Honestly, I’ve not given all that much thought to internalized ableism. I’ve read about it, yes. I’ve even written a little bit about it, but it has never topped my list of “things I need to personally work on.”
It has, rather abruptly, come to my attention that I have internalized way more untrue awfulness about myself than I’d previously realized.
This realization has been a long time coming, really. The beginnings of really realizing, though, happened last week. Wednesday, to be specific, while I was talking with my therapist.
My therapist is a fucking hoot, y’all. They are just super cool and listen and have asked good questions about being Autistic and my experiences in the world. They haven’t really worked much with Autistic people in the past, it’s not their “specialty” or anything so it’s been kind of like having a blank canvas to point towards good resources and such.
And the visits have actually been helpful so far. I was skeptical about it at first, but talking through some of the recent things in my life has been good.
So, back to last Wednesday. I happened to mention in passing, right near the very end of my appointment, that I felt horrifically guilty for something or other.
Therapist, staring at me, “Why would you feel guilty about that? You didn’t even choose that!”
Me: “Um, why wouldn’t I? I feel guilty about a whole lot of things!”
Therapist: “It isn’t great to feel guilty about everything. You need to work on this. Write stuff down for next time!”
And then we ran out of time.
At least two days and several meltdowns later, I realized that it’s not so much specific things I feel guilty about. I feel guilty about pretty much my entire existence. I am hella ableist towards myself almost all the time. Which is stunning to me because I didn’t even know I was disabled until I was well into adulthood and even with all the reading I’ve done, I didn’t really think that I had all that much internalized ableism.
So what gives? How on earth did I internalize all this stuff, all this ableism, when I didn’t even know??? Why didn’t I notice once I started getting more involved in disability issues?
There are a lot of reasons, but I think the most general reason is that I was treated poorly by others before I had the Autistic label. Lilo, a cool person I follow on twitter (you should check their twitter out too!) pointed out several things recently that were said in a thread about Autistic adults and preferred terminology (Autistic person vs person with autism).
These were awful things and I deeply, deeply related to the feeling of each mentioned, as well as other similar twitter threads these last few days unpacking more ableism directed towards Autistic adults by allistics (non-autistics) in the “autism community.”
I realized, in reading those twitter threads, that I show utter ableism towards myself. Seeing myself as broken, diseased, worthless… somehow I got these ideas and they became the normal way I talk to myself about myself.
These things are deeply embedded in my self-talk and in my self-perception too.
When everyone in your life eventually treats you like you’re toxic once they get to know you much at all, it becomes really easy to start believing that you are.
It’s harder to believe that I was misunderstood or that my intentions, ill-fated as they sometimes are, were at least good on the surface. I almost never remember that sometimes I react unexpectedly enough to situations that it throws other people off and it’s not my toxicity, but simply that people need time to even begin parsing out what the fuck happened because none of my reaction made sense outside of my own head.
In the past I’ve sort of automatically called on my friends to reaffirm my self-worth, but that’s not okay. That’s not a substitute and that’s not fair for them to be expected to cover for my feelings of worthlessness.
They don’t always have the energy or spoons for reassurances. We are all disabled and lack words on a fairly regular basis! Unless I can manage to somehow make a friend who’s much more neurotypical than my usual crowd then I need to buck up and figure out why I hate myself so much, so often, and begin to work on liking myself.
I should not feel guilty for existing. I am worth something even if I don’t do anything right. I am worth something just because I’m human and I don’t need anyone to tell me that I’m worth something in order to be worthy!
Also, it’s okay for me to make mistakes. Making mistakes does not reflect on my inherent value and the true test is how I respond to those mistakes and try to make them right and do better in the future.