Pulling up in the carpark of our local day hospital, I felt a surge of excitement along with an overwhelming sense of bittersweet relief. Like many disabled people, I had to fight for my vaccine as I wasn’t considered as vulnerable enough to receive a live saving jab, but vulnerable enough to be advised to shield indoors, like I had been for over an entire year.
For the most part I was able to navigate quarantine and lockdowns relatively well, because an ableist society which time and time again fails to provide the bare minimum for disabled individuals, means I spend a lot of time inside my home, because I view it as my safe space; because the rest of society isn’t that for me, and other disabled folks.
Around 8 months ago I started asking my GP surgery if I was eligible for a vaccine given those with my comorbid conditions were advised to shield, yet as expected, I was told along with so many in the chronic illness community, that because our conditions weren’t explicitly listed in the green category, “wait your turn”.
This language stung, as having experienced so many incidents of medical gaslighting, I instantly felt the mixture of emotions which have resided within me over the years, in environments in which people are supposed to be supported, emotionally and physically.
So, I did as I was told.
Why? Because I felt defeated.
Yet over the last few months, I saw so many other chronic illness warriors receive their jab – and my anger and confusion regarding the ‘wait your turn’ remark, and I knew from speaking to many that their GP made the executive decision on personal circumstance on the grounds the patient is still clinically vulnerable despite not being officially listed.
(Now, please don’t mistake this frustration as me begrudging them this incredible opportunity, because my whole point is that it should be this way for every chronically ill and disabled individual as we have suffered disproportionately to able bodied and healthy people) yet seeing the clear lack of support or validation from my doctors enraged me, and I don’t use that word lightly.
The following weeks were spent ruminating over all the instances of medical negligence I’ve encountered, the gaslighting, the blatant ableism, and because of the complexities of life as a disabled person during a bleeding pandemic, I was already so physically and emotionally drained that the thought of having to battle and tackle these barriers head on, further stirring up past trauma, was too much.
Although it wasn’t until my mental health got to a point where I knew if I didn’t fight now, I would be in a dangerous place I knew to prevent visiting again at all costs.
So I did.
I sat down and scanned through years of medical documents, and drafted a letter to the partners of the medical practice I attend, using the template from the ME Association. At first I was deflated when they called to inform me that I wasn’t yet ready for my jab, because I wasn’t classed as vulnerable, however after asking to speak to the doctors regarding the grounds on which they came to this decision given my conditions and the guidance offered by official medical organisations, they agreed that I was a high risk individual afterall.
So that sunny Thursday afternoon in the waiting area following my vaccination was peculiar, because although I was elated, I also felt heavy with the emotions and exhaustion I was carrying, I felt weighed down even though it was a sigh of relief, which only shows the longevity and lasting effects of trauma, particularly medical trauma as a disabled person, constantly having to confront and navigate the internalised ableism and systematic barriers because we haven’t a choice.
A fellow disabled creative and advocate, Sam Bosworth creates wonderful educational material across social media, which have definitely had a large impact on my ability to affirm my disabled identity, and how we as disabled folks are made to feel when we receive the bare minimum, or lesser than. Grateful, blessed, and indebted.
He posted this video to his tiktok and instagram the other day, which acts as a reminder to disabled people, and allies of the community, that disabled folks don’t have to be grateful for having accommodations in society and I want to share it with you all here on this blog post, as it resonated with me.
To summarise, I do feel an element of relief to have started the process towards being immunised and receiving in person treatment to manage my dysautonomia, gradually regain upper body strength so I can self-propel, and go outside in accessible spaces in town (previously unmanageable because of public transport and ensuring I maintain social distancing as a wheelchair user in amongst fellow pedestrians and shoppers).
Although it would be counterintuitive for me to gloss over the fact that I don’t still feel the residual effects of confronting medical gaslighting, and having to re-experience this and the pain it causes. I feel guilty even though I know logically I’m not morally in the wrong, I feel angry yet simultaneously guilty for being angry because an inner ableist voice tells me I’m exaggerating, and yet I’m aware of the many others who haven’t received this validation, and urge people to check the resources regarding affirmations, medical gaslighting, toxic positivity, and identifying internalised ableism.