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  • Writer's pictureMorgane Hanley

I'm Not Sorry: Learning Not to Apologize for My Body

"Sorry, but could you help me carry my bag?"

"I feel bad, but do you mind if we sit down for a few minutes?"

"Um, this is awkward, but could you move your leg? It's hurting my back."

These are phrases that have become my norm as someone living with chronic pain. I have had to adapt my routine to account for my body's changing needs, but it isn't always easy telling people when my body is in pain. Once I finally muster up the courage to ask for help, the words "I'm sorry" unconsciously slip out. I have felt the need to apologize for my body. But I don't want to have to apologize anymore. 

In a structurally ableist society, disabled bodies are often viewed as an inconvenience. Non-disabled people are taught to either fear or pity disabled bodies. Despite my ongoing efforts to challenge socialized views around disability, they continue to show up unintentionally in how I express my needs to others. Is it really an inconvenience to have a friend help me carry a heavy grocery bag or ask my partner to shift positions while we're cuddling so I am more comfortable? No, I genuinely don't think so. Yet, I subconsciously feel the need to apologize because my body functions outside the set "norm." Compounding with being socialized as female, I have been taught not to take up space and apologize for any minor inconvenience. Maybe I feel the need to put my body down and acknowledge my perceived discomfort around a situation before someone else does that to me. If I say I am sorry, I won't risk someone else making me feel sorry. 

Yet, I question why it is so challenging for me to express my needs to others. Western culture, especially, is hyper-focused on independence. Most of us in the U.S. have heard the saying, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps," a concept I find problematic for many reasons (most of which I won't get into right now). But I think the hard-ingrained belief that we must do things by ourselves to be successful can come at the cost of our collective good. 

I have always taken a lot of pride in my independence. However, as my chronic pain worsened, I found myself having to rely on others for things like carrying groceries, moving heavy objects, or handwriting things— or else risk a flare-up that could seriously limit my mobility for days or even weeks. Even with direct physical consequences for not expressing my needs, I often put myself in exactly that situation; the flare-up I get makes me feel bad, not just because of the pain but because of the frustration directed at myself for not having said anything to help prevent it.

I am glad that my chronic pain has slowly but surely taught me how to better listen to my body and ask for help. I am also grateful that it has helped me become more emotionally vulnerable with people in my life, allowing me to grow closer relationships with people who truly understand me. By communicating our needs, we can build a web of mutual support and understanding. By learning to take up space, we can use our voices to fight for change. By learning not to apologize for our disabled bodies, we can grow in self-confidence and love for ourselves. 

Will I apologize the next time I need to ask someone for help? Maybe. However, I am committed to unpacking my beliefs, challenging my internalized narratives, and becoming more conscious of my words moving forward. One day, I hope I will no longer apologize for expressing my needs and doing exactly what I need to do to take care of my body.

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