Posted in disability/illness, Illness/life-threatening illness

Reasonable Expectations

When you meet a new doctor, you’re allowed only a few sentences to communicate everything about who you are, where you’ve come from, which details of your health history are the important ones, and to convince them that you can in fact be trusted to accurately represent your own health problems. That is, if you can get to a doctor in the first place. 

When I injured my sacrum in 2014, I didn’t see a doctor about it until more than a year into its slow healing. I didn’t have health insurance and I was pretty used to powering through health problems so I just dealt with it on my own. 

When I learned that my income was low enough that I would qualify for state-funded health care, it took me another whole year to overcome my anxiety about not understanding the healthcare system in order to apply, only to discover that there were no doctors in my city, not a single one, accepting new patients with my insurance. State-insurance cards by default included a spot for the name of the doctor who had been assigned to you. Mine was blank. 

I spent another few months overcoming my anxiety again in order to spend hours on the phone asking if anyone knew of a doctor who would still take me.

I found one and was told that her first new patient appointment was three months out but if I wanted, I could come in and wait and see if anyone canceled. It might be up to 4 hours of waiting and I might not be seen at all. The never-ending aching pain in the shape of a crescent on the left side of my lower back would not take four hours of sitting in waiting room chairs. I waited the three-months.

Black and white soft focus photo of a class stethoscope sitting on a muslin sheet. Photo courtesy of Hush Naidoo, Unsplash

By the time my appointment arrived, I had already done plenty of my own research on the many mystery health issues I was juggling. I told my new doctor that I thought I had Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, a hypermobility disorder that can affect the connective tissue in your entire body. 

I told her about reading a book on EDS and placing 32 sticky notes among the pages, one for each symptom that I recognized in myself. I told her about my sacral injury that didn’t get better despite everyone telling me it would. I told her about manipulating my body and discovering that my feet and ankles collapse when I put weight on them and that my whole legs turn inward when I stand, and when I re-read the book, I saw a picture of someone with feet, ankles, and legs that looked just like mine do. I told her about how my friends make fun of me for the massive quantities of salt I put on my food, and how the book said that the recommended treatment for EDS related cardiovascular problems was increased salt intake. I told her about getting fillings as a teenager and squirming away as they drilled on my very much not numb teeth and reading in the book that people with EDS metabolize lidocaine faster than average and generally consider trips to the dentist as torture. I gave her my laundry list of places that I had pain, starting at the top of my body with ice pick headaches and ending with my feet that burned and stabbed when I stood on them at work for hours.

After listening to my pitch, the doctor had me stand up and poked and prodded me in my hips and legs, occasionally asking, “does this hurt?” I was wearing thick jeans over leggings so I barely felt anything. “Do you run?” she asked. I thought she was joking but when I saw she wasn’t, I just said, “No, I can’t.” She looked confused. She asked if I did this hip stretch like so and I said, “No, I can’t.” I attempted the stretch and showed her my very limited range of motion. She looked even more confused.

With little to no discussion of the source of my pain, she prescribed me a muscle relaxant and started to end the appointment. My heart sank. A muscle relaxant would not stop my joints from being unstable or help my sacrum get better any faster. It might even make me worse.

To her credit, the doctor noticed: “It seems like you’re disappointed. Was there something else you wanted to talk about?” I nodded and told her I had hoped for a more active and solution-seeking approach. I had been symptom managing for months. I wanted to finally get to the bottom of my health problems.

My therapist had warned me that I should prepare myself for push-back on my self-diagnosis. Doctors rarely take kindly to patients diagnosing themselves. I was prepared for disagreement, prepared for less interesting theories, prepared for testing and investigation before confirmation. 

What I didn’t expect was dismissal.

At the beginning of the appointment, I had been asked to rate my pain on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most pain I could possibly imagine. I had given a 1 for my wrist and a 3 for my hip. My doctor asked me what improvement I was expecting from level 1 pain in my wrist? “You need to have reasonable expectations about your goals here,” she said. “As you get older, your body is not going to work perfectly anymore. It’s never going to work like it did when you were fourteen. Things just… break down over time. That’s just how things are.”

Her words blurred and ran together, doubt flooded my brain and seeped under my eyelids. The pain scale isn’t designed to represent the range of pain levels and different types of pain that are common in a chronic condition, and she hadn’t asked me for the highs and lows of the week, she had asked me my pain level on a low-key low-impact day. Of course my numbers didn’t reflect an ongoing severe problem. My numbers only reflected how I happened to be feeling at that moment in time. 

But I was so overwhelmed by self-doubt that none of that clarity came to me. Was my life falling apart from normal amounts of pain that are a natural result of getting older? At 26 years old, was pain in every one of my joints considered normal? 

The medical practitioners that know me see me week after week describing the mountains I’m hurdling and almost never see me cry. When I do, they know right away that I’ve been pushed past my limits and that I am Not Okay.

But this doctor didn’t know that. The tears started coming and they wouldn’t stop, my voice breaking and trembling. 

Was it normal to experience a crushing sense of loss because I had to stop dancing, to protect my hip alignment, and I was never able to start again? What about the way my hand would seize and contract when I tried to play guitar for even a few minutes, and my inconsolable grief when it hit me that my wrist, just like my sacrum, was not going to get better anytime soon? Was it normal that I had an elaborate schedule –breakfast, hour long pain management routine, sit for 30 minutes, stand up for 15 minutes, sit for 30, stand for 15, repeat until too tired to stand– that I developed so that I could get things done and not end my day at 5pm crying from pain? What about the long hours that I stood at work, my sacrum throbbing, my feet and legs and arms and wrists aching, counting down the minutes and trying not to let the pain show on my face as I used my precious resources to cheerfully ask yet another customer if they wanted a bag today? Was that just a simple side effect of getting older? What about every tiny risk assessment, every conscious muscle engagement, every task that I said no to, every absolutely required self-care to-do added to my daily list, that had been my everyday reality for more than a year? 

Black and white photo of a woman’s bare back. She is hunched over, emphasizing the knobs of her spine. Photo courtesy of Jairo Alzate, Unsplash

She tilted her head sympathetically and said, “Have you been feeling depressed?” A passage from an article I read flickered through my brain: on average, women have to report significantly higher pain levels than men do before they are prescribed pain medication, and that instead, women were more likely to have their pain categorized as a mental illness. I remembered this briefly before saying, “I do have a history with episodes of depression but I have not been feeling like I am in one, no.”

The doctor proceeded to write me a prescription for an anti-depressant that she said also can help with pain. I blinked, confused. Hadn’t I just said that I wasn’t experiencing depression? I protested weakly that this didn’t make sense but she said, “You want to be active and try something? Well, let’s try something. Let’s try this!”

Tears were still falling down my face but I nodded, my brain still filled with white noise as she walked out of the room. Did she believe me that I was in pain? Did she hear the ways it was impairing my daily function? Is it reasonable to expect this level of physical difficulty at age 26? Did she listen to me at all?

I shakily walked out of the exam room, down the hall, and ducked into the bathroom. I put my face in my hands and cried silently, trying desperately to get a grip on myself. But I couldn’t. I was broken into a million tiny shards and there were too many to pick up in 10 minutes. I washed my face as best as I could and headed to the receptionist to make another appointment.  Their earliest slot was in five weeks. 

They asked me to fill out a feedback form about how well they had helped me today. I declined.


I cried as I walked to the bus stop. I cried as I bussed home. I cried as I walked up the stairs to my apartment and I cried as I walked in the door. This low-level crying was all I could do to keep from collapsing into uncontrollable sobs. Only when I reached my boyfriend’s arms did I let it all out. I told him everything and then I called several of my best friends and I told them the story again. I didn’t really stop crying for several hours, hoping each re-tellings would relieve the sensation that the foundation of my Self had cracked. At some point, I vaguely realized that the appointment had been traumatic and that I now had a new trauma to heal from on top of my already longer than average list.

In the weeks that followed, I learned that my friends with chronic illness, chronic pain and disabilities have all been traumatized by doctors visits; practitioners doubting them, assuming mental illness and sending them to psychotherapists, ignoring their files and giving them medication they were allergic to, delaying crucial treatments due to incorrect diagnoses, invasive procedures without consent, over and over and over again. They had long lists of experiences like mine. This was just my first one.


This article was originally published on yoppvoice.com as “26” on March 25th, 2017.

Kella Hanna-Wayne

KELLA HANNA-WAYNE(Yopp!) is a member of The Zine core team and a co-host of this month’s blog series on illness and disability. Kella is a disabled, chronically/mentally ill freelance writer who is the editor, publisher, and main writer for Yopp, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people, and reducing oppression; and for GlutenFreeNom.Com, a resource for learning the basics of gluten-free cooking and baking. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, Multiamory, Architrave Press and is forthcoming in a chapter of the book Twice Exceptional (2e) Beyond Learning Disabilities: Gifted Persons with Physical Disabilities. For fun, Kella organizes and DJ’s an argentine tango dancing event, bakes gluten-free masterpieces, sings loudly along with pop music, and makes cat noises. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, Medium, and Instagram.

Posted in disability/illness, General Interest

Could You Please, Just, Cease to Be?

Earlier this week, as I was crossing the parking lot toward a grocery store, I noticed a man sitting on a motorcycle near the accessible parking spots– the spots closest to the door that are reserved for disabled people. I realized he was parked in one of the striped spaces between the accessible spots.

For a long time, I didn’t know what those striped areas were for. They provide wheelchair users the space necessary to lower their ramp or lift out of their car so they can get in and out. I also learned that many people who are unaware of their purpose, block these areas, thereby preventing the car next to them from loading wheelchairs/walkers on or off. An obstacle in the striped area means that disabled people may not be able to get in or out of their car. 

I kept staring at the motorcycle, assessing, tempted to just go right up to the man and tell him to move but I’ve never told someone off for blocking disability parking before.

I had recently read a story about a disabled woman who was making a run to the grocery store during the busy holiday season, only to discover that the entire row of legally-mandated accessible parking spots was blocked by a truck selling Christmas trees. The few spots that were left were being used by customers loading their trees into their cars, preventing every person who actually needed those spots from using them.

Thankfully, the disabled woman managed to swipe a spot. If she hadn’t, she would have had to skip shopping or wait in the car while her husband and daughter shopped for her. But as soon as she left her car, she was forced to endure a shouting match with a customer who wanted to load her Christmas tree. “She stole my spot!” yelled the able-bodied woman who had 100 other parking spots to choose from.

The disabled woman reported the problem to store management, received a sincere apology, but half an hour later when they left the store, the truck was still there. The people in charge of enforcing the rules had not bothered to do so. Who knows how many disabled customers came and left, unable to shop because they had no place to park.

A woman in a wheel chair is blocked from getting into her car, due to another car parking over the striped lines of the accessible spot. Photo courtesy of Rachelle Chapman, Facebook.

I don’t think able-bodied people understand just how non-negotiable disabilities are. Some of us can walk, some of us can walk short distances. But when we cannot walk, or if we can only walk a maximum of 15 feet, that limit is not something we can push against. We can’t bargain with it. We can’t make it go away. A deaf person cannot negotiate with their level of hearing. A blind person cannot adjust their level of visual impairment.  

Those of us who do have the flexibility to walk longer distances will often leave the accessible spots for someone else on the days that we don’t need them, precisely because we understand that others need them more. We don’t tend to ask for more than we need or round up our limitations for convenience. We play down our needs as often as possible.

I pondered over the story about the disabled woman and the christmas trees as I went inside the grocery store, trying to decide what I wanted to do about the blocked accessible spot. I imagined what it would be like to arrive for a normal boring shopping trip only to discover that you simply can’t get out of your car. I decided to wait a minute and if he was still there when I went back to check, I’d find a staff member and tell them to handle it.

And then I’d check back again to make sure the staff member had followed through.

For some reason, getting people to understand that people with disabilities need accommodation isn’t as simple as telling them. When a person whose job it is to serve customers, refuses to help or offers only verbal support with no action behind it, it reminds us that able-bodied customers will always be prioritized over disabled ones.   

After about five minutes, I went and checked on the motorcycle. Thankfully it was gone.

But the awful feeling that crept over me when I saw it didn’t leave.

A man sits in his wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs, looking exasperated at the lack of ramp. Photo courtesy of Photographee.eu, Adobe.

When someone blocks the wheelchair loading zones, when someone without a disability sticker uses a parking spot, when businesses render the accessible parking spots un-useable or provide a disproportionately small number of them, it sends a very clear message: If you cannot use a normal parking spot, we are fine with the idea that you may not be able to buy food or enter our building. We are fine with pretending you don’t exist. 

What if I hadn’t been there? Would anyone have noticed that there was a problem? In all likelihood, I’ve walked past the same situation multiple times and never thought twice about it. How often does this problem go completely unaddressed?

I don’t have a disability parking pass because I’m now strong enough to walk the extra distance without issue the vast majority of the time so in some ways, this issue doesn’t directly affect me. But the cultural attitude this problem is rooted in, does affect me.


When I worked as a cashier, customers would often place their money on the counter next to the credit card machine– outside of my reach. I told one man that I needed help with the money because I had trouble bending over. He snapped, “You shouldn’t be working here if you can’t bend over.”

Never mind that it would actually be illegal to fire me from a job that’s 99% customer service skills and multitasking, and only 1% bending-over. I heard this attitude from customers repeatedly whenever I asked for help: I shouldn’t be working there, it didn’t make sense that I was working there if I was disabled, I should really find another job. No one offered me a job of course, and no one was interested in hearing that I’d still need accommodation and assistance at a different job. I’d still be disabled.

It was that same message: You shouldn’t be here. Can you just not be here? I’m not interested in the mechanics of how you do that. Can you just stop? Can you just resolve my cognitive dissonance about disabled people lacking the accommodation they need to work comfortably or live without being required to work and let me pretend that’s not an issue?

As with any form of oppression, avoiding ableism isn’t as simple as avoiding the specific people that treat you badly. These messages surround us and make up the structure that we live in: People with service dogs kicked out of public spaces or denied access to public transportation or even private taxis; large sections of well-populated cities that are not wheelchair accessible; people with invisible disabilities harassed for using accessible parking spots because they don’t look like they need one; staff members denying disability assistance in airports because the customer doesn’t look disabled; denying access to life saving health care based on pre-existing conditions; youtube videos about rare illnesses and disabilities filled with comments that say, “Let them die and put them out of their misery,” even when the sick person was capable of communicating and said nothing about being unhappy with their lives.

If your disability prevents you from working, the average length of time it takes to be approved for disability assistance in the United States is two years. The first time you apply is almost always denied, as standard practice, regardless of your circumstances. You cannot work or bring in income during the time you’re waiting for your application, or you will be denied. And if you’re lucky enough to be approved, the amount you receive will not be enough to live on. If you make income from any additional resources or if you get married, your stipend can be revoked or reduced. 

How do you survive in such a system? How can you not absorb that you should not exist?

Snow obscures a disability parking spot, making it almost unidentifiable. Photo courtesy of jbom411, Pixabay

Worst of all, these decisions are made and enforced by able-bodied people who just don’t listen when we say, “Actually, that’s not how this works.” We don’t have the power to set the record straight on what disabilities “look like,” or what resources we should have access to, or what real accessibility is. We just have to hope and pray and be thankful for what we get.

These ideas seep into you, affect your decisions, your opinions of yourself. You may not even realize they are there.


About a year after I became disabled, I noticed that something in my romantic relationship of four years had changed. My boyfriend felt less like a life partner and more like a companion.There were no changes in his behavior that were causing this shift. He wasn’t moving away from me. I was moving away from him.

Once it became clear that my disability was not temporary, I found myself believing that I could no longer be a good life partner for my boyfriend. My life was filled with so much maintenance, boring medical talk, careful balancing of treatments and resources, and always always new limitations. I couldn’t offer excitement or spontaneity or passion like I used to be able to. Why would he choose boring and limited? Why would he want me if I was disabled? Why would anyone?

While I managed to work through these feelings in this particular instance, the central issues beneath them popped up again. When I injured my arm, it took an incredible amount of courage to ask for the help I needed with cooking, cleaning, and other chores.

But even in the face of so many friends willing to help me, my self-esteem plummeted. I couldn’t use my arm or hand at all and the extra energy my body was spending on healing and reacting to pain meant that my focus was shot too. No cooking or baking projects, I could only type on my laptop for short periods of time; no writing, no event planning, no DJing, no any of the things I was good at. I could only read articles on my laptop, watch TV, and spend time with whoever was available to come to my house.

I found myself confronting some old ideas about myself: What value do I have if I can contribute nothing? Why would people want to be around me when all I do is take from them and I don’t give back? I have always needed to be giving 50% more than I take, and if the amount I take gets too high, I’m tortured with guilt. What was there to love about me if I didn’t have my talents to hide behind? What would happen to me if I spent large chunks of my life in this position? 

I had these limiting beliefs about myself long before I became disabled, but the thoughts in my head were now reinforced, not just by me, but by society’s opinions of my disabled body.

At its center, I think the purpose of any kind of oppression is to minimize the existence of people like you. Whether that is by actively killing you, letting you die through neglect or lack of resources, by conceptually obliterating you, by making even you question whether you actually exist or not, or by punishing you for every moment you do exist. Oppression of any group seems to boil down to, “Everything that you’re doing right now, could you please not? Could you please just, cease to be?”

© 2020, Kella Hanna-Wayne

Originally published on yoppvoice.com as “What Ableism Feels Like” on Jan. 14th, 2018

KELLA HANNA-WAYNE (Yopp), one of our newest Zine team members and a partner in our upcoming February series on illness and disability, is a disabled, chronically/mentally ill freelance writer who is the editor, publisher, and main writer for Yopp, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people, and reducing oppression; and for GlutenFreeNom.Com, a resource for learning the basics of gluten-free cooking and baking. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, Multiamory, Architrave Press and is forthcoming in a chapter of the book Twice Exceptional (2e) Beyond Learning Disabilities: Gifted Persons with Physical Disabilities. For fun, Kella organizes and DJ’s an argentine tango dancing event, bakes gluten-free masterpieces, sings loudly along with pop music, and makes cat noises. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, Medium, and Instagram.

Posted in disability/illness, General Interest

Our February Blog Series on Illness and Disability begins tomorrow; Why “disabled” not “differently abled”

Courtesy of Tiago Moisés under CC0 Public Domain license via PublicDomainPictures.net

“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” Stella Young, was an Australian comedian, journalist and disability rights activist. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta and used a wheelchair for most of her life. When she was fourteen she audited the accessibility of the main street businesses of her hometown.



Throughout the month of February 2020 The BeZine blog is featuring a range of material on illness and disability in concert with Kella Hanna-Wayne’s YOPP!, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people and reducing oppression. Our intention in doing this is to give voice to those with illness and disabilities, to raise awareness of the issues and outcomes, and to offer workable alternatives for those who have to manage in environments that are not conducive to inclusion.

We’ve already had some question with regard to terminology: disabled v. differently abled.  We respect each contributor’s chosen terminology, which will be reflected in their posts.

Kella and I are disabled and we both prefer that term over differently-abled. Here are my reasons:

  1. There are things I – like many others – am absolutely unable to do. Period. End of story.
  2. “Differently abled” is inherently meaningless in this context. All human beings are differently abled. Some are better at music, for example, and others are better at accounting.
  3. Almost everyone has some degree of disability, especially as aging progresses.  If you wear glasses, you are disabled and, depending on your occupation or interests, you might be unable to function without glasses.
  4. A reference to anyone as a “differently-abled” individual, is a cruel euphemism.  In my own case, for example, it diminishes the reality of my 24/7 life, which involves being on high-flow oxygen, being unable to lift anything heavy, being restricted to certain living conditions, often being restricted to bed, dealing with chronic bleeding due to a rare blood cancer, and living with extreme fatigue.
  5. “Differently abled” implies a norm that does not exist. There is no one way to feel, to communicate, to educate oneself, or to ponder and create art. The implication is that anything that deviates from the fantasy norm is less than ideal, possibly even somehow wrong.
  6. “Disabled” is not a disparagement. It’s truth. It’s accurate. Implicit is an acknowledgement that there are productivity and quality-of-life challenges that have everything to do with social, political, and cultural assumptions and structures and nothing to do with any one person’s atypical body or mind.
  7. Finally, “differently-abled” is a stigmata that ignores the kinds of accommodations (including some  life-changing technologies) that could be made available to help those many with atypical bodies and minds to lead fuller, richer lives and to contribute their energy and talent to help others and their communities.

This is the short story, the down and dirty of it.  Input is welcome from readers and we hope that you will enjoy and benefit from contributors’ posts throughout the month. We are still open for submissions to the February blog-post series on illness and disability and for submissions to the March 15 issue of the Zine, themed “Waging Peace.”  Submissions should be emailed to bardogroup@gmail.com.

In the spirit of love (respect) and community
and on behalf of The Bardo Group Beguines,
Jamie Dedes
The BeZine, Managing Editor