BADD 2010: The Total Erasure of Partial Disability

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Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010

ETA: For anyone who’s visiting my site for the first time, I send first-time commenters to moderation. I am in the U.S. Pacific Time Zone (UTC-8) and I work nights and sleep days; therefore, if you don’t see your comment right away, you can probably assume I’m asleep and will approve it when I get up. Trolls, however, will be immediately perma-spammed. Thanks.

One of the things you’ll see come up in fat acceptance circles a lot, if you hang around long enough, is the concept that fat does not ipso facto equal disabled, and how loudly many of us feel the need to announce that. I’m fat, and I do decathlons! I’m fat, and I get through a 70-hour week and three hours of sleep a night, without even so much as a yawn! I’m fat and I do all my shopping on foot! (That last one would be, um, me, so please understand, I’m not pointing fingers here.) Fat people aren’t all bedridden, you know! In fact, most of us aren’t bedridden at all! We can do anything skinny people do! Yes, anything! You name it!

And I understand why that happens, I really do. Like I said, I’m not going to claim I’m 100% liberated from it, either. Let’s face it, you have a better chance of getting decent housing, decent food to eat, decent transportation, and maybe a little money in the bank left over if you can work in some capacity, than you do if you can’t. Government payments for permanent disability in the U.S. (either federal or state) are very, very hard to get and getting progressively harder, and even after you do get approved, they’re generally a pittance; as housing costs have soared in the last 15 to 20 years, disability payments have not kept up. And most of us don’t have families (of origin or of our own making) who can offer us total lifelong financial support, housing, medical care, etc.

So yeah, most of us have to try to work, somehow, in some capacity. And most of us probably want to, albeit not necessarily at what’s available to us at the moment. And in order to get people to hire you, you have to be able to give the impression of being reliable and capable of doing what they’ve hired you to do (even if you get some sort of accommodations), day in and day out. So it’s easy for us to let sentences like, “I’ve never missed a day of work in my life,” “I never get sick,” and, “I’m strong as an ox, I carried my own piano home from Sam Ash the other day on my back for ten miles and then up two flights of stairs” drop from our lips as a shield. Especially in a super-competitive job market like the one currently experienced by Americans, where employers are reluctant to hire even currently fully functional fatties because our health care allegedly costs a fortune compared to our supposedly low-maintenance thinner brethren. Throw in a disability of any kind, and you feel like it’s gonna take a miracle to be chosen.

So yes, naturally you’ll see a lot of fatasses denying that fat = disability. Unfortunately, that denial comes back to bite us in our generous-sized tuckuses when it comes to issues of access. We’re supposed to make ourselves fit the seats, no matter what it takes; the seats aren’t supposed to fit us. The societal assumption that all fat people have the same shot at permanent, healthy thinness is a profoundly ablist one, and when you frame it in terms of social model of disability, which states that our concept of what constitutes impairment is relative to what society has named the gold standard of behavior and functionality*, then you’d better believe I consider not being able to attain and maintain an acceptably thin body with no more than a token effort to be a disability. What people always seem to forget is that disability need not be total — that is, easily visible and preventing a person from working regularly and/or being capable of unassisted daily-living tasks — to be significant.

I know a lot of fat people are going to disagree with me about this, and that’s fine. But you go where I’m going if you believe, as I do, that access matters in assessing “ability” just as much as functionality. In many cases, “you can’t do X if you have Y type of body” becomes QED if it’s too much trouble for them to give you a frigging chair that fits your tush, or they decide you have the “wrong” body to sell X type of product or service. But if it’s hard for you to think in terms of partial disability, it’s perfectly understandable. It’s something that really does not get a lot of airtime in this world. In almost every conversation that exists out there, it’s assumed that the participants are all (currently) fully abled, and if we’re lucky, PWD will be considered at all, if they have a visible and permanent disability.

Now, I understand that many, many conversations out there are not for me, don’t concern me, can’t concern me. I’m not one of those people who feels the need to butt into every discussion with, “Oh yeah? What about the autistic women who were diagnosed in their 40s who are also lefthanded, Jewish, live in Portland, and are Mets fans? Huh? Huh? What about us?” (Actually, if there is more than one person on earth — that is, in Portland — who does fit that description, I will not only eat my Mets hat, I will do so on camera.) But it would be nice not to be forgotten entirely, as a person with partial disability.

Allow me to flash back to the big-hair ’80s, if you will, when the “briefcase or baby, or both?” discussions for women first started to get mass-media exposure. Even not knowing what my disability was then, I knew they weren’t talking about me; I knew I could maybe either parent or work, but no way on earth could I possibly do both simultaneously, and no way on earth could I ever manage more than 40 hours a week at either one. Even a straight 8-5 job with relatively little stress was pushing it for me; I always had headaches, always had digestive problems, was always tired, could never get enough sleep, was constantly anxious and overwhelmed. And the only “answer” anyone ever had for me was, “You come from a dysfunctional family.” (Yeah, like society isn’t one big dysfunctional family, right?)

I worked for a technical publishing company as an administrative assistant; I got paid more than the copy editors, who also had to work nights and weekends without overtime, whereas I could go home at 5. But copy editors could also parlay their experience later into better publishing jobs, and that was the name of the game. In order to “make it” at anything I thought was worth doing, you had to be willing to do some serious OT, put in the extra time, go the extra mile, get that extra degree while still working full-time, put your nose to the grindstone. In other words, prove you weren’t just some lazy slacker who didn’t want to work. And I knew I…just couldn’t. And I felt terrible about that, especially when I got into my 30s and realized that all those overworked, underpaid copy editors (and other people who had done the nose-to-the-grindstone thing) now had real careers making real money, and I was still stuck at the McJob level.

That’s where many of us with partial disabilities wind up, especially if we haven’t been given the tools to understand and obtain accommodation for our disabilities (which is, to paraphrase Ian Dury, “common as muck”). We can work, after a fashion, but no 70 or 80 hour work weeks for us, no pulling all-nighters to write our papers (or partying all night long) and then going to work the next morning for us, no being on our feet all day every day for us, no having jobs where people scream and yell at us all day for us, no simultaneously saving the world and raising our kids on 3 hours of sleep a night for us. Not even when we’re young and supposed to be bursting with energy. And nobody can ever understand why, other than chalking it up to bad attitude. As far as most fully abled people are concerned, either you can bust your ass round the clock, or you are quadriplegic (or the equivalent thereof) and get a government check. Those of us in neither category are barely assumed to exist at all, or to even be worth thinking about if we do.

Way before I was ever diagnosed, back in the big-hair era, I read a book on how not to sabotage yourself about money matters (I was big on the belief that I was sabotaging myself then, as if being broke was just a bad habit like biting my cuticles). The author scoffed at the notion that some people were convinced they had “some kind of debility that keeps you working from working more than part time, or at all.” Of course I couldn’t be like that! I couldn’t be some shiftless spoiled brat who thought work was beneath her! How silly of me to think I had a legitimate reason for all the headaches and stomachaches and twelve-alarm cramps and insomnia! I should just get over it!

This author was carrying around the same 200-pound eraser that everyone else was, the one that rubbed out all of us who actually did have “some kind of debility” that made us process information differently, or have chronic pain, or have bouts of refractory serious depression, or whatever it was that kept us from the kind of middle-class job and lifestyle we were “supposed” to be striving for. Not enough so that we couldn’t work at all, but enough so that we couldn’t be worked to death. How did we explain this to people? How could we make them understand? Especially if we barely understood it ourselves.

So I really do think step one has to be getting people with partial disabilities to recognize themselves. This can be tough, because getting a “legitimate” diagnosis that we can present to employers in order to make a job accessible to us (or to qualify for government benefits) can be challenging in and of itself. (And of course, employers or clients can just decide not to hire us because of our disabilities; they don’t legally have to tell us exactly why.) How many doctors “don’t believe in” fibromyalgia or Asperger’s or whatever it is that keeps us off both the “fast track” and the “parent track” at work? But I say, we can’t ask for something if we don’t know what it is we’re asking for. We cannot buy the “lazy slacker” label; we must reject it. Furthermore, as more of us do recognize ourselves, there will be more safety in numbers.

Will that be enough? If the experience of people with visible and total disabilities is any indication, probably not. Access issues for PWD are a huge and ongoing problem across the board. But if we recognize ourselves, at least we’ll be on the board, and that’s something.

* Contrary to popular belief, though, the social model doesn’t say there’s no such thing as true impairment, only that we don’t know what actually does constitute impairment if only a very narrow range of being is considered “okay.”

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29 Responses to “BADD 2010: The Total Erasure of Partial Disability”

  1. Lori Says:

    Very thought-provoking post.

    I always feel ashamed to admit that, at 32, I’ve only worked a full-time job for maybe 3 months, when I was right out of college. And, I absolutely hated it. I have panic disorder, and while I generally do a good job controlling it, having to spend 8 hours in the same room doing what somebody else tells me to do is a very hard situation for me.

    I ended up quitting and being a substitute teacher for the rest of that year, then I went to grad school, then I had a baby, then, when I was ready to look for a full-time job again, the economy tanked and none were available, and then after a few more years of part-time work I had another baby, so full-time work doesn’t seem to be in my foreseeable future. And even though I love working part-time, even though it’s what’s best for our family, and even though I am adamantly opposed to the idea that our worth is tied to either our income or our job, I still feel kind of guilty–or maybe irresponsible, or immature, or something–because I’ve never successfully had a full-time job, and truth be told I’m not sure I could. I am (kind of surprisingly to me!) an excellent homemaker and a good teacher and a pretty good mom, but I think that’s because, in all of those things, I’m the one in control of my time. I can flit from activity to activity when I’m doing things at home, I can design how the class will go when I’m teaching, I can do or not do things without needing to go to anybody for approval as I go about my day. I find it so much less stressful than full-time work, and less stress for me means less anxiety and less panic attacks and just generally better mental health.

    And yet, even though this is something that my husband and I have discussed and have decided is best for us–we’re willing to forgo some income so that our kids can have a parent home with them during the day (when I’m teaching a class, my husband stays home) and so that life is less stressful for both of us (less stressful for me because I don’t need to spend 8 hours a day locked into somebody else’s schedule, less stressful for my husband because he can come home from work and hang out with his family, rather than having to worry about the two of us getting housework done, since I can do it during the day)–I still feel like I’m not a “real” adult since I don’t have a full-time job, or that I’m somehow inadequately responsible or mature because I really don’t think I could handle full-time work very well.

    I’m still not sure how I feel about calling the inability to (happily or easily) work full-time a disability, though. I can see the reasoning there but, for example, while I find that my panic disorder makes working full-time difficult and I’m better suited for part-time work and being home with the kids, I have a friend who suffers from depression who finds it very difficult to be at home full-time and so has gone back to full-time teaching as soon as she could after each of her children were born, because being home triggers her depression. It seems to me maybe it’s more about having your choices at least partially determined by a physical/psychological condition, whatever those choices might be.

    I’m also not sure how I feel about fat as a disability. I think it probably depends on the case. For me, I don’t see my weight as a disability, simply because in terms of physical access I don’t have any issues. Now, it’s certainly possible that somebody might turn me down for a job because they don’t want to hire somebody fat, but they could also turn an African-American away from a job because they don’t want to hire somebody black. I’d not want to label being black as a disability, and so I think there’s probably a difference between being unable to do something because you physically (or mentally) can’t without some level of accommodation (which I’d consider a disability) and being unable to do something because people are denying you the opportunity based on a physical (or mental) characteristic even though you could do whatever you are being denied without any accommodations being needed (which I wouldn’t consider disability so much as living in a discriminatory world).

    And, wow, that was long and rambling. Sorry! I’ve been up all night (not the baby’s fault for once, but just my feeling kind of crappy) and am a bit loopy.

    • Meowser Says:

      I’m still not sure how I feel about calling the inability to (happily or easily) work full-time a disability, though.

      That’s why I said either work OR self-care skills OR both could be a source of impairment. Not all PWD have problems working full-time, either from the functionality or the access standpoint. And some have one kind of barrier and not the other.

      Also, I do think having a body that doesn’t “fit” the work equipment in question is a different deal from something like racism. They’re both irrational biases, sure, but the reasoning is different. Nobody can state that “the desk chairs we have don’t fit people of X race” or “we’d have to buy two airplane seats for employees of X race” and have it make sense even on the most cursory level of logic.

      • Lori Says:

        Also, I do think having a body that doesn’t “fit” the work equipment in question is a different deal from something like racism. They’re both irrational biases, sure, but the reasoning is different. Nobody can state that “the desk chairs we have don’t fit people of X race” or “we’d have to buy two airplane seats for employees of X race” and have it make sense even on the most cursory level of logic.

        I completely agree. But I also think that at times discrimination against fat people isn’t because their bodies don’t fit–they might be a person who can fit into the desk chairs just fine and fly in one seat–but because the person doing the hiring would just prefer not to have a fat person working for them, just like they might prefer not to have a black person or gay person or Muslim or whatever other person they might not want. In that case, it’s less that the fat person is being discriminated against because the employer doesn’t want to make reasonable accommodations, because none are needed, but because they have negative stereotypes associated with fat people that are influencing their decision. In that case I don’t think ability/disability is the issue, but stigma and prejudice.

      • living400lbs Says:

        I think part of the fat equation is how fat someone is. An inbetweenie might fit in the desk chairs fine and still be subject to discrimination. I, meanwhile, don’t always fit in chairs.

  2. Mary Says:

    Really well written. I’ve had so many people tell me I don’t need my wheelchair because they’ve seen me walk around my own front room, and trying to explain that I can walk the length of my house but that I can’t walk around the block is usually a losing battle.

  3. wriggles Says:

    I have to agree that one has to be very careful about loose definitions of things, such as defining something as a disability because it does comply with the norm, which is itself an absurd mythology, that no-one fits into. In fact often the difference is how people hide this.

    One of the telling things about fatness is it cannot be subject to this process, in part because of the depth of dysfunction of the supposed “cure”.

    If you look at the extent of hatred, fat hate is an example and the things liberated by it, no way do the majority of people just absorb “normal living”-in this case work-in the way you seem to assume.

    Defining terms to destruction is also an “ass-biter” in other ways, one of the reasons why it’s difficult for us to argue against the “addict” tag (and oh so many others thrown at us), is because of the same process going on with that term.

    But then I suppose I shouldn’t really be writing this 🙂

  4. maggiemunkee Says:

    wow, this really hits home. when i was in college the first time, ten years ago, i was living on campus and taking 15 credit hours a semester. i worked 10 hours a week dictating a text book into a tape recorder for the Students with Disabilities Center. i got good grades.

    enter: debilitating depression that i couldn’t handle, leaving that school, living life continuing with the depression and now added anxiety, trying to work and go to school, and all the other crazy life stuff that happens in your 20s.

    now i’m in my late 20s, STILL working on that same BA degree. for many semesters i worked part-time, school full-time, and i was just exhausted. then i did both part-time, watched my classmates do both school and work full-time PLUS have active social lives… and i thought there was something so very wrong with me.

    i couldn’t do it. still can’t, especially now since i’ve been diagnosed with lupus. my fatigue is immense. i know that i will eventually end this flare, and i will go into remission (i’m lucky enough to have health insurance and a fantastic medical team, both of which i am thankful for every day), but… this really hit home. i thought i was the only one who just couldn’t hack it.

    thank you for this, meowser.

    ps – sorry to write so damn much about myself. i still don’t know how to tell my backstory concisely. 😛

  5. Meowser Says:

    If you look at the extent of hatred, fat hate is an example and the things liberated by it, no way do the majority of people just absorb “normal living”-in this case work-in the way you seem to assume.

    I don’t assume that at all. See the link to my “working us to death” post, or my BADD post from last year for more about that. But people can still expect things from themselves and from other people despite their inability to actually pull it off.

    • wriggles Says:

      But people can still expect things from themselves and from other people despite their inability to actually pull it off.

      True, and that can in itself cause problems that might not otherwise present, perfectionism of expectation is an underrated toxin.

      I just think the “normals” are the minority and a lot of the people who seem like they’re coping better, are covering up and passing too.

  6. imfunny2 Says:

    I realized that I was ‘passing’ for able bodied since my work life began when I had to go on disability in 2004. I’m a dual eligible, i.e. I’d be a PWD whether I was fat or not. I’m both. Some of my impairments existed when I was thin, and exist now.
    When I first started blogging folks in the FA movement were uncomfortable with my place in their comment threads, because, I think, they didn’t want to see disability and fat coexisting. And in the disability community, they tended to scorn fat folk for many of the same reasons that the able do.
    It’s a tough road.

    • H.Renee Says:

      Yes. I agree with this entirely. I have two disabilities, one mental (Rapid Cycling Bipolar 1), one physical (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome), and I am fat. The medications I take for the mental disability increase my weight unless I’m dieting strictly. If I don’t diet just short of anorexia, I balloon, and nothing I do will force me to lose weight except dropping under 800 calories a day. The physical disability impedes mobility; so long as I’m careful I can continue to be mobile, but if I were to do too much (or exercise) I spend days unable to do anything while my weight balloons. So, yes, I am fat. I have also been told repeatedly that if I would just try harder I would be thin, so obviously I’m not trying enough.

      This is a lie.

      I struggle and try every day, and this is just enough to get me up and moving, to bathe, maybe enough to do dishes or clean a little, and to take my meds to keep my head on straight enough that I’m in the same reality as my fiance. Yes, I appear to get things done more than this… but the viewer can’t see how much is done entirely by my fiance or with his help, or worse while horribly manic while I destroy my joints.

      I have tried repeatedly to work; I make my coworkers nervous with the speed and severity of my swings and am exhausted and in pain to the point of being bed bound after three days in a row. I have been fired repeatedly, during which my employer tells me that they will gladly give me recommendations to where ever I apply.

      But, to the casual, cruel viewer, I’m just lazy. They see nothing wrong; I am missing no limbs and am not visible injured. I should just buck up, work more, exercise more, eat less, and I’ll be just fine. There’s nothing wrong with my head if I would just chill out and stop being a child. I just need to get myself together because this is all obviously self inflicted and just me wanting attention.

      I wish it were that simple.

  7. NTE Says:

    I think you raise a lot of interesting points, and that that this is going to be one of the posts that’s going to be rattling around in my brain for the next little while. In the meantime, I just wanted to comment on the part about not being able to “fit” into the work (or school) environment the way it currently set up… My disability was such that I had to structure naps and/or rest periods into my days, and (thankfully) most of my college schedule allowed me to do this as much as I could. But when it came time to student teach, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that such accommodations would NOT be considered. Eventually, and with no help from my college, I was able to work it out with the schools I was teaching in, using my prep and lunch periods for rest, finding a cot in the nurse’s office, etc. But had they not chosen to help me out (by letting me use my free time in a way that worked best for me), I would’ve been unable to complete my degree. So I can very much understand how differing from the norm, and not being able to pull all-nighters and then get up to go to class/work at 8 in the morning, puts you in an “other” category.

  8. Kate Says:

    I worked by butt off for all of my past employers. I never complained about my hours, never complained about my medicore pay. Then I got sick, really sick, I feel like I worked and dieted my way into an autoimmune disease and my company dumped me, not directly, just made working there so unpleasant that I eventually left. Even though I eventually started looking for a new job, I really don’t think I can handle one. My husband agrees with me, so I have no pressure to find a new job, but I feel guilty that I’m wasting my education.

  9. Astrid Says:

    Very interesting post. As a person with multiple disabilities who cannot work or live independently, I cannot relate, but I certainly find this thought-provoking. In fact, it reminds me of some ways in which I myself probably erase people with partial disabilities. Thanks for this.

  10. Real Acceptance « Fatties United! Says:

    […] those who enlarge their breasts (and everything else) naturally, that is, gainers?  If it’s wrong to reject fat people who are disabled, then isn’t is also wrong to reject people who love being fat so much that they choose to get […]

  11. Amananta Says:

    Thank you. Thank you so much.
    I never know what to say to those “I’m fat and I do XYZ” posts. I’m fat, not “super fat”, just under the “morbidly obese” line by the silly BMI chart (I used to be over it, it didn’t make much of a difference I could ever tell) and no I couldn’t do all of that – nor could I when I was in the merely “overweight” category. I have chronic mental and physical illness. I *can* work 40 hours a week, it just leaves me 2-3 times as exhausted as my coworkers, who don’t get why I”m dragging myself through every day, and then of course blame my weight, not the metabolic problems I”m having, the chronic pain I’m fighting, nor the mental processes I have to hide because letting the stress they are causing me show is socially unacceptable. When you spend two hours a day talking yourself out of suicide, and an extra 2 or 3 in bed because the pain medication you had to take had knocked you out, going to the gym to get toned and getting the house spotless and putting in extra hours at work become impossible. But since the only thing about any of this that is visible is my weight, of course it becomes “she’s fat and lazy”. Because, well, I *did* show up to work every day for a few months (while my condition was in temporary remission) so it can’t really be that I’m not able to now, can it?
    Then you try to explain and get diet/new age health advice.
    I don’t think my fat is a disability, not now nor when I was 55 pounds heavier. There’s never been anything I haven’t been able to do simply because I was fat. There are, however, things I’ve been unable or limited from doing because I’m sick in other ways, and successfully becoming a trim, fit person (or making a serious attempt at it) is one of them. (I lost the 55 pounds from a combination of being sick and the medication I’m on, not from “healthy lifestyle changes” or any such thing, I already eat a healthy enough diet). But the fat gets blamed, always.

  12. JennyRose Says:

    My partner has a serious physical disability that can be rather obvious. Sometimes obvious is a good thing because it is more “believable.” For some reason, due to the type of disability I guess, my partner is treated like he is stupid. He was passed over for many jobs because his disability made him “less than” in the eyes of potential employers. Fortunately he was eventually hired and has been given the ability to shine and has been quite successful in his career. These harmful misperceptions can have consequences that range from merely hurtful and annoying to career destroying.

    Still, when we are out together, some people address me rather than him. He doesn’t like being treated like he is unable to speak for himself or has such a low IQ that he cannot take care of himself.

    You said,

    “We can work, after a fashion, but no 70 or 80 hour work weeks for us, no pulling all-nighters to write our papers (or partying all night long) and then going to work the next morning for us, no being on our feet all day every day for us, no having jobs where people scream and yell at us all day for us, no simultaneously saving the world and raising our kids on 3 hours of sleep a night for us.”

    This is true for many people with disabilities but not all. Some wish to be treated like everyone else once they have been reasonably accommodated. BTW the average reasonable accommodation cost is less than $1,000! The cost of hiring a person with a disability is just not that great as it is sometimes made out to be. People with such issues as diverse as dyslexia, loss of hearing and loss of vision can go on to such demanding programs as bus and law school. My partner cannot drive and does have limitations but but he is not limited in every aspect of his career or personal life. He wants the opportunity to compete on a fair playing field. That of course requires a reasonable accommodation for his disability as well as the eradication of the misperception that he is somehow less competent, less intelligent and just plain less than.

    I agree with everything you say and need to reiterate that people still make judgments of people with disabilities that are wrong and just plain absurd.

    • meowser Says:

      JennyRose, I edited your post to put quotation marks around the part of it where you were quoting me. Hope that’s okay.

      And I did say “many of us,” not “all” or even “most.” I don’t think what I’m describing is universal for PWD at all, it’s just a very common problem that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

      • JennyRose Says:

        Very true. Maybe I am not clear on the concept of disability. I understand that are degrees of impairment and a variety of accomodations but to me partial just seems to be a degree. You should have the same right to respect and accomodation as my partner or anyone else.

        I think one issue you may encounter is that a less blatantly obvious disability is treated with disbelief by many. You are just not trying hard enough and need a handy excuse (not that I beleive that of course) is often the perception which is yet another hurdle in your way. Of course, people with “real disabilities” are sometimes accused of faking it or taking advantage as well.

  13. JennyRose Says:

    1 more comment @NTE who said; . “Eventually, and with no help from my college, I was able to work it out with the schools I was teaching in, using my prep and lunch periods for rest, finding a cot in the nurse’s office, etc. But had they not chosen to help me out (by letting me use my free time in a way that worked best for me), I would’ve been unable to complete my degree.”

    They weren’t helping you or doing you a favor, they were complying with the Americans with Disability Act and acting like decent people. It sounds like your college violated the law as well as various laws regarding equal access to education.
    Of course this only applies if you are in the states. I do not know the laws of other countries.

  14. Janie Says:

    Any business – profit or nonprofit – is in the business of making money, meeting a budget. My inability of meeting that budget – ie: input equals result – makes me a liability. Nice for those of you who have husbands to pay the bills and who can choose not to work. Not so nice for me and other single women who have to make a living and who struggle. Don’t qualify for disability. Can’t afford to not work. It sucks.

  15. Elizabeth McClung Says:

    As an anorexic of 13 years I completely agree. Studies on those who hire show the vast majority would give equally qualified applicants the job to the ‘not fat one’ – on the basis they are lazy. My friend clued me into the ‘fat guy as villian, fat person as sloppy, fat person as lazy, etc’ on media where they (usually along with the gays) are the first to be wiped out, killed, or the stupid evil sidekick.

    I passed for my adult life as AB, because I knew what happened if I didn’t and if that took 3 jobs or 4 then that is what it took. Ironically, even now, I do not rest, I work, I work, I work. I have to prove to the voice in my head that I am not one of those ‘bad’ disabled, the lazy ones. Thanks for writing this, it brings a lot of truths out.

  16. monica Says:

    Thank you for this, for bringing to attention the idea of “partial disability.” I’m in the refractory major depression camp, coming out of MDE #2 at age 21, trying to figure out What I’m Doing With My Life. Because I know that to keep this beast in check there are some boundaries I need to set, and they often end up framed as concessions to the illness from the ability to work ridiculous hours on ridiculously little sleep that most people are supposed to have. It helps to have a cognitive framework for “these are the little concessions I make in order to keep from having to make the big concessions to the beast” — I’m partially disabled. I’m partially disabled, and I act a little bit disabled to keep myself from getting a lot disabled.

  17. Kristie Says:

    I’m not sure if I qualify as partially disabled, but it sure does feel like it. I have chronic orthopedic problems and chronic pain resulting from them. Their genesis is not known to me, but I do know that they are often triggered or exacerbated by the fact that I have a desk job. My work hasn’t had to make accommodations for me for the most part, but they’ve supported those ergonomic changes I’ve determined for myself. Some days, though, I just can’t sit in any kind of chair for 8 hours, and I have to call in sick, or take time to go to doctors/chiropractors/PT. Sometimes, it just makes me crabby and depressed and not very good with people; chronic pain does that to you. If you didn’t know, just looking at me, you would never guess that I have not seen a completely pain-free day in at least 4 years. I can’t remember how long ago it was that I had such a day, honestly. Because my work is largely intellectual and my deadlines not very strict, I get by, but I do worry that one day, my mousing arm and shoulder will finally give up the ghost, my back will finally refuse being sedentary all day, and I will have to give up my good paying job with benefits due to what amounts to a disability wherein that same job was absolutely a contributing factor. As we grow older, a lot of people at my work are having these problems, but I know that there are people at my company who think all of my orthopedic issues are a result of my weight; they aren’t, actually. I’ve had them for a decade within an 80-lb. weight range. My weight isn’t a disability to me, but people’s perceptions of it certainly can be.

  18. notemily Says:

    Thank you for writing this. You have just described my life.

    Right now I’m trying to find a full-time job because I’m in my mid-20s and my parents have been helping me with my income, but they’re not willing to do that anymore because I’m no longer in school (mostly due to my partial disabilities: depression, anxiety, and ADD). I work part-time, so I do make some money, but not enough. My health insurance is absurdly expensive but it’s not an option for me, I have to take it. So I’m trying to find a full-time job, because that’s basically the only way you can get reliable health insurance (that covers mental health services) in this country. But I’m terrified that I won’t be able to keep a full-time job because it will just be too much. I love working part-time. I cherish my free time like it’s gold. I’m worried a full-time job will wipe out all my energy, since I’m already tired much of the time, and I won’t have anything left over for the things I love to do.

    I wrote a little more about it here.

  19. Amanda Says:

    Part of this reminds me of something that happened to me in my late teens. I wrote a post about it awhile back. But the part I am thinking of was this:

    I was trying to go to college. I was rarely even making it to class. I felt horrible sensations in my back: nerve pain shooting up or down it starting at one point in the middle. It got to bad that I would end up on the floor, writhing, moaning, screaming, and crying every day for long periods, and could spend hours twisting myself into the most comfortable position possible.

    And. I didn’t know that I was in pain. I believed I was experiencing a psychiatric (I had been warned about “what happens to people like you who go off their meds” and thought maybe this was it) or spiritual problem, and tried to make it stop mostly by willpower and prayer. The fact that I was intermittently suicidal (because of the pain) didn’t help that assessment.

    I’d only once tried to mention all this to a doctor. He told me to bend over. I bent so far that he told me I was way too flexible to have back pain. Never mind that I am hypermobile, which means incredibly flexible, which can cause back pain.

    I never realized it was pain until years later when it recurred. I found myself twisted into weird positions on the floor, could barely drag myself out of bed, and went “Holy crap and I really tried going to college with pain this bad?!?!” And then I got extremely angry at the people who had steered me into believing that this incapacitation was “for no medical reason”. I mean… my mind was so messed up that I could writhe on the floor screaming and not be able to stop and not know it was pain. That’s astounding even with the fact that I am highly disconnected from my body.

  20. greyships Says:

    Thank you for this. I don’t have any difficulty working, but I do make hiring decisions and am in a supervisory position, and this is a good reminder to provide reasonable accommodations if people on my staff let me know they’re having issues.

    One of my staff members has arthritis and sometimes has rough days. She’s able to make up her work on days when she feels better, and that works quite well. We have a flexible workplace where not everything has to be done on a five-day-a-week, eight-hour-day schedule. I’d like to see more offices like this. Many workplaces can accommodate things like this if they think about it a bit.

  21. Ang Says:

    Thanks so much for highlighting the issue of partial disability. I have a chronic condition which fluctuates like crazy and means that, though I have skills, I’m never going to be a 9-to-5er. Nobody would employ me. So I freelance from home, and I’m on a scheme that gives me the safety net of disability benefits while earning a little.

    My ambition is to get a commission so big that I can afford to go off benefits altogether, both out of professional ambition and because I’m acutely aware that people who are bigoted about disability, and think the benefits system is a bad idea that merely encourages spongers, will look at that scheme and go, ‘Oi! Those people are getting the best of both worlds! Sponging off decent taxpayers like me!’

    Yet it’s vital, because it’s letting me put something on my CV for the first time ever, and thus putting me in a position where, if my condition improved enough or our family finances got to the point where I didn’t need benefits to pay the bills, I could actually wave that CV at potential employers.

    But the mainstream doesn’t think in those terms, and partial disability faces an appalling lack of understanding. You get damned for both the stuff you can manage to do, and the stuff you can’t, especially if those definitions can change on a daily or hourly basis.

    And yes, getting partially disabled people to self-identify is paramount. I know someone with various chronic conditions who has had to make complaints at work on the grounds of disability discrimination, but she doesn’t like to use the word ‘disabled’ about herself.

    And it’s her right to self-identify as she chooses, but I do think that her reasons for finding the term ‘disabled’ problematic include all the societal bias and internalized ableism that go along with it. Our society makes it so that calling yourself disabled is like saying, ‘I’m over. I’ll never do X/Y/Z [again/at all]. I don’t have value. I’m a sponger.’

    There are a lot of people like her, and like, and like you, whose difficulties within society are largely invisible to that society for precisely that reason: that society cannot get past its own limiting definitions or see how often, and in how many ways, the able life and the disabled life actually overlap.

  22. meowser Says:

    Sorry for the lag in approving comments, folks. I’ve been kind of distracted lately.


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