I lay in my bed barely awake but my thoughts move faster than I can keep up. “You’re worthless. You don’t do enough. You’re not productive enough. You waste all of your time. You’re a waste.” The thoughts spin through my head, echoing, repeating, building. Pain gnaws through my insides causing every movement to be excruciating. I try to get up but am unable to move from the blistering pain. Still the thoughts spiral faster. “Worthless. Not enough. A waste. Not enough. Never enough.” I try to divert my thoughts to no avail. I flick through tumblr to distract myself but what I read can’t overcome the chorus repeating in my mind. “Not enough. Not enough. Never enough.”
One time, during an utterly disastrous appointment with a new therapist, I mentioned that one of the reoccurring intrusive thoughts I have is that I’m not enough. The therapist proceeded to ask what I wasn’t enough of. I tried to explain that it’s not more specific than that, that the thoughts are always just “not enough.” He didn’t listen. He kept pushing to try to find out what I wasn’t enough of. How do you explain that there is no answer to that question? How do you explain that you just always feel you’re not enough?
I don’t do enough. I’m not productive enough. I’m not kind enough. I’m not helpful enough. I’m not positive enough. I’m not creative enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m don’t do enough. I’m not enough. I’m never enough.
These thoughts always baffle Husband. When I get stuck in these phases, he always tries to remind me of how much I do. I go to work every day. I provide for him. I care about and for those around me. I just finished classes in order to get a better job. I take care of groceries. I cook. I clean. I do all these things and more, but no matter what he says, no matter what I can acknowledge that I do, I never feel like it’s enough. There’s always more I should be doing. I’m never enough.
This voice in my head, the one that tells me I’m not enough, is the voice of internalized ableism born of a capitalistic society. We live in a society that tells us that we should be as productive as possible. A society that says that our worth is determined by what we contribute to the workforce. A society that shames people for resting and taking care of themselves. A society that looks at disability as a burden. One that says that disability is no excuse for a lack of productivity. One that holds up disabled individuals who have achieved great things and asks “what’s your excuse?” A society that always pushes us to do more and be more no matter the cost.
These messages are ones that we grow up being exposed to. The messages are so subtle that often times we don’t consciously notice them. But they worm their way into our minds, conditioning us to believe these things. We hold these messages close to ourselves without even realizing it.
For those of us who are disabled, this internalized ableism can be extremely damaging. These messages tell us that we are not enough and will never be enough because we are disabled. Because we are not productive enough by the standards of a capitalist society, we are burdens. These message live inside us and shape the ways we view ourselves. We judge ourselves by standards meant for the neurotypical and able bodied. Standards that don’t account for constant pain or mental instability or a mind and body that work differently. When we judge ourselves by these standards, we are destined to come up short, to never be enough.
But we are enough. Despite the overarching messages that dominate our society, we are enough simply by being ourselves. Whether you are able to work in the traditional workforce, work nontraditionally, or are unable to work, you are enough. Whether you are always doing things or need a lot of time to rest, you are enough. Whether you support yourself or rely on others to get by, you are enough. No matter you circumstances, not matter what you are able to do, you are enough.
Internalized ableism will try to convince us that we are not enough, but this is wrong. We all have many gifts even if they are not useful to a capitalistic society. Kindness, love, laughter, comradery, hope, joy, caring, and friendship are all gifts we can give others to make the world a better place. There are so many ways to contribute to the world that have no monetary value. This does not make them any less valuable or important. Whatever your abilities, the ways you contribute to the world are important and enough.
Fighting internalized ableism can be immensely challenging. These messages have been ingrained in us for so long that even recognizing ableism when it creeps up can be difficult. Yet, it is so important that we fight the ableism we hold within ourselves. For only when we let go of the messages that we have to be productive enough or useful enough will we be able to find peace with ourselves. I’m nowhere near the end of my journey, but I’m trying and hopefully one day I’ll make it.