Mighty Articles

When I'm not drawing comics about chronic illnesses, I'm still writing about them. I've got a few pieces published on The Mighty, an online publication that features stories by patients and caregivers. Below, you'll find one that's actually not on The Mighty, but which I believe is very important. Click the "Read More" button if you want to see some of the others.

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Why We Should Be Proud of Disabilities, Too

I live in a culture—and maybe you do, too—that has, in the past, applauded a very narrow notion of the “ideal human”—someone who is thin, white, preferably male… But this culture has taken a positive turn in recent years, abandoning the notion of the “ideal human” and encouraging people to be proud of their differences—their background, their gender, their beliefs, their skin color—the list goes on.

 

But there are two things that, as of yet, have not been added to that list.


Health and physical ability. 


There’s been a big push in recent months to get past the stigmas surrounding chronic illnesses, disabilities, and mental illnesses. It’s important for the world to recognize that chronically ill, disabled, and mentally ill individuals are whole and complete people, just as they are.


But it’s very hard to convince the outside world that you are whole and complete, just as you are, when you are not actually allowed to view yourself as whole and complete.


It’s hard to reduce the stigmas surrounding your conditions when you are not allowed to be proud of the ill or disabled part of you.


You may think it’s odd that someone would want to be proud of a chronic illness, mental illness, or disability. These are things that negatively impact a person’s life, right? So why on earth would someone want to be proud of a thing that makes life more difficult?


For the same reason somebody wants to be proud that they’re a woman.


Statistically speaking, being a woman is more difficult than being a man. Women are paid less, are more likely to be sexually assaulted, and are often treated worse in a medical setting than their male counterparts. Being a woman is not easy. It is not pleasant or safe—and yet women everywhere are proud to be women. 


Why on earth would they want to be proud of a thing that makes life more difficult?


For the same reason people of color are proud of their skin.


Statistically speaking, being a person of color is more difficult than being white. People of color are paid less, are more likely to be victims of a violent crime, and are often treated worse in a medical setting than their white counterparts. Being a person of color is not easy. It is not pleasant or safe—and yet people of color everywhere are proud to be people of color.


Why on earth would they want to be proud of a thing that makes life more difficult?


For the same reason people are proud of any part of themselves—


Because it is an integral part of who they are.


Our culture has realized that it’s important for people to celebrate their differences, rather than viewing them as things to be ashamed of—we have realized that it is important for people to be proud of their gender, their race, their religion, their size—even though these things still make people a target for discrimination and abuse. We encourage them to be proud anyway. 


But why is disability any different?


Disabilities, chronic illnesses, and mental illnesses were misunderstood for centuries—and they continue to be misunderstood today. Sure, we’ve come farther than our ancient counterparts, and we generally don’t believe that those with disabilities or mental illnesses are possessed, nor do we stuff people in asylums when we can’t figure out why they’re having all these symptoms—but we still tell people they’re sick because they didn’t “believe hard enough.” We still avoid people we don’t understand. We still wonder if maybe it’s a little bit contagious. 


We still view disabilities, chronic illnesses, and mental illnesses as the worst things that could happen to a person. We still view a wheelchair as something people are “bound to.” We still view antidepressants as “giving up.” We still view those who are fatigued and in pain as sad, pitiful people, best viewed from a distance.


My culture throws these accusations at me every moment of every day—oh, poor Vanessa, suffering so much. Oh, poor Vanessa, if only she could find a treatment that would cure her. Oh, poor Vanessa, if only she had more faith—if only she tried this remedy—if only she were not broken—if only if only if only.


Stop.


Listen.


I am ill. I am disabled.


And I am proud.


I am proud to be ill. I am proud to be disabled. I am proud to be part of a community of strong people. I am proud to have a platform that allows me to raise awareness and fight for a change in how people perceive illnesses and disabilities. I am in pain, yes—but pain has made me fierce. I am exhausted, yes—but exhaustion has made me persistent. I have been through tests and appointments and been discarded and discredited, yes—but it has made me brave and resilient and strong.


You do not pity a woman for being female. You do not pity a man for being black. But why? Because life is easy for them? Because everything is perfect all the time?


No—because you know that gender and race are a part of a whole, and that this part does not detract from the entire picture—it makes it unique and adds to its beauty.


We cannot remove the stigmas surrounding chronic illnesses, mental illnesses, and disabilities until we have taught the world to stop pitying chronically ill, mentally ill, and disabled individuals—until they understand that this part does not detract from the whole, but instead makes it more beautiful.


We cannot remove these stigmas until we shake off their pity and allow ourselves to be proud of what hurts.


And we cannot change how they perceive us until we change how we perceive ourselves.


We need to recognize that being chronically ill, mentally ill, or disabled is hard. We need to recognize that we struggle. But alongside those struggles, we need to recognize—and celebrate!—the good that has grown out of them. We need to acknowledge our strength, our perseverance, our resilience, our tenacity, our grace, our compassion, our empathy, our understanding, our generosity—and on and on and on. We desperately need to be proud of these things—these beautiful parts of ourselves. 


Only when we have learned to be proud of who we are will other people learn to be proud of us. 


Only when we embrace ourselves as whole and complete people—as we are, with or without a cure—only then will we be able to drive away the stigmas that surround us.


We are allowed to be proud of the things that make life more difficult.


We are allowed to be proud of the things that make us more beautiful.

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For more articles about my experiences with chronic illness, the need for greater awareness, and questionable things people have said to me, click below. 

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