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Unlearning Ableism

Unlearning Ableism

Politics. Ugh.

As someone living with chronic migraine who understands that health is largely luck of the draw, I’m unfortunately not at all surprised to see so much ableism rearing its ugly head in recent debates about the American healthcare system. From tweets suggesting that sick people should simply eat more vegetables, to comments straight up blaming people for their illnesses or inability to pay for the treatments they need, it all sounds a bit too familiar.

This just in: vegetables solve all health problems!

From a young age, I absorbed the idea that people are largely in control of their own health. The message tumbled out of the mouths of just about everyone I knew, and they all said the same thing: your health is in your hands. If you eat right, exercise, brush and floss, and take good care of your body, you’ll be healthy. They also said: People who are overweight, or who have chronic illness, well that’s mostly their own fault.

(Maybe it’s just too complicated to explain to kids that our health is determined by a messy combination of our choices, socioeconomic status, geographic location, genetics, external environment, and pure luck, but I do really, really wish someone had tried a little harder.)

No wonder I had such a difficult time accepting my fate when I was diagnosed with chronic migraine. The injustice! I ate my vegetables. I exercised. I didn’t smoke (for very long). Aside from a brush with anorexia and some university beers, I was pretty good to my body. I even took a daily Flintstones multivitamin! I was a “healthy” person! How dare some invisible force of evil mistake me for anything else!

Okay, this wasn’t exactly my thought process. I was an adult, so I was clearly aware that people encounter awful, sometimes death-inducing diseases despite all the veggies, flossing, and exercise in the world. But this logic didn’t stop me from feeling that I must be, somehow, to blame for my own pain and the ensuing depression and anxiety.

Accepting my body as-is

I had to learn the hard way that while good habits can go along way towards health, they are only one small piece of the equation. And by “learn the hard way,” I mean it was, and still is, hard work to unlearn the notion that we have ultimate control over our bodies.

The body positivity movement has really helped me with this. Even though it tends to slip through my fingers the moment I think I have a firm grasp, the concept that it’s okay to love my body even when it doesn’t look like some arbitrary standard, or perform the way I think it ought to, is a tiny little temporary slice of heaven.

Ableism. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the promotion of healthy habits, and they can be really important parts of an effective migraine treatment plan. I’m just not into shaming other peoples’ bodies or choices, or pretending that a “healthy lifestyle” is a comprehensive alternative to providing decent, accessible healthcare to our fellow human beings.

How do you curtail the shame and judgment that can pile on from without and within when you’re living with migraine?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Anne
    2 years ago

    OMG yes! If I hear one more person suggest magnesium, I’m going to scream. What they don’t realize is that I’m already taking a bucket of vitamins, on an anti-inflammatory diet, don’t drink, don’t smoke, exercise and sleep more than the average person. A person without migraines can eat anything they want, stay out all night and they’ll get a headache – NOT a migraine. They can do anything they like and they’ll never get a migraine. The weather just has to change for me to be sidelined with one 🙁

  • lindaann
    2 years ago

    I think you raise such an important point in your article. No matter how much I read about migraine, I just cannot seem to believe that it isn’t somehow my fault, that I am just weak or somehow deficient and that is why is why I have migraine. I should just toughen up and learn to live with it. The shame is unbelievable. Just take another pill and go to work!

  • Dancing with Dogs
    2 years ago

    In addition to migraine, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in nov 15. Its tough not to feel it’s not our fault. Even my husband hinted at it being my fault. But I exercised and ate veggies, did’t smoke.

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