It’s All in Your Head:

The false dichotomy between physical and mental illness

It used to be thought that different illnesses were the result of demons and evil spirits. In the bible for example there are instances of epilepsy that are treated as demonic possession. As physical explanations were found for different disorders, the supernatural explanations were abandoned in favor of scientific ones.When it comes to mental health disorders however, physical explanations are harder to grasp and find. Not because they don’t exist, but rather because a lot of brain related research is either not possible with our current technology, or must be undertaken with great care for ethical reasons.  As a result, our society has created a separation between physical illnesses and mental ones.

On some levels, this separation make sense. When we think of physical illness or disability, we think of some physically embodiment. Take Crohn’s for example: with the right equipment one can point to the inflammation and ulcers in my intestines as an explanation of why I am feeling the way I am feeling. With mental illness, however, a lot of times we are dealing with something a bit more intangible: emotions and thoughts.

This separation is a false one however, that actually creates a lot of misunderstanding and harm. Because we see mental illness as dealing with something intangible like emotion, there is a social perception that mental illness isn’t real. That it is “all in your head”.

The truth is that mental illness is as much a physical thing as any other illness or disability. The brain is as much a part of the body as a leg or intestines. Depression, anxiety, and other such conditions may manifest themselves in part as emotions and thoughts, but those are expressed symptoms of underlying conditions in the same way that pain is an expression of inflammation or injury.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that all perceptions are “in our head”. If you consider pain, for example, while our bodies processes the injury causing the pain at the point of injury, the actual experience that we call pain is processed in our brains. This doesn’t mean pain doesn’t exist. In fact, we know that pain not only exists, but it is necessary for our survival. We know this because of individuals with CIP (congenital insensitivity to pain), a condition where people cannot feel physical pain. People with CIP need to consistently measure their body temperature and be very careful because it is possible for them to injure themselves, like break a bone, without realizing it.

Every tactile experience, every visual one, every auditory one is processed “in our heads”. If you say that mental illness isn’t real because it is “in your head” you are essentially saying that every experience we have isn’t real. Our whole lives are lived in our heads.

There are physical symptoms of mental illness as well. Many people who have depression experience joint pain, as well as fatigue. Anxiety can cause your blood pressure to spike, can cause chest pains, nausea, acid reflux, and a whole host of other symptoms. There is absolutely a physical component, so treating it as if it is something separate ignores important aspects of mental illness.

Moreover, treating mental illness as separate from physical illness or disability, ignores the fact that physical disabilities and illnesses often occur in conjunction with certain mental illnesses. Specifically, many people with disabilities have more risk factors for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This can be the result of the imposed social isolation that many people with disabilities experience, or in some cases may be a result of their illness. For example, Crohn’s Disease, in addition to the pain and physical symptoms that can increase the risk of depression, the inflammation of the intestines can also lead to a lower absorption of Vitamin D which can result in depression.

Because physical and mental illness are treated as separate, those of us with disabilities are not given adequate access to mental health care. In an ideal world, every person with a chronic illness or disability would be given access to a mental health professional who would manage their mental health in conjunction with their physical health. The connection between the two would also make it easier to argue for social contact as an accessibility need.

The way the world is set up now, people with different types of disabilities experience social isolation as a matter of course. This can be as a result of symptoms, or often as a result of insufficient accessibility. Because mental health and physical health are seen as separate, the idea that disabled people are prevented from being able to socialize effectively due to barriers such as transportation or even just on-site accessibility, is not seen as a big deal. Government officials see closing down programs and businesses that encourage and enable disabled people to socialize as risk free. People feel the need to vandalize playparks that are set up to be accessible to disabled children.

The false dichotomy is actively harmful to all disabled people. It enables people to ignore the needs of the mentally and the physically ill. It is meant to divide and shame. It is meant to pit us in false competition with one another, in the hopes that it will distract us from the systemic ableism that is so ingrained in our society.

It’s All in Your Head:
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Your Transantagonism is also Ableist

Recently Ophelia Benson added to the TERFY hole she’s been digging by tearing into an abortion provider who chose to use inclusive language when discussing issues surrounding pregnancy and access. It’s an issue that comes up surprisingly often. The discussion around genitalia is so needlessly gendered, that people often fall into the trap of equating body parts with identity.

The equation of women with “having a uterus” or the ability to have children is obviously exclusionary to both trans men and trans women. Not everyone who can get pregnant is a woman and not every woman has the ability to get pregnant. It is also exclusionary to many of us with disabilities.

The social equation of women with having a uterus is extremely damaging to women who, for one reason or another, have lost their ovaries, or uterus. Many of them struggle with feelings of inadequacy or identity loss for this reason. Harmful concepts, like those established by patriarchy and outdated feminist concepts that reduce women to their genitalia, only make the struggle more difficult.

Continue reading “Your Transantagonism is also Ableist”

Your Transantagonism is also Ableist

Rant: $13 a Pill is Still Ridiculous

The internet has been alive in the last few days with regards to the hedge fund manager who raised the cost of a pill from $13.50 to several hundred. People were outraged, his email was made public, and the anger even received news attention. The public outcry was so great, that the businessman involved returned the price back to normal, or so it was recently reported.

The pill in question, was widely reported to be an HIV drug. People could understand that most people with HIV would never be able to afford such a dramatic increase. There was discussion and outrage over how many people would die as a direct result of this unfair price increase.

I’m glad the outrage happened, and I am glad that the discussion came up, but what surprises me is that in all the commentary, no one pointed out just how ridiculous the original cost of the pill already was. $13.50 a pill, for a pill that needs to be taken daily amounts to almost $5000 a year. That’s over $400 a month. What’s more, this medication isn’t even a treatment for HIV. Rather it is a prophylactic for some of the opportune infections suffered by people with compromised immune systems. The drugs that treat HIV can be even more expensive. There are people dying because of the costs NOW.

It’s not just HIV treatments either. My own medication Remicade, even in Canada, costs $1000 a vial. I take 10 vials every 6 weeks to treat my Crohn’s disease. That’s $10,000 every six weeks. I had to apply for special coverage for this medication from the government. A program called Trillium that gives prescription coverage to low income people. The problem is that they get to decide whether or not I get my medication. Because Remicade is still on Patent and being studied, there is a coordinator who has to have special forms filled out every year to evaluate whether or not the government will continue paying for it.

Continue reading “Rant: $13 a Pill is Still Ridiculous”

Rant: $13 a Pill is Still Ridiculous

They're Taking Your Money and Giving it to Your Boss's Boss

The marketing campaign that made everyone fear deficits was a brilliant one. Politicians have been using that fear to fake economic policies ever since then, to the detriment of everyone. One of the favorite comparisons out there regarding the budget of any country is the one to the household budget. Different candidates wax poetic about the importance of living within one’s means and how the same rules must apply to a country and so forth and so on.

The idea of living within one’s means is one that often gets trotted out to “teach” poor people not to be poor, under the mistaken belief that the poverty is the fault of the people living within it.

Like any person actually living in poverty will tell you, it’s not really about not spending money you don’t have, but making sure that such expenses pay dividends. No one lives within their means, except for the very poor. For everyone else, there are credit cards, mortgages, financing, and so forth. All of which are examples of spending more than you make.

It’s the very poor, who don’t qualify for those loans, people on disability, on welfare, homeless people, who live entirely within their means because they don’t have the privilege of not doing that. Where the problem arises is that “within their means” does not equate to “while having the basic necessities needed for survival”.

Continue reading “They're Taking Your Money and Giving it to Your Boss's Boss”

They're Taking Your Money and Giving it to Your Boss's Boss

Why Are my Guts Crying (x-post with Angie)

Cartoon of Angie Jackson

This is a post co-written by Ania and Angie. 

“Because I ate a balanced breakfast”

Cartoon Ania

“Because I saw a piece of lettuce on someone else’s plate”


“Because I forgot my mother’s birthday”

“Because your Instagram pictures of flax seed everything gave me fiber by osmosis.”

“Because the dilaudid they gave me to treat the pain from my diarrhea made me constipated”

“Because I didn’t drink coffee.”
“Because I did drink coffee.”

Continue reading “Why Are my Guts Crying (x-post with Angie)”

Why Are my Guts Crying (x-post with Angie)

No respect, even in death

Imagine going to Facebook and the first image to greet you is that of a child, no more than two, laying dead on a beach’s shore. Imagine seeing video of young children being thrown to the ground by police.

What those children have in common is that they’re Black and Brown. White journalists and soldiers are killed on tape and the video gets shared a few times. But usually their families ask for privacy and we stop sharing the videos. Instead we share photos of their time alive. A smiling face looks back at us. Do we afford the same consideration to Black children who have been killed by police? We humanize white victims, while continuing to dehumanize Brown and Black victims. A young white woman is remembered by her boyfriend and we grieve along with him. A black mother grieves for her son while images of his dead body are shown constantly. To add insult to injury, we say he committed a crime, we try to discredit him. As if that somehow justifies his death. As if that somehow justifies him laying dead on the street for five hours.
I’ve read some comments about how Emmett Till’s mother chose an open casket for her son. The operative word here is “chose”. She had every right to decide how her son’s image was displayed. The families of those refugee children haven’t made that choice. I’ve read comments saying that showing those shocking images will make people who would other wise not care, care. I call bullshit. Some of the reports from Turkey and Greece are so descriptive that pictures are not necessary. This really just comes off as horror porn. I have to wonder, what is wrong with an individual that the only way they will care about someone’s suffering is if they see it first hand? Do they really need to see pictures of dead babies washed ashore to grasp that the current refugee crisis is serious and deadly? These families are grieving. They’re escaping their war-torn country, risking life and limb to get to some safety only to end up losing their children.

Black and brown bodies received no respect while alive. I guess in death they don’t even get that. Aylan Kurdi’s aunt has asked for people to share a picture of little Aylan smiling and not of him dead on that shore. Can we respect that?

No respect, even in death

“You’re so fat”

Trigger warming: weight discussion, actual numbers mentioned, fat phobia, fat shaming by doctors, mentions of death and suicide, mention of eating disorders

Author’s Note: When I mention “family” I mean uncles, aunts or cousins. I don’t mean brothers, mami or grandma.

I am fat. At 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing (last I checked) close to 260 pounds, I am medically considered obese. Whenever I have physicals all my vitals are “perfect” but I’m told that will change if I keep being so damn fat.

The doctor’s scale doesn’t scare me anymore but it used to. I still remember being in the nurse’s office waiting to see the doctor. I’m weighed in front of some other kid who was waiting his turn. The doctor looked at the number and said “oh que gorda” (how fat!), looked at the boy waiting and told him not to worry, he wouldn’t weigh as much as I did. Every time I saw that doctor he had a comment to make about my weight. All he ever said was to go on a diet. He would ask if I ate a lot of junk food. No. He asked if I was active. Yes. It wasn’t until years later that another doctor figured out I had a “lazy” thyroid. And people’s reaction to that news? “Oh well that’s why you’re so fat!”

Anyway, I told my mom I didn’t want to see that doctor anymore. So, we go see another doctor (old doctor’s son-in-law because our town in Puerto Rico was small, apparently all the doctors were related. My dentist was jackass doctor’s daughter, but I digress). Son-in-law would tell me the same thing. I was fat and I needed to lose weight. But they wouldn’t tell me how. Mami and I ran into him once, I was already taller than my mother, who’s 5 feet tall, by that time. The “good” doctor looks at me and says that I was so “big and fat”, it looks like I was the mother and my mother the child. I was barely 11. My mother is short and thin. I’m tall and fat. People never believe she’s my mom. It’s a little frustrating having to justify my existence. “Your mom is so tiny! How did you get so BIG? Oh my, how was she able to birth you?” Well, I wasn’t born this big, for one. But whatever.

My weight has always been a hot topic in my family. Everyone would tell me I was so pretty and I’d be so much prettier if I wasn’t fat. I was told no man would want me. I was told not to eat so much. My brothers ate as if food was going out of style but they were never told to stop. They were growing boys after all. I barely ate and when I would indulge in the rare cookie I was told to stop being such a “puerca” (pig). If I didn’t do my chores properly I was chastised. “You’re so big and fat, why can’t you clean these dishes?”

Family I hadn’t seen in years would comment on how fat I’d gotten. Then I get my first period and since Puerto Rican grannies have no sense of privacy, soon all my aunts knew I had become a “señorita” (a young lady). So they hoped that now I would lose weight. I hoped so too. Whenever I would complain to mami about the fat shaming I endured she would tell not to worry because I just had “baby fat”. I believed that until I hit twelve and I needed a bra bigger than my mother’s.

Above I mentioned a doctor found out why I had such a hard time losing weight. At 14, I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Finally, my family thought, with the pills they give her she’ll lose weight and become beautiful.

I left Puerto Rico a few months after that. In NYC I had doctors tell me I was too fat but at least they gave me diets to go on. At my heaviest in my teens I was weighing 231 and wearing a size 20/22. I hated myself. I starved myself but nothing I did made the weight go away. So then I’d become depressed and binge. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder but I’m pretty sure I was displaying symptoms.Then at 15, I attempted suicide and the nurse at the hospital asks if I was depressed because I was “fat with no boyfriend”.

My teens were rough, I was battling depression, we were homeless, I was bullied in school. I wasn’t eating properly because 1) the shelter we were in didn’t provide adequate food and 2) I didn’t exactly go out of my way to eat properly when I had the chance. I went down to a size 9/10 in pants. I was weighing 175lbs. That was the lightest I had ever been. Everybody was so proud of me. That’s when I realized that people would rather see me thin and sick than fat and healthy.

I’ve gone back to Puerto Rico three times in these past 12 years and every time my weight is brought up. The first time I returned to Puerto Rico was for my grandfather’s funeral. I was 16 and worried that I was too fat. I was worried my clothes wouldn’t fit. My grandpa was dead and I hadn’t seen him in two years but I was worried about disrespecting his memory with my fat. Grandma told me not to worry. Grandpa was watching down from heaven and he was happy I was there. Grandma wasn’t very kind to me growing up, but she’s changed a lot since then and I’m thankful to her for easing my mind. That’s another post for another day though.

The last two times I visited Puerto Rico were so my daughter could meet my grandma. My family talked about how fat I used to be. My weight was a big topic. They kept telling me how tall and big I was. How solidly built I am. One elderly cousin kept saying I was so “skinny” compared to how I was when little. Oh, how thankful she was that I had lost all that weight. I’m far too pretty to be so fat. What they don’t know is that I weigh more now than I did then, it’s just that I’ve grown up and the weight has redistributed and I also have some muscle.

I’m bottom heavy and my legs have always been criticized as being too big, “like tree trunks”. My hips are wide and my thighs cause thunder; baby also got back.  It took me a long time to be able to appreciate my body. It was only last year that I finally conquered my fear of bathing suits and went to the beach in a one piece showing my legs in all of their fat, hairy glory. I walked on that beach and felt proud of myself. Then I see a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was 11 and he says my arms are flabby. I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t bother me like it would have back then. I acknowledge it as a fucked up thing to say and then I realize, well my arms do jiggle but so the fuck what?

I tuck his comment in the box in my mind labeled “fuck boy opinions” and told him if my arms are such a problem he was free not to look at them.

The scale doesn’t scare me anymore. I only weigh myself at the doctor’s. I see the scale and think in my best cheesy western movie voice “it’s you again.” I’m weighed and they tell me the number and I acknowledge it and just tuck it away in the box in my mind of “stuff about me that isn’t that big of a deal”. My weight is right next to “hates Twizzlers”. I think about it once a while, I may even obsess over it (why would anyone like that devil candy?) but when it’s time to get serious I put it away and focus on important things.

I spent far too long hating myself for something I can’t change. My genes are the way they are. I can’t change my bone structure. Even at 175 I was still “curvy”. That won’t change. I will always be fat and I have no desire to lose weight and that is OK.

“You’re so fat”