Yoga and vegetables – NOT a cure-all for chronic disease

In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ suggestions that chronic illness patients simply replace their use of opiates with yoga, my ongoing frustrations with non-disabled people’s ignorance of disability and medication in particular is running rampant. I and most other disabled people I know are frankly tired of being shamed for the medications we take, for our quality of life, often to actually keep us alive, because non-disabled people have decided that they now know everything there is to know about pharmacology (and let’s be honest, it’s often based on fearmongering posts full of ignorant rubbish spread on sites like Facebook. Or at least in my experience.)

Believe me, disabled people have probably heard all your suggestions for an “alternative to medication” before. I’ve been told it’s my meds poisoning me, to do yoga, to find Jesus… So I guess a first point to make is stop believing that you are the first person to give us this “amazing” life advice to eat more vegetables and do yoga to cure our diseases! (We *have* tried going unmedicated before, you know.) You probably mean well, but do you know how much it bores a person down to deal with uninvited advice on “cures” that 1. don’t work, 2. we have heard a million times before?

Aside from the ridiculousness of suggesting that yoga could possibly take the place of opiates and be just as effective, people seem to forget that some of us can’t actually do yoga, whether simply physically unable or because yoga and such exercise exacerbates our conditions. If you’re thinking “well, exercise usually hurts at first, but the more you push through, the fitter you’ll get and the easier it will become”, you’re probably able-bodied and assuming that disabled bodies react the same way as yours. Here’s a clue: they don’t, always. I have internalized a lot of ableism based on the “lazy scrounger” rhetoric, and often think “Are you really doing as much you can physically?” One day of pushing myself, even with a motorized wheelchair, can put me in bed in agony for days to come. I know my own body and I know its limits. I have spent years trying to keep up with able-bodied paces and limiting my medication as much as possible. All that does is decrease my quality of life, exacerbate my mental illness, and restrict my life. So forgive me if I want to do whatever I can to avoid that scenario.

The pharmaceutical industry has its problems. You’d be a fool to believe otherwise, in my opinion, but that is hardly a basis for denouncing every single aspect of medicine. There is also this widespread belief that doctors keep patients medicated in order to profit from them as returning patients. Well, there is actually a shortage of specialists to the number of patients who need them, so doctors aren’t going to run out of patients any time soon.

Yoga can help many people, but if you think that’s a universal cure-all for any disease and that we can give up our medications in favor of it, then I’ll be frank: you are wrong. If it helps you or someone you know, great! But I beg you, stop shaming those of us who it doesn’t help. We’re not just being stubborn: we have tried these things. Just because we have a pride in our disability doesn’t mean we don’t do everything we can to increase our quality of life. It’s not a coincidence that people with my main disease lupus now survive much longer with drugs like immunosuppressants than we used to, when the life expectancy was closer to 40 and the rate of serious complications was much higher. In the 50s, people could expect to live about 5 years following diagnosis. This is my 11th year with this disease, and although mine continues to progress, my medication has slowed down that progression much more than it would have been otherwise.

This unorganized post basically comes down to this: disabled people know their bodies’ limits and limitations. You don’t. Most of us have found that without medications and aids, our quality of life is just too low. Many of us also find that one of the hardest issues to live with day-by-day when you’re disabled is the ignorance and ableism of other people. We are tired of unsolicited advice from people who barely know us or our conditions. Supporting us does not involve shaming us for the things that we do to have the best quality of life we can. Many people successfully incorporate more natural remedies with their medications or even manage to come off their medications altogether; this is great, but by far this is not even a choice for most of us. If you want to truly learn about disability and disabled lives, listen to disabled people, not non-disabled people spreading inaccurate and accusatory rubbish on sites like Facebook, where you read things like how “miraculous” it is when a wheelchair user stands up, or even walks (i.e. they’re faking), when the reality is that most wheelchair users are not paralyzed and *can* stand or even walk for a time.

Honestly, the “bitter crip” stereotype is a thing precisely because non-disabled people have decided they know more about our lives and needs than we do. To support us, listen to us. Nothing about us without us.