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Disability & Estrangement

Chronic illness and/or disability often feel like a whirlwind when combined with a loss of personal relationships. Between the societal estrangement and isolation that disabled people face and the personal estrangement that they can face in their own lives, it is common for this community to have feelings of abandonment or isolation.

Social Estrangement

One of the forms of estrangement that disabled and/or chronically ill people often face is social estrangement. Those who are part of these communities are often confined to their homes if they are unable to work or must work virtually, and their bodies and/or minds often do not permit them to do the things they wish they could outside of the home.

 

In addition to this, many disabled people do not have accessible work or social spaces, making socialization and work a difficult, sometimes insurmountable task.

 

Finally, the stigma and ableism that chronically ill people face from society is its own pervasive form of estrangement. Examples of ableism that disabled/chronically ill people face can include:

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  • being coined as “lazy” or “unreliable” for not being able to leave the house, attend social events, or push through pain in the workplace

  • being told that they aren’t “trying hard enough” to overcome their illness

  • being paid less than minimum wage for the same work that able bodied people do

  • being infantilized and demeaned for physical disabilities 

  • not having any effort made to make spaces more accessible 

  • being expected to heal or “get better”

  • being told that they are seeking attention or “faking it”

 

These stigmatizing and ableist situations are all-too-familiar for those experiencing a chronic illness and/or disability, and for many, they only compound and build when estrangement makes its way into their personal lives, as well.

Personal Estrangement

In addition to the social estrangement that many disabled and chronically ill people face, personal estrangement can often be an added source of hurt.

Many of these individuals are already used to having their disability or illness invalidated, often by members of their family. Common invalidating statements include the following: 

 

“But you don’t look sick.”

“Are you sure you’re trying hard enough? Have you tried…?”

“You’re not disabled. You’re differently-abled.”

“Maybe it’s all in your head.”

“You’re just attention-seeking.”

“That happens to everyone.”

“You’re always sick.”

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These statements are extremely invalidating and dehumanizing, and on top of the social stratification that many disabled people already experience, ableism can create emotional distrust, feelings of abandonment, and the sense that one is alone in their struggles. The Body is Not an Apology, founded by activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor, has a phenomenal section on disability that contains topics such as what not to say to wheelchair users, finding self-love and joy with chronic pain, handling mental illness, and how to confront one’s own internalized ableism. These pieces may be of help if you are struggling with your mental health after living with chronic illness and/or disability.


Many disabled people also face estrangement if a family member decides that they cannot handle the person’s illness/disability or believes them to be “unreliable”. In fact, many people in this community report being abandoned by family members after developing a chronic illness or becoming disabled. These experiences compiled together can lead to the feeling of being totally alone in one’s illness/disability and can cause mental health struggles.

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

If you are currently struggling with this, please know that you are not alone. It is common with both chronic illness/disability and estrangement to have these feelings, and you are not at fault for how people and society have hurt you. If you are struggling right now, there are some things you can do:

 

  • The most important thing you can do right now is taking it easy on yourself. Mental health struggles and the physical taxation of disability and chronic illnesses can leave you feeling exhausted. If possible, try to find ways in your everyday life to honor what your body and mind need, whether it’s rest, food, water, medication, therapy, or some other form of self-care.

  • Get in touch with a health care provider or therapist if you have access to those resources. They can help if you are struggling with your physical or mental health, and they may be able to provide resources on estrangement as well as handling health conditions.

  • Find communities of people who understand. One of the best ways to connect with others when one is disabled or chronically ill is through social media. There are support groups, relatable meme pages, and vast communities of people with different disabilities and illnesses online, and having people who understand your struggles and the experience of ableism can be extremely validating.

  • Reach out to Together Estranged. Whether you need support, resources, relatable stories, or to tell your own story, we are here to provide that for you, and we are happy to help in any way we can.

 

Disabilities and chronic illness can be difficult enough to deal with without the added pressure and isolation that comes from societal and personal estrangement. It is okay and completely valid if you are struggling right now. Whatever your situation may be, we see you, we are here for you, and we support you. 

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Engage with
people & accounts
who inspire you.

Supportive Accounts/Organizations to Follow

Disabled and/or Chronically Ill Creators

@sophjbutler

@thechronicallyhonest

Organizations and Researchers

CDC and AAPD

The Body is Not an Apology