In the past couple of years, I've become more acutely aware of the discrimination I receive because of my anxiety, OCD, and ADD. The non-neurotypical parts of my brain impact my work, my health, and the way I interact and the way I'm perceived. Knowledge of the ableism I receive has helped me to better deal with the challenges I face because of my disabilities, and has improved my perception of myself. Instead of trashing myself for being lazy or crazy, I've learned to love and live with the parts of myself that aren't up to kyriarchal codes.
However, I am not quite comfortable with the unqualified identity of “person with disabilities.” Because I benefit from ableism, every day.
While my mind may not be up to code, my body and its ability level are. Though my fatness puts me outside the ideal, my body faces no barriers and brings me no unwanted attention based on my ability level. There are no spaces that I cannot access because of my form of movement. I do not receive stares or unwanted questions because of my disabilities. I do not have to worry about the content of my food and what ingredients might attack me. These are only a few of the experiences I can have without fear of retribution because of my able-bodied privilege.
No, the form of my disabilities, their presence in my mind and not my body, has been a major privilege for me, and so I'll use it as a qualifier. This is also described as "passing privilege", and that is certainly part of it - I am passing as a person with full able privilege. But it's also a reflection of a specific privilege and ability level that my body has, that my mind does not.
This is not universal: many people who experience mental illness that is not visible or physical face extra stigma; many have to undergo additional scrutiny to prove their disability, and others are seen as “fakers”. I am certainly vulnerable to this, but I have not had many of these experiences so far. Able-bodied as a general term to describe all people with disabilities can silence people who have non-physical disabilities. Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone, the director of advocacy at Autism Woman's Network, wrote, “Us[ing] "PWD" and "non-ablebodied" interchangeably.[erases] of broad swaths of the population with disabilities, from those who have mental health disabilities, to those with developmental disabilities...Additionally, for a number of PWD we live in communities that only think non-ablebodied people are "really" disabled.”
I am not saying that my disabilities have no relationship to my body; they are intimately connected, and in some cases, my disabilities do have a big impact on my ability level. Care of my body through exercise and the eating of awesome food is a major part of my mental self-care. I cannot take birth control because of my disabilities, which has an impact on my physical expression of sexuality. Taking time to combat intrusive thoughts can monopolize my spoons. My trichotillomania causes splotchy skin and ingrown hairs. Disabilities impact my body. But though I must constantly work with and on my mind's quirks, my body is by comparison a intermittent and faint challenge.
It took a long time for me to recognize that I have disabilities, that I am hurt by ableism. The sometimes weary functionings of my mind give me my share of trouble; I face obstacles that are presented not by my disabilities but by the insistence that bodies and minds must live up to a certain standard. This is why I will continue to describe myself as a person with disabilities.
But, it is dishonest to omit mention of one of the major ways my body is normalized by society – alongside my whiteness, cisness, and relative size privilege, to list a few. I need to take responsibility for this facet of my privilege. My disabilities and the advantages given me by ableism are not mutually exclusive; they are both part of my experience of ableism in a kyriarchy.