“Are there no stairs from the first floor?” a random lady asked me mockingly as I, an apparently able-bodied whippersnapper, got off the elevator at the second floor.
I just stared at her. “I had an injury recently,” I said. She turned red and shut up.
Truth be told, the injury had happened a while back, when a car rolled into the crosswalk and hit me while I was crossing. My left knee hasn’t been the same since. But I took the elevator not just because my knee was acting up, but because I was feeling fatigued.
I get it. People don’t like to admit that young people can have disabilities. “You’re young and strong,” people would tell me when I struggled to go upstairs or lift a heavy thing. “Don’t be lazy.”
“Wait ’til you’re old like me,” they say when I expressed how exhausted I was. They pretended to make it a joke about themselves, but it was really intended to dismiss my experience as invalid.
And the worst: “What do you have to worry about? You’re young and you’ve got a whole life ahead of you,” they say when I admitted I suffered from depression and anxiety.
Ah, the stereotypes of youth, which apparently is wasted on the young. Except believe me, I would have celebrated my teens and twenties a lot more had I not been so crippled by my conditions, which were regularly misdiagnosed in part due to these very stereotypes. Add in a lingering sexist idea that any pain experienced by a female is simply due to “anxiety” or “emotions,” and I started to lose count of the number of times a medical professional told me to just de-stress. “Focus on self-care,” one told me.
Well, self-care is hard when you can barely summon the strength to do anything!
On my fourth hospitalization, I got a physician who dug deeper. After extensive testing, his team discovered that I had a severe B12 deficiency because I couldn’t properly absorb it from food. They also shook their heads at previous doctors who’d continually tried putting me on SSRIs that clearly weren’t working. They put me on a mood stabilizer instead.
With this new regimen, my life was completely transformed. I had bounce in my step, my depression lifted away, and my panic attacks evaporated. I still have days where depression crops up, as it will, but overall, I feel, dare I say, happy and energetic most days!
And yet I grieve those lost years when doctors glanced me over and dismissed my concerns, ignored my insistence that something was wrong, and chalked it up to “stress and emotions.” When they kept trying variations of drugs that had awful side effects and prescribed “self-care” when I said the meds weren’t working. When they whispered to each other while I was lying in a hospital bed that I was “just a girl looking for attention.”
After all, young people can’t have disabilities, can they?
Rachel Wayne is a writer based in Gainesville, Florida, USA. She earned her Master’s in Visual Anthropology and Film Studies from the University of Florida; her thesis was on the relationship between the media and interpersonal violence, particularly bullying and sexual violence. She writes about society, culture, film, politics, feminism, and entrepreneurship.