Musings on Stigma and Ableism 

I once had a friend who preferred going in and out of mental health hospitals to actually taking mental health medicine. When we confronted her about it, she felt that the medicine was “stupid” and would still not take it. I suspect, however, that there was something else at work in her brain. It somehow reminds me of country star Mindy McCready, who eventually committed suicide after learning she had been living with a mental illness. I myself am not immune to this type of thinking. I have had trouble with concealing my autism as well as revealing it. This kind of tension should not be. I mean, it’s a choice between “You’re a Weirdo and We Don’t Like You” or “You Poor Unfortunate Soul! We Still Don’t Like You!” So what am I supposed to do? I confront stigma and ableism on a daily basis.

When “The Accountant” came out with its cold-blooded killer “autistic savant,” I confronted stigma. When I see people deciding not to vaccinate their children because they don’t want said children to be like me, I feel stigma. When I was told “You suffer from nothing” by a (former) friend, I confront stigma. While I mostly act neurotypical, when I don’t, I am told either explicitly or implicitly that I “know better” and I ABSOLUTELY MUST ACT NEUROTYPICAL for the sake of other neurotypicals. I am never allowed to be my autistic self, unless I am completely alone or with only my mother. It is a vicious cycle. It seems that without my mother or the internet, I would be completely alone with nobody to understand me or my condition. I am considering moving to a low-income area near a center focusing specifically on autistics after my mother passes on, to be honest.

Don’t even get me started on the ableism I got from my sisters. For example, if I did any stimming at all, I was yelled at to stop. I was often told to sit down and shut up. They mocked me for sitting on my hands to stop the stimming; but that was the only way. Of course, after my sisters unceremoniously sent me back to my mother after telling her I was a horrible person, I had to pay back Social Security thousands of dollars due to their handling of all my money. Of course, they will deny all this. Anyway, abuse is a common effect of ableism and stigma.

Let me explain why I put ableism and stigma together. They work together. Stigma about having something wrong with you feeds discrimination for the  able bodied and able minded. The neglect of people to, say, allow an access for a wheelchair-bound person feeds the inability for that person to be there, even if they are the person of honor at the event! Hopefully, my mother won’t need to speak at church; she can’t even get up on the stage. Oh, and another thing about stage access: If you see my disability as an “acting challenge” that you can put on as if it were simply a costume, you are wrong. Can you draw on being disabled yourself, “Rain Man” actor Dustin Hoffman? DO you know what it’s like to live with the pity, “Ray” actor Jamie Foxx? Can you handle constantly being told your kind is a scourge to be eradicated, Daniel Day-Lewis? No, because nobody ever asked us what it was really like to be us! In Hollywood, we disabled are a forgotten bunch of sideshow freaks cordoned off from the main attraction, hid in the back to be feared and pitied at the same time. We are too scary to be on TV, unless you treat our disability as a costume. I hope someday your disabled performances are as offensive to us disabled as blackface is. I digress; my point is, ableism and stigma are connected; they’re practically siblings.

What can we do with my friend who used to cycle in and out of mental hospitals due to the stigma of taking care of your mental health? Self-care is not a glamorous spa experience. How can we say “There is nothing wrong with taking your medicine,” when we as a society mock and ostracize people who take medicine? How can we say “We want you at our protest/ceremony/place of worship” when they can’t get either in the door or on the stage? How can we, and this is a personal one, say we are supporting autistic people when we will not take a measure or two to prevent sensory overload or meltdown? Society, we need to change. We need to not view disability or mental illness as a moral weakness or failure. (This viewpoint dates back to Biblical times, as does Jesus’ response: John 9) I hope we can before the disabled do what other marginalized groups are doing: resorting to their most frightening stereotypes.

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