Motivation without ableism

This isn’t a hot take, an attack, or a call out. If you feel emotions rising that tell you you’re feeling that kind of way while reading please remind yourself that this is about the big picture – if you’re feeling guilty (or angry), maybe that is a useful emotion to direct into considering if or how you can change your own content to be more compassionate and less ableist.

a series of interlinking knots in alternating pastel colours.

I want to start with a personal story that inspired this post, because I think it’s important to understand initially the impact of well intentioned but poorly executed motivational posts.

I am currently dealing with Autistic burnout. I am also very much a proactive, change your attitude to change your life, look for the positives, person. I choose to try things, change things, take action over moaning (although I do moan too!) because I know it makes a difference. I have seen all the research that shows a positive mental attitude really does have a positive impact on our physical and mental health, among many other things. Which is why I was so upset when I saw a post which advocated for this – with the strong implication that it would solve everything. This implication was made overt in the reply to my own comment mentioning it.

I felt hopeless. I felt like maybe I am just being lazy, not thinking positive enough, bringing this on myself, etc. I questioned whether I really do experience the things I experience, because maybe everyone’s in a similar boat and they just put more effort in, either in practical application or in controlling their emotions.

In order to recognise that I was gaslighting myself, I had to once again go and read the stats that show the connection of privilege (or lack thereof) to opportunity, to income, to “success” however you want to define that. I had to spend time double checking my own knowledge, verifying my experiences and those of others with statistics and reasearch, because a well-meaning person chose to actively avoid acknowledging those facts in favour of a more likeable social media post.

Toxic positivity isn't the answer.

The reality is that while being positive and changing your view of things is definitely helpful, it doesn’t remove the hurdles that systemic issues and disabilities put in place, and acknowledging that doesn’t mean you get to abdicate your own responsibility for the things you can do something about.

As with many things – it’s a “yes and” situation.

A wise human and excellent trauma informed coach told me a few years ago that “resistance requires resource,” and to my mind, this is one place changing your attitude can help. One of the ways I personally run myself into the ground is through the internalised ableist belief that I can do anything anyone else can do if I just try hard enough – accepting my limitations has allowed me to ask for and accept help in the areas I struggle.

Alexis wearing a pink tshirt and pink cord dungarees sitting on a pink and white chair. Her pink hair is tied up in a rainbow coloured leopard print scrunchie with a little fringe on her face. She is smiling gently and staring into the camera.

Choose nuance over engagement bait.

Resistance to acknowledging my own struggles. Resistance to accepting that I need help in some areas, that I can’t do certain things. Resistance to allowing myself to experience all it is to be human – including envy or frustration. These energy expenses can be caused by only focusing on the positive (toxic positivity). 

Celebrating others, practicing gratitude, telling myself “yes, I can,” and other mindset shifts would not have got me to that place where I was able to start to get the support I needed to enable me to do the things that I actually could do if I had the necessary support. In fact those things led me down a very dark path because I was constantly celebrating others until I suddenly realised just how many people (amazing, deserving, talented people) had, once again, sped past me to success while I became more and more overwhelmed and found life increasingly impossible – I clearly must be doing something wrong, or not trying hard enough, or not willing enough to try the things that would work. I must be the problem.

Motivation is great. Helping people readjust how they see things, focus on the good, and look for solutions is great. But I don’t believe that doing that while ignoring the other things that play into people’s reality is helpful – in fact it can be very detrimental to many people, especially the most vulnerable and those with the least privilege. Let’s choose to share the slightly less engaging but more accurate post so everyone can be supported and feel motivated by your words.

One Response

  1. I feel this in my soul… the last year and a half (now I’ve got adhd diagnosis, understanding and meds) has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs as I finally had more mental capacity to do things, and realised my body couldn’t keep up. And actually, neither could my mind. I’ve had burnout a few times, and have finally faced my health conditions properly for the first time in my adult life.

    Spoonie life sucks sometimes, but it’s a hell of a lot easier now I’m learning how to pace myself. Though it still kicks my ass at times with pain flares etc.

    It helps me to connect with others who understand. And to remind myself that I have a *lot* on my shoulders – even if I didn’t have physical issues and wasn’t neurodivergent I would be struggling!