Healing From Internalized Ablism

I start my morning in a dimly lit room at a temperature of over a hundred degrees.

On purpose I should say.

My cousin and I have been meeting for workout play dates once a month with the kids in our care.

They dance while we sweat, as this morning began.

The first time I came I agreed to do back to back ninety minute classes.

The time after that again.

The third time only one, but at a similar intensity.

Eight months later I can make accommodations for myself, accepting on a conscious level that my injury is real.

Real in the loss of movement in four toes.

Real in the calcified scar tissue restricting flexibility.

Real in the neuropathy that produces a light tingling when muscles are engaged, and then sharper ones.

The shaking leads to a loss of balance, greater difficulty calibrating so I don’t over do it.

The injury joins the carpal tunnel, the overactive thyroid, the too low blood pressure that means frequent fainting, all things you remember in dimly lit exercise classes.

The journey to be open to diverting from the instructor has been a long one, and until today I hadn’t received that area of growth in myself.

I put my phone down while I’m typing because I’ve now lost feeling in my hand. Carpal tunnel.

The reduction in my physical health extends to these unimpressive examples. To the things you do a couple dozen times a day.

When I can’t sleep with my arms bent.

When I have to pause taking notes several times.

As I count eighteen bruises on my legs currently from run ins with counters and surfaces I don’t remember rousing my attention until now.

When the migraine immediately follows too loud or too bright.

When the headaches preempt sadness and anger in reaction to a trigger.

I gaze casually at my tattoo locations, and I validate the concentration of harm that has targeted my ankles and wrists.

The force that can be put into how one’s body is controlled or invaded, and how those sites of injury seem to hover rather than distill.

Self harm mimics the patterns we’ve lived through long before we acknowledge patterns.

In how we talk to ourselves.

In how we like others to address us.

In how we are attracted to people who celebrate our productivity.

The ones who will play chicken with our flogging, praising our discipline.

In what feels like motivation, but sounds like a bully in our heads and within our circles.

They warned me that periods of depression are common following a surgery, but they didn’t find my whole history relevant to explore.

What it means to have adrenaline course through your nervous system while immobilized in a cast that restricts your mobility.

How you approach sleeping when you haven’t been able to run for the 112th day in a row.

How triggering for a survivor to have to involve another body in their escape planning.

How changes to your body’s aesthetic might appropriately be called a scar, and not mean the same thing to you.

Might be as big as my reaction, even when suppressed.

The recovery speak that we use to minimize the significance of what we’re experiencing,

cradling nostalgia

ignoring new limits

avoiding the burden of self advocacy

engaging in passing behaviors

pushing past pain because beyond here is another normal

an old normal

one where these limits were overcome

and these toxic stressors our over sensitivity.

Where the labor we use to be and work and overcome isn’t finite, and where the magic trick of running on empty can happen daily at least.

It’s as mean as it sounds.

It’s as fantastical as it is ableist.

A form of shame that is a preference for perfect performance from our bodies.

No aging, no difference in ability,

nothing that runs us down or shuts us off.

Nothing sinister in pushing bodies to their breaking points, and then withholding our forgiveness for the ways they’ve failed us.

What it doesn’t sound like to us right away is ableism, but it should.

Where else did we learn to resent bodies?

From what else did we learn that trauma is insignificant?

How is it that the spoken ideas of our minds sound so similar to the beliefs of our culture?

I pause again and turn on my side as a draft like wave of energy moves from my toes to my elbows, raising the temperature of my skin.

I need to close my eyes, unable to multitask before it subsides.

This falls into the family of body memories, happening twelve to thirty times a day typically.

Not that different than a chill running through you, because in a way one is.

I was introduced to the phrase supersurvivor

by brilliant author Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in their gorgeous book “Care Work, Dreaming Disability Justice”.

They write,

“Some facts about me. I am a supersurvivor. For some of you that phrase will be enough, but in case it’s not, let me spell it out: I’ve had horrible things done to my body and mind, sexually and emotionally, as a very young child and preteen, a teenager and an adult. I am an empath. I am neurodivergent, and I see things in pictures and feelings long before the words come. I can read pain face and trauma face on other people from a million feet away..I am the best smoke detector. I am a first responder. I have been praised for it all my life. And I have internalized that it is my job and my worth, the thing I am skilled at doing, the thing that was my value when I was not seen as pretty or worthy of protection.”

In one of the best accounts I’ve ever read, survivorship and complex PTSD are conceptualized within Disability Justice, and language is put to these dog whistle moments — the ones so benign to your day that you never discuss them, or only as short hand, or the one that is not your lived experience.

In both cases the internalization is the same — being able, whatever that means situationally, is how you survive. How you thrive and move beyond. More than how, what. The thing that healing is supposedly — moving towards ability.

This refrain weighs on my inner psyche, my fear of dependency at odds with my fear of not moving beyond, the conversation sounding like anything but body love, or trauma sensitivity.

So I return to this morning on the mat, hearing no refrain in my head, tuning easily out the instructor, and repeatedly entering my body.

Noting the music choice, your healing can’t be rushed against Leah’s caution and disclosure, “healing is dangerous work.”

Dangerous because it sounds like everyone but you for too much of your effort.

Unrushed because your body is the container.

Justice work because the injustice principles are learned, baked into your survival strategies, bred in your mind’s eye and your childhood gaze.

Disability work because bodies have limits, and trauma shapes them and shrinks them to an extent we can’t ignore or diminish.

Care work, because the support surrounding your container helps you internalize alternates.

Slower ones.

Quirkier ones.

The sounds of silence that to your body feel like breathing in more peace and time.

Time that can be stewarded for our healing.

From our internalized truths, and each one we’ve only lived through.

Sometimes again and again and again.