When I get in bed at night, it feels as if the weight of the world is in my limbs. I feel every ache and pain in my body. It feels like I fought an army, ran through a brick wall, or threw an 18-wheeler.
But I didn’t do any of those things. I’m not Supergirl. My greatest physical exertion today was taking the dogs outside for two short walks, and the fact that one of those walks was around an entire apartment building was a sign that this was a better day than most have been lately. And while I embrace my disability identity and what it has brought my life, my career, and my soul, living with a chronic illness often makes me feel helpless, especially in times where resistance to bigotry in immense proportions often means showing up and expending physical labor.
I’m not a superhero, and feats of epic strength are unrealistic for most human beings anyway, but at the age of 24, I’m in the time of my life where I should have the most energy and time to devote to myself and others. Instead, I battle new medical challenges week after week, all while fearing that I could lose the insurance that allows me to schedule and attend doctors’ appointments like it’s another part-time job. And if I’m completely honest, I battle frequent guilt that I can’t do more, not just in fighting for my rights and the rights of others, but in my life in general.
As someone with chronic illness, it is difficult to hear people decry what they call armchair activists or “slacktivists,” people who they see as shallow activists for working from behind a computer screen instead of showing up at direct actions. While the disability community includes many people with different capacities, including strong voices who staged the longest occupation of a federal building in American history (along with the help of the Black Panthers), there are also those like me for whom direct action can be too physically painful and draining. Despite the fact that I live in the DC area, I was unable to participate in the Women’s March on Washington, as participating in that could have put me in pain for days. Withdrawal after months of high doses of Prednisone has also significantly increased my anxiety lately, making it more difficult to function in daily life, let alone contribute to larger efforts.
I find my strength and resistance through other means, which, of course, often has to do with technology. In my work, I advocate for voting rights for the disability community on a daily basis, fighting to make the right to vote accessible to all Americans, educating on the disability voting demographic, and working to expand opportunities for disabled Americans to learn to run for public office. I connect with and support other activists, especially intersectional activists, so that we can collaborate and show solidarity for each other’s work. I write, because words carry power in their ability to inspire and to rouse people to action. And between all of these activities, I schedule doctor’s appointments, recover from illness and surgery, struggle with new complications while treating old ones, and continue to live and thrive through physical pain, mental fogginess, and emotional exhaustion caused by my health.
I don’t think that I will stop grappling with this frequent guilt that I can’t do more at the moment, but I try to constantly remind myself of a rallying cry that has been perpetuated across marginalized communities since Trump’s election: my existence is resistance. Every day, I will continue to fight for justice in every way that I can and to support and boost those who are making their voices heard. I will celebrate and support those for whom merely existing as their authentic selves has become an act of political resistance, from my friends who are unapologetic about their blackness to those who grapple with laws that restrict their bathroom use based on others’ ideas about their gender. I will strive to learn every day about the history of people of color, of LGBTQIA+ people, of the women who fought for my rights, of my own disability rights movement. I will continue to use my words and actions in any way I can to fight for equality and justice.
Some day soon, when I’m no longer having appointments every Tuesday at the surgeon’s office or recovering from the pain and exhaustion of just getting through the day, I will add my voice to the millions around the country who are mobilizing and protesting. But until then, like many other Americans who deal with chronic illness or other barriers that prevent them from physical mobilization, I will put all the effort I can to fighting for our rights in ways that are accessible to me.
The contributions of those who can’t protest in “conventional” ways shouldn’t be written off. We can be just as powerful in our voices, in our convictions. We may not be superheroes, but we will continue to use all the power we have to fight for justice and equality.
That is enough.