Deer In Headlights
Jun 8 · 4 min read

Ableism

The privilege of using our bodies

If you read my last story you know about the pains and awareness I’ve gained struggling with chronic pain the past few months due to sports injuries. They‘be triggered opportunities for growth as painful and normal as a similar paths in my life.

I now see exercising and ability differently and think I forever will. I still look forward to being able to get back to training in ways I’m able and enjoy. I still plan on using it as a coping mechanism for life, to release stress, and have seratonin spread through me. Something has changed — I can no longer feel a sense of pride for something that I get pleasure from. The fact that I had or may have the ability to use my body to get fit without recognizing that I did nothing to be born with the physical ability to do so showed my lack of awareness and pride for something I did not create. It gives me a false sense of self esteem while still allowing me to feel good about myself. It’s a fragile thing to put faith in because bodies change and we all will lose the ability to do things we once could since they are ephemeral.

Some may hear this and not understand what I’m saying. I do work. I put in lots of time and effort to rehabilitate from my injuries, about two hours a day for several months. I do this because I want to feel better. I realized how embarrassed I am from people making microaggressions towards me and direct statements related to ableism.

“You guys are the slowest walkers ever!” As I cross the street with someone yelling out their window to me (from a stop sign) and a friend keeping me company at my slow pace. They didn’t know better and it hurt still.

Another day the same week a person with a dog cuts quickly in front of me as I’m making my way to the front door of my apartment — just steps away as I walk slowly, perhaps thinking I was being rude.

I go for my daily walk and wonder how many people perceive me as dangerous because of my slower walk when I have no walking stick, wheelchair, and pass for being able-bodied at the time. Then I wonder how much has to do with that combined with my race, my facial hair, my brown body that they categorize me as a terrorist, and dressed in casual cloths with a hoodie like I wear year around (even as it’s 80–90 degrees). I notice some people around me not wanting to look me in the eye. One person seemed to cross the street when they saw me. Of course with microaggressions we don’t really “know” why people do things and we can’t prove them since they’re not overtly racist because hey, maybe they crossed the street for some other reason or maybe the person suffered from trauma and I triggered them.

Still, when honest, I hate going on my walks as I rehabilitate my hip, my knees, and shoulder. What does it say about how I feel about people living with disabilities, even implicitly, that I don’t want people to think I have one? I want to pass as able-bodied.

Maybe it’s because I feel drained as is and don’t want to be in another category of subjugation. I have other real stressors and responsibilities related to every day life like we all do in our respective ways. Yet do those who are and cannot pass have a choice? No.

So when I see other people feeling pride about their workouts I wonder if they’ve come to a similar conclusion as me or if they will. I want people to feel good about exercising. It’s been the medicine I’ve needed over the years against a family history of depression, other addiction, and systemic oppression. It’s been a “healthier” coping mechanism.

Privilege works in a way that it doesn’t want to be seen. I gave a ride as a Lyft driver to a passenger recently who is living with visual impairment. They worked in an organization to support their community. During the ride we discussed terminology and like many communities how some language is offensive to some and empowering to others. The example used was blind. They explained that one reason it’s offensive for some is that few people are fully blind and yet all are categorized together. While this was new to me what was next surprised me more. That I hadn’t even thought how important community is or that community exists for people with less visual ability.

I realize how little people that are differently abled are portrayed or likely accurately portrayed in popular media. If they are they’re caricatures. It stinks all too much of similarities that other subjugated groups share when we talk about race, LGBTQIAP, gender, immigration, SEC, addicts, and more.

I feel as though the gift of struggling with chronic pain, that physical therapy expects me to rehabilitate from, has been life giving. I now feel more love towards my own mother who has struggled for years with chronic pain as well as strangers who are differently abled.

Check out this article for 19 examples of able bodied privilege.

Here’s another on 21 ways able bodied privilege looks.

Like usual with privilege it may feel like guilt or you’re being attacked and that’s just our defenses, our egos if you will. I’m not judging you. I’ve been there and have plenty of implicit biases and cobwebs to understand in my own life and forever will. I hope that you can continue to exercise and move your body in the ways you want to as long as possible. I also hope you’ll think of bodies’ abilities differently.

Deer In Headlights

Written by

2nd year graduate student in marriage & family therapy. My focus areas include sex therapy, race, culture, power, privilege, oppression, & areas of difference.

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