Special Needs

Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. ~ Wikipedia

I made the mistake of reading comments on an Instagram post in favor of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They were mostly positive. But, there was one naysayer who stood out for his initial lack of vitriol. He was just mildly snarky. But, it was like he had committed some heinous sin, instead of posting a disagreement rooted in ignorance.

He was immediately under attack. Mostly the responses remained as snarky comebacks. However, one of them made me cringe.

It sounds like your boss is good at hiring people with special needs.

I couldn’t scroll past without addressing it.

Back in the day, the insult used was, “retard,” frequently accompanied by a physically mocking action. Much like 45’s mocking actions regarding a reporter who experiences a physical disability.

Another one is, “riding the short bus.”

However you frame it, it’s showing a prejudice toward people with disabilities, especially intellectual ones.

How about how mental health challenges are referred to?

What are you, crazy?

Man, that was INSANE!

She’s so bipolar.

That one’s not right in the head.

Or the fact that so many movies and TV shows portray mental health patients as dangerous killers and all the shootings being reported as someone with mental illness, before an evaluation can be done?

The stigma and prejudices against people with physical, developmental, and mental disabilities is real and insidious. Just as we need to recognize, call out, and address racism, in all its forms, sexism, genderism, and sizism, we need to call out ableism.

It isn’t about political correctness, it’s about human rights.

For more on my perspective on ableism, go here.

What’s your damage?

I don’t feel like writing today.

That is a major clue that I’m heading back into a deeper part of my depression cycle. I’ve been cranky, irritable and not sleeping well. My pain tolerance has diminished and the only time I’m even close to comfortable or pain free is if I’m in a prone position, knees and head supported by pillows.

These are the times when the self-disgust rise and voices from the past taunt me again. The voices from my childhood that called out in sing-song ridicule at the local pool, “Fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t fit through the kitchen door!” followed by gales of boyish laughter. The duet of my middle school crush and his mean girl friend serenading me with the Jell-O theme, “watch that wiggle, see that jiggle,” followed by their laughter as I rushed to the nearest bathroom to hide the tears.

Memories that I wish would stay as inaccessible as the fading memories of my children as babies replay themselves. Lunchtime at a new school in the urban ghetto of Houston in 1980, trying to find a place to eat. Shunned and turned away by the Hispanic girls for being too white, but not accepted by any other group either. Having my given name distorted and being called lesbian at another new school just because it sounded like my name.

My God, I am 43 years old. these things happened when I was 8 – 13 years old. Why do these things still hold such power over me? I feel ridiculous, ashamed of myself.

I realized a long time ago that some of what I went through was racial, although I’ve never felt or considered myself as anything other than, “white.” Growing up without any cultural connections to half of who I am has had significantly more impact than I ever realized or understood. Intellectually I knew I was half Mexican, but in my minds eye I was just a darker shade of white who tanned easily.

I came to believe all the teasing and taunting that told me I was fat. I wasn’t fat, I was half-Mexican and had a different physical structure than the other girls. They didn’t understand that and I didn’t understand it, either. So, I bought the lie. It became a foundational part of my self identity. It became my self-fulfilling prophecy, and now I really am fat. To the point that it makes all the physical pain worse.

Over the past few years I have also learned some of the stories about things some of my peers and tormentors were going through. It surprised me to discover that their picture perfect lives were filled with trauma and drama as bad and sometimes worse than what I had been going through.

I know there came a point where I couldn’t take anymore and I would strike back or presumptively lash out. I became physically violent toward those who would verbally abuse me. As I got older I learned how to become a verbal warrior and cut people down with my intellect and language skills. I guess in self-defense, I turned into a bully. The unfortunate thing was I took it out on those who had never done me harm.

I’ve really tried to move beyond all of this. I don’t want to keep letting my past constrain my present and define my future. I’ve forgiven my tormentors, at least I’ve tried to let go of the resentment and bitterness from what happened. It seems as though I’m stuck, though and am not able to pull myself out. I think I’m getting unstuck, bit by bit.

Yesterday I read this post on The Maniac’s Path. It highlights one young lady’s courage in confronting her bullies and society at large in how we treat those who are different and attack them for going through the things they don’t choose for themselves.

In the post there is a link to a half hour special broadcast that talks about her story, however it also highlights what one school and its students are doing to combat bullying by making inclusion the focus and priority. It gives me hope for what Luna may encounter as she grows up and enters the social shark tank that is the school system.

Gratitude Day 18
I am grateful that there are people who understand that changing the social structure that bullying has grown and thrived in isn’t about shaming or ostracizing those who bully, but is about finding ways to honor and include everyone in on the conversation. We can’t tolerate bullying behavior and attitudes. However, it is important to realize that those who bully are often wounded and damaged people trying to protect themselves from additional pain.