* This post is written by one of our volunteer content creators. *
In my years of activity within the disabled community, I see so many aspects of disabled life that are unique to an individual, or a condition, giving a rich insight into the diversity within the community itself. However, it also shows the unifying experiences and challenges we face as disabled individuals. Because navigating an ableist society causes us to internalise these projected perceptions, and in turn damages our relationship with our disabled identity.
The effects of a negative self-image are detrimental for everyone, as it leaves room for insecurity to take hold. But when this occurs as a result of health stigma, we often feel shame. So, in this post, I shall be discussing the importance of unlearning the shame that is impairing our self-perception. It pertains to disability and mental health, as I’m choosing to speak from a personal experience.
It can be difficult to recognise patterns of behaviour or ingrained beliefs when talking about internalised ableism, as we have been reinforcing these ableist beliefs for extended periods. Depending upon our condition, the support we require, and the experiences we’ve faced because of our disability, the shame we carry can manifest differently for everyone. But having spoken to many disabled individuals and being active in the community for years, I now recognise the different responses:
• Feeling burdensome when asking for help.
• Feeling like you don’t deserve financial support.
• Feeling embarrassed when you need to pay for medical supplies.
• Feeling guilty when you need to cancel or rearrange plans because of your health.
• Feeling you aren’t “sick enough” to be deserving of therapy.
• Feeling like you negatively stand out when using mobility/sensory aids.
Sometimes it may feel like the journey towards a healthier self-image is an impossible task, or it may feel like we lack direction. However, one thing is necessary when we communicate with ourselves - we must do so positively! This can look like rephrasing the negative thoughts and responses we have, in this instance regarding ableism.
Burden → “The only person my health inconveniences is me, and asking for help shows I can advocate for myself”
Not Deserving → “My condition requires additional costs to support, and it can be very expensive. I would never begrudge it from another person with the same condition, so I should honour my individual needs in the same way.”
Guilty - “All mobility equipment should be as person-centred, comfortable, and appropriate as possible. It isn’t my fault that I require it.”
Not Sick Enough - “There is no such thing as being “sick enough”. The important part is that I’m struggling, and I should seek support sooner rather than later.”
Standing Out - “I am taking my health into my hands and being proactive by supporting my body, so I can have as comfortable a life as possible.”
One way to help relearn negative thought patterns and replace your poor self-speak is to positively affirm healthy and kind thoughts. Below I have included some of the affirmations I have found to be particularly helpful:
1 - I am worthy of support.
2 - I deserve to take up space.
3 - I am strong, resilient, and tenacious.
4 - I am a good friend and family member, and my health doesn’t prevent me from being so.
5 - I deserve to have my voice heard.
To finish this blog post, I thought it would be wise to take a moment and share a few reminders with you. As sometimes with the hectic world around us, it can be a challenge to remind ourselves of the following:
• You have made it through every bad day you’ve had.
• It’s okay to not love your disabled body, just like it’s okay to not be okay. Of course, everyone wants to feel confident in their own skin, but you aren’t a bad disabled person for struggling mentally, as a result of your physical health.
• A bad day is just that, it isn’t a fixed state.
• As difficult as these feelings and negative self-beliefs are to navigate, and as valid as they are - this feeling is only temporary, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
• Learned behaviours, such as internalised ableism, are awful to experience; but as they are learned, they are not permanent. It is possible to unlearn these behaviours over time and improve your relationship with your disabled identity.
Here at AYL, we care greatly about supporting our readers. So, I find it to be my responsibility as a volunteer author, to provide information and resources that can offer readers with adequate advice and support. You can also leave a comment or message me directly via Instagram!