I have the disability trifecta: physical, mental, and chronic illness. I don’t like to list all my conditions at once. It looks too long, garish and ununseemly. Like a faker’s list of ailments. My grandmother believed that hypochondriacs were people whose parents only showed love when they were sick. As a result she was more brusque and less loving when we were ill, which she saw as a sin of our sin.
All my life my legitimate disabilities have been treated with suspicion rather than medical care. My mother left me with a dislocated hip for three whole years, because she thought I was “faking it”. I come by my fear of the hypochondria label quite honestly.
Because disability is so often presented as either a private, shameful issue or else a matter of the public purse, the abled are motivated asnd empowered to hunt for signs we are “faking it” or accessing services we “don’t really deserve”. From parking lots to disability benefits to accessing medical care, as a group we are considered suspects.
Some of our group receive more suspicion than others. Numerous modern studies have shown that even today, doctors doubt and downplay the pain levels reported by women and patients of color. I have to imagine that this was even more true in the past. The majority of people diagnosed with hypochondria throughout history have been women. How many of these women suffered real symptoms with no relief? I think most, if not all.
Many conditions are frequently comorbid. Depression and anxiety often come with PTSD, and autoimmune disorders like my IBS and arthritis commonly go together. That I have all these conditions (and more) doesn’t mean I am exaggerating, faking, or making it up. It means I have mixed medical luck: I’ve got a lot wrong with me, but nothing so bad it’s killed me yet.
If you are abled, try to remember there is no real world limit on diagnosable conditions. There is no rule stating one can only have three diagnoses before ” disability”. Medical science learns new things every day. Today we recognize many, many conditions that were once written off as hypochondria or hysteria. We are most certainly still doing this today, with conditions we don’t yet understand, and to the people experiencing these symptoms.
If you are disabled, try to remember there is no real world limit on diagnosable conditions. Some people have immaculate health and some of us are held together with medicine and duct tape. It’s not a value judgment on who we are, and it doesn’t make our experience of our bodies less true. Some of us would have died in prior eras, but that doesn’t erase or discount our viability now. Improved health outcomes have made it possible for us to have multiple disabilities and yet live. Our weakness is evidence of human adaptability.
I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re okay, no matter how many disabilities we have.