Have you ever had a migraine? I don’t mean a bad headache, I mean a migraine; the kind where every noise, movement and glimmer of light causes agony. Where the only thing you’re capable of is lying as still as possible in a dark room until it goes away, or you die (either’s good really). One of those.
Well, one of those is how my body reacts to shopping centres, or anywhere bright and loud. Even in sunny Spain, where the heat makes me so much better, I can’t deal with that level of exertion.
Even though I go to some lengths to avoid those ‘extreme’ situations, it doesn’t keep me safe. I’m always in pain, always always always, and my best efforts only serve to keep it mostly bearable for most of the time. Any exertion makes it worse. The few things I do that look normal are down to me pushing myself to the limit, and always involve extreme amounts of payback later.
But, and this is the point, to look at me you would never know it; if you asked me how I was, I probably wouldn’t respond with a detailed list of my current ailments. Unless you knew me, you would have no idea.
It’s not just me that lives like this though- millions of us are struggling every day to just carry out the basics to stay alive. Just taking into account those well enough to get out of their home- mot everyone at the supermarket is finding it a breeze. Some people strolling down the street are finding every step agony like you can’t imagine. More people need to sit down on the bus than look like they need to. And this, it seems to me, is a big part of the whole problem. The way people appear to you to be, is not necessarily how they are.
Didn’t anyone tell you not to judge a book by it’s cover?
Think about it the other way around for a moment. How often is the way you look a reliable representation of how you are? How often are your actions a steady reflection of how you feel and what you are easily capable of? Think monday mornings; kids who need to eat when you have a stomach bug; hangovers on work days; elderly relatives always needing help; bus drivers bring rude; picking salad, not chips; another hour until you can reasonably have a cigarette break; smiling when you’d rather kill someone; not swearing at your mother; managing to look beautiful despite having flu; walking the dog in the rain. Think about why you wear makeup and smart clothes and conduct yourself well in public and get nervous about job interviews and first dates. I’m guessing you are not the person you present yourself to be, and that the way you feel is not accurately reflected by your actions.
We know that how we appear doesn’t have much at all to do with our health, emotions and intents – at least, not if we can help it. But for some reason we seem incapable of transferring that knowledge to other people. We can’t seenmto get it through our heads that someone might internally be different to their external appearance. It’s a big problem when it comes to social interaction, but more than that, it’s now ingrained into the systems which are supposed to protect us and save us.
The entire welfare system is now based on appearance, not actuality. It doesn’t matter if someone is actually about to die of a severely debilitating disease; if they appear to be healthy, they’re fine. People do remember that they can go from scary-nightmare-apparition to beautiful bombshell with nothing more than a shower, some painkillers, and 15 minutes of makeup- right? If you can do that, so can the lady opposite you who you think is faking cancer because she looks fine and has all her hair still.
More than that, the assumptions are built into the assessments in ridiculous ways. If you have stairs, you must be able to use them (i mean, who ever heard of someone getting ill after they had chosen a house). If you were forced to go to the assessment centre, you must be fine using public transport by yourself on a daily basis (even though to get there you needed constant help from a carer and the whole thing made you bedbound for a week). If you have baths you surely must be able to get in, out and washed without help. If you aren’t pale and sickly you can’t be ill- who ever heard of a disease that could affect your internal organs without making you look like death? If you can do something once, you can do it repeatedly indefinitely- who ever heard of an illness making you too tired to repeat an action. If you’re at 50% today, you’ll be at 50% tomorrow- whoever heard of a disease that varied? If you’re ill long term it’s because you’re not trying hard enough- who ever heard if an illness that wasn’t 100% cured by positive thinking and perseverance?
Ridiculous, but it’s what the judgements are based on. It’s all through society, ensuring the sick are treated like scum, the elderly are left to die without dignity, black people are searched more than white people, unemployed people stay unemployed, beautiful people make friends faster, and so much more.
The government needs to realise this and correct it. Because of so much… Because forgetting all this means they dehumanise people, real people, people like you- people like me. Because now, these people are dying.
But we need to, as well. Because the government saying to treat people like people will have 0 effect on a society who scorns them. Because the reforms that treat people like people will never happen until we want to stop dehumanising each other.
If how you look isn’t how you are, how much more does that apply to other people, the people whom we can never really know how they are. Reducing someone to our ill-founded assumptions dehumanises them, strips them of their selfhood and then calls them a liar for not conforming to who we decided they were. It has to stop, and that starts with you.