On May 1st, I finished the last class of a semester of yoga. As I left the athletic building in which the studio was located, I looked tentatively to my friend. I told her, “I hate to say it, but it does make me feel better.” She agreed, both with my statement and with my sense of chagrin.
“Have you tried yoga?” has migrated from “sincere, misguided question asked by abled/neurotypical people to disabled/ND people” to “running joke within virtually all disabled communities.” It’s a line that’s shared within every disability community, the sentiment of which has been directed toward every disabled person I’ve ever met. If not yoga, then a gluten-free diet. If not a dietary change, then a juice cleanse, at the very least. Unsolicited suggestions of diet and exercise changes are an unfortunate reality of anyone who lives outside the abled norm.
Given this, I’m sure you can understand my hesitation to admit feeling better after a yoga session. If I’m not careful, my appreciation of yoga will no doubt be abused by some neurotypical who thinks I’m using it to replace medication; as a way to further their anti-science, ableist, myopic approach to any and all illnesses. When I say, “When my [insert mental illness here] gets too overwhelming, sometimes I need to go stretch, walk, or flow through some poses to recenter myself” I feel obligated to add the addendum, “Don’t worry, I take medication to, I don’t think exercise is a cure-all or even a cure-most, it’s not even a cure for me, it just helps, don’t take it the wrong way.”
Ableism grounded in “lifestyle change” culture has become so pervasive that such justifications are necessary. It’s toxic, and it needs to end.
When ableists produce these expectations around diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes as a magic cure for disability and illness, they trap all of us in a catch-22. They make it impossible to use therapy/medication without feeling barred from exploring lifestyle changes; they make it impossible to swear by yoga and dietary changes and also pursue medication and therapy. We become confined to “good” and “bad” disabled people, our goodness and badness constantly shifting depending on the viewpoint of the crowd we’re surrounded by.
I hate having to say “not to sound neurotypical, but…” before discussing some of the methods that have helped me cope with my mental illness and neurodivergence. I am not neurotypical in the first place, so regardless of what I say, it will not “sound neurotypical” by virtue of me being the one who says it. I use therapy and medication, as well as certain lifestyle decisions, as a way of moving through the world with the brain I’ve got. Ableists have no right to say “You need to pick a side.” They have no right to determine that this is a contradiction, because it’s quite the opposite; both ways of coping coexist within me.
Moving forward, I will likely carry on performing embarrassment when I talk about yoga (and I will likely carry on never bringing up yoga around neurotypicals in the first place). One day, however, I hope that the way that individuals use to cope will be just that–– individual decisions–– and will not be beholden to the norms enforced and upheld by restrictive, ableist assumptions.