, exhausting, vampiric, a sign of my inherent weakness?
I don’t really have an answer. I know I am struggling. I know I have said all this before. I know it is difficult for me to let my guard down and let people in, that it is equally hard for me to feel worthy of or safe with letting others see or carry any of my pain. I know that it is my normal to feel like this in the winter when I’m so sick and not even able to go out for errands, as my already small life shrinks further.
But I also know that if I can’t do it for myself, my children, nesting partner, and beloved connections do not deserve to be solely taxed by my emotional luggage when I’m unable to carry it on my own anymore.
That means learning to feel more safe with vulnerability, I think…or something like that. It means…It means continuing to dismantle the internalized ableism in my head that tells me that I am not worthy of life or love if I am not able to be productive. It means pushing myself to keep struggling at growing and being even when I want to curl up in a ball forever.
It means I deserve to live.
It means you do too.