Dissecting Your Ableism

“But you’re so smart, Nora!”

“I know you can do it!”

“You are so capable.”

“Just believe in yourself!”

“You can, you can!”

“I believe in you, why don’t you believe in yourself?”

In middle school and high school, I was your stereotypical smart kid. I took an entire extra semester for fun (which I eventually had to take a health withdrawal and drop down to two classes taken from home, but that’s beside the point). I took world history for fun. I got excellent grades, scholarships, and took honors classes. My test scores didn’t reflect this because due to the combo of being autistic, ADHD, dysgraphic, and dyscalculic. Tests are my enemy. I am incapable of testing well.

But despite having straight A’s my freshman year of high school, here I am at age 28. No job. No college degree. No exercise. I spend my days needing help getting my basic needs met  – laundry, dishes, med set up, food cooking, cleaning, etc. I’m barely capable of getting out of bed most days. And I have heard every one of those phrases at the beginning of the post. Let’s break them down, shall we?

  “But you’re so smart, Nora!”

Okay, stop right there. First of all, how are we measuring “smart”? My IQ is actually on the low end due to the aforementioned piss-poor test taking skills. Am I smart because I have really good reading comprehension? Because when I am stressed out in school, I either fully throw myself into my work or slack off? What does being “smart” in school have to DO with my day to day life? Woo hoo, I knew how to get good grades in middle and secondary school. Go team Nora, have a shiny gold star. But that doesn’t mean I know how to get a job, how to hold down a job, how to get through college, and how to function in the world. And that is SUCH a belittling phrase. What if I wasn’t smart? What if I struggled in school and flunked out? What would that mean? Why are you measuring my worth by how I did in school over a decade ago? It’s kind of a shitty thing to do.

“I know you can do it!”

Oh. So you’ve climbed into my brain? You’ve seen my extensive medical chart? Stop right there, you’re being ableist. You have NO FUCKING WAY of knowing how or what I can do. You aren’t being empowering, you aren’t being encouraging. You’re being an ableist asshole. I cannot do many ADLs (activities of daily living). I rely on others to get by. Just because you THINK I should be able to do something myself (cook food, do dishes, etc) doesn’t mean I can. Want to know what happens when I do my own damn dishes? My hands break out. If I wear gloves, my hand still break out. I drop and break dishes. I burn myself with the hot water. I pass out from the heat of the water. My hands cramp from hyperextending or I sublax my fingers. Or I get distracted and wander away. I am not lazy because I do not do my dishes. I cannot do my dishes. By saying “I know you can do it!” you are saying my struggles are not legitimate. And who are you to judge what is or isn’t a struggle for me?

“You are so capable.”

Why yes, yes I am. I’m capable of setting fires and melting blenders. Of falling asleep with the candle burner on. Of burning toast. Of turning my tuna casserole into a lethal weapon. Of passing out in the shower. Of face planting! I am capable, thank you! I’m capable of hiding in my room for days. Of burrowing under my blanket fort. I’m capable of scripting entire movies (Labyrinth and The Lion King, I’m looking at you), while forgetting to eat dinner. I’m capable of memorizing entire episodes of The Muppet Show or Fullmetal Alchemist, while not being able to remember what day my doctor’s appointments are scheduled. I’m able to remember my friend’s schedules perfectly, all the while struggling to remember to take care of myself. So yes, I am capable. I’m also capable of calling you an ableist butthead for assuming just because I can play video games, I am capable of cooking food or doing my dishes. I mean, what? Cognitively and physically, they aren’t remotely the same.

“Just believe in yourself!”

Oh. So I’m just a small town girl, living in a lonely world? Oh. Wait. That’s not what you meant, is it? I can believe that I am 5’7 and it’ll happen, but quite frankly it won’t. I can believe that one day my body will produce the correct amount of immunoglobin so I’m  not constantly sick, but it won’t happen. So I can’t just believe I can get a job, do the dishes, cook my own food. My skills are shove food in microwave, push buttons, shove food in face. No amount of believing will change that. No amount of believing will allow me to pass math without extensive help and quite frankly, a miracle. No amount of believing will permit me to hold down a job because of all the time I would need off, the days I couldn’t make it in, all the appointments, etc.

“You can, you can!”

So, is there something you’re not physically able to do? Maybe you cannot, for the life of you, open a jar. Maybe you can’t drive a car. Maybe you can’t reach the top shelf or the top of the fridge. But because you’re able bodied, that’s okay, you don’t have to set your mind to it. You find someone to help you, right? So why, may I ask, am I expected to do things that are PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE? HOW is just setting my mind to it going to make a difference? Newsflash: It isn’t. Everyone has things they can or cannot do. I can’t set my mind to being able to cook safely by myself on the stove. I can’t set my mind to being able to do the dishes. It is, literally, impossible for me.

“I believe in you, why don’t you believe in yourself?” 

Well, okay, I do believe in myself. I believe that despite being disabled, I can still make a difference somehow. I believe that being autistic isn’t something that needs to be cured or changed. I believe that I can be an activist and an advocate, all while sitting in my living room under a very fluffy cat. I believe that the bridges I burn will light the way, and I believe that I shouldn’t be quiet, but I should instead raise hell. I believe that I am funny, affectionate, and loyal. Just because I don’t believe what you believe, doesn’t mean jack shit. So leave your ableism at my door before entering my apartment. Don’t tell me you believe I can do something because you don’t want to do it for me or think I can yourself. Believe all you want, but don’t force your beliefs on me.

 

We need to stop saying ableist phrases like this. We need to, instead of forcing people to do things that are difficult or painful, support them. I can’t open a jar or cook on the stove, but I can make you laugh. I can be a loyal friend and if you activate Nora!Rage or Loyal!Nora mode, watch out, world. Stop telling me what I can or cannot do and instead, support me as I am.

 

In case you can’t tell, this is inspired about a very certain situation regarding PCAs and home health workers. Since this is a public blog post, I am leaving it vague on purpose. 

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