I think we have all seen inspirational posters like this and there is nothing really wrong with them. They serve a very valid purpose but it just reminded me of a post about language I wanted to make because I see this sort of thing so often.
However, we know that being chronically ill does not make one intrinsically courageous. Nor does losing the battle make one a coward. I had someone get quite upset I had posted a link to an article because it used ‘brave’ in the title in reference to children fighting rare diseases and of course the journalist was simply trying to get more people to click on the link but she was offended I would have posted it at all because we are not intrinsically brave because we are ill. Of course we are not ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ just because we are ill. Nor do we seem to have this inner core of strength always referenced like pain makes us somehow ‘stronger’. Yeah, no. Hell, people see us as being inspiration by our mere existence. Yeah, that is me being all inspirational by surviving this pain. Yeah, no. I was posting it because of content not because of the semantics of the word in the title though. However, it does point out how words are used when it comes to chronically ill people. I think many of us have been told we are courageous or brave and we just want to say ‘no, this is just a fact of life. This is just the way it is. And you will likely find that out too some day.’ We do not gain positive and negative attributes simply because of our disability. Like ‘poof’ we are disabled and now we are ‘lazy’ or ‘courageous’ or both? And we know it is the stigma of the outside world that inflicts these words on us.
“Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.”
– Because we are seen to have this insane inner strength and of course, again, with the awesome courage. Makes me feel so awesome. But my illness is in fact a damn hard fact in my life. One that doesn’t make me feel very strong at all. Except maybe when I am forced to do things, then I feel like I have insane pain tolerance. Otherwise I feel tired and weak. And insufficient. But you read this and you feel a little better. Which is the point. Here the ‘intent’ is to be motivational.
Other people applying words to us is different than when We own those words ourselves. I sometimes think inspirational posters are meant to help convince us they are true rather than being true. We fight a very hard battle every day and it is exceptionally draining. If we come across this poster and it makes us feel that yes, we are courageous and strong because we endure this pain and keep on going then that is a good thing. We take on a label because we want to feel that it is true. And I think at times we should take on certain words and own them to take on that strength they give us. Why not? What you tell yourself, positively label wise, to get through the day is never a bad thing. We have enough negative words for ourselves. So keep on being inspirational. Own the positive words.
I have a little more trouble with other terms. I have seen in online communities that in the chronic illness world ‘we’ can use the word ‘cripple’ but ‘other’ people cannot. In fact, they outright attack other people that dare to use the word cripple inappropriately (‘I am so crippled today after spraining my ankle’). Which, yes, is rather an exaggerated use of the term. Wow, people exaggerate their pain for dramatic effect? How dare they. Just like we are not intrinsically ‘courageous’ because we are ill, someone isn’t crippled from a sprained ankle. However, I don’t think it is really all that appropriate to verbally attack some poor kid for his use of a word. Language is a flexible thing and if someone wants to exaggerate and be dramatic… is that really a crime? No, it really isn’t. It is someone being descriptive and, yes, rather dramatic. Nothing to get all riled up about. Then I wonder to myself about taking ownership of the term to begin with. And I have used it myself. Because I feel crippled. But it is such a negative term. While I feel like sometimes taking ownership of a negative term we can turn it into something else I am not entirely sure it works. The stigma we deal with so often it quite broad and covers so many areas that language is important. How we use language is important. If we are going to attack others for how they use language maybe we should consider how we ourselves use language. If the word disability and disabled comes with negative connotations, which it does, then think about the word crippled. I would prefer to use the term disabled and try to removed the stigma from that word than use the term crippled. Or even use the term incapacitated by pain, than crippled. Yet it is semantics and word choice. We are as free to use the term as anyone else, just more appropriately so. Removing the stigma from terms is a far more difficult battle. Each word brings to mind certain ideas and you want to use words that have the least negative connotations and then change those. ‘Disability’ is more acceptable to use because it is broad… it covers physical, mental, invisible, visible and so forth. It isn’t seen completely as a negative concept and people who raise awareness can address the negative stigma.
Like the difference between mental disorder and crazy. We can take ownership of the word crazy, and make inside jokes… but should we? Maybe the stigma is still too intense for that to even be possible. We want to say we have a mental disorder, accept it and can take ownership of it… but the negativity that comes with the term crazy is such that maybe the term cannot even be used around those of us with mental disorders. Maybe we should refer to our specific conditions when we use our inside humor instead. Maybe we should avoid these terms because other people still are not capable of seeing the stigma there is out there. In fact with mental disorders I find that most people are not aware of the profound stigma in medical fields and in society. Not to say there is not stigma with all invisible disabilities, just that with mental disorders, it is pretty pervasive.
In the end, well, language is powerful. Stigma is both seen in positive use of words and negative. People use the words to put forth their stigma of how they perceive our conditions. We use words because we own our condition. Either way, they have power. I suppose we should choose them wisely.