Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Disability is Not Your Excuse and Holding Each Other Responsible

There is a strong push these days for self-care, removing toxic people from your life, knowing when enough is enough, that there is such a thing as TOO nice, etc... and obviously, these are all super important things that we should all keep in mind, because your own health and safety do take priority over other peoples in your life. But I found this blog post on Tumblr yesterday which resonated with me on some levels, though I suffer from an invisible disability, so I guess I'm lucky to not have strangers coming up and telling me they're 'praying for me' and things of that sort. People with mental illness are vulnerable to abuse in a lot of ways that many are not, however, because it takes even less of a push to paint them as 'unstable' and 'crazy'. Like, obviously, we already KNOW they are, cause weird stuff goes on in their head that you can't understand, right?

The part that I felt was the most poignant from the post is this (bold emphasis mine):
I am telling you now because I want you to stop telling girls and women with disabilities that we’re broken, that we need prayers, that we’re burdens, that it’s okay if someone hurts us because “they’re probably just stressed” from having to “deal” with us, or that we’re pretty “for a girl in a wheelchair.”

I am telling you now because I want you to start telling girls and women with disabilities that we’re beautiful, that we’re wanted, that we’re worthy of love, that you recognize us as sexual beings, that we’re capable, and that no one should ever hurt us no matter what.
 On the one hand, we do need to take care of ourselves before we take care of others. This is a healthy attitude for anyone to have, and one I'm still learning for myself sometimes. But predators, abusers, manipulators, and anyone else who is unable to empathise properly turns this into an excuse, into something to absolve them of responsibility for their actions, to avoid any consequences.

I left my husband because I had to, for my health. I'm still realising even now the extent of just how fucked up things were between us, but he is still a person and I still care for him. Not once did I forget how my actions would affect BOTH of us, how I worried about his ability to function on his own, or if the separation would tailspin him further into depression and isolation (all things my therapist has reminded me are Not My Problem). I probably tend to be an over-empathiser, so yeah, all those admonitions of self-care and 'your health first' are basically made for me, but I don't think normal, feeling people ever truly forget that our actions have consequences on others, for better or worse.

And even if you accept that someone has to hurt someone else for legitimate reasons, there's a big difference between peripheral hurt and directly causing someone hurt. Most of us would not directly cause someone hurt if we could at all avoid it, or we'd find ways to protect ourselves while minimising the damage to the other if it truly came to that. It feels pretty shit making someone else feel shit, intentionally or not... at least, if you have a functional sense of empathy.

Obviously, I don't believe my abuser is an empathetic being or he would have handled things a lot differently... but even if you disagree, if you accept that perhaps he was acting in ways to 'protect' himself because dealing with me was simply too much to cope with, then yes, it may be a reason, but it is not an excuse. It does not magically make his poor behaviour okay or mean that his actions have no consequences or absolve him of the responsibility of his choices. To believe so means you must dehumanise me, to believe that my illness makes me something less than human and there is some level where harming me is 'okay' if it's absolutely necessary. And that is not something most people I know should be willing to accept, because it is a disgustingly ableist attitude to have when so many around us deal with mental illness to varying degrees.

I've read a lot lately about how geek communities/social groups/spaces tend to fall prey to things such as The Five Geek Social Fallacies and The Missing Stair. There is a strong feeling of needing to be inclusive and accepting of things beyond what is reasonable sometimes because many of us were outsiders when we were younger and 'we're not like THOSE people', or that being a friend means we have to be okay with everything about a person to a fault. The Geek Social Fallacies touch on a lot of these ideas really well, so I won't go over it all here.

My point is simply that we need to expect better, especially of ourselves and our friends. Being a true friend should mean being able to call out poor behaviour, holding others accountable so that we can all do better and be better friends and human beings. Change and growth is a good thing for all of us, and honestly caring and supporting one another should include not allowing the bad things to slide as much as we encourage positive things. No one likes being called out on this stuff, and it can be hard to feel like you'll just create conflict or 'drama' (the dreaded D word.. pretty closely related to the topics addressed in the Geek Social Fallacies). But I have people close to me that I trust and I value that they are willing to tell me straight up when I go wrong as much as when they cheer me on when I'm doing well. And part of the strength and value of the friendship is that I listen to them, because I know they just want me to be a better person overall.

I have a lot more to say about how my abuser's actions were truly harmful and the condemnation of emotions and other various related things, but those are for other blog posts. I think I can sum it all up with this:

Letting things slide because it seems like a good enough justification perpetuates a culture of abuse, it allows predators to slide through the cracks and hide among us. Accepting that it is 'okay' to harm others in significant ways because they are 'too much' for one reason or another is both dehumanising and ableist. And don't let reasons become justifications or excuses, because avoiding responsibility for our actions is never really okay (and it's a huge red flag for those who manipulate and/or abuse). Supporting each other as friends should include calling out bad behaviour, because it is in everyone's best interests to encourage a culture of straightforward openness and honesty and help prevent falling into Missing Stair or other related situations.

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