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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Sunday, July 15, 2007


I’ve been caught up in work and in sorting out some things in my private life. Thankfully, much of what was on my mind is now being taken care of. I’m now settled in my temporary house and everything is going well. I’ve also got some positive news about the progress of my dissertation – although there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done… there… which means I will be absent at regular intervals from posting here…

Perhaps I could say that my life is, like any other, and a ‘normal’ one at that. Yes, life cannot be better… or is it? Last Friday, I was in the company of a disabled friend who insisted that he wanted to be treated as a ‘normal’ person. No way had he wanted to use any walking aids which would make him more independent. No way did he want to be called ‘disabled’. So I might have offended him by introducing him earlier as ‘disabled’.

But what is this fear that makes disabled people reject their ‘impairment’ or status as ‘disabled’. What makes some of us want to bear the burden of ‘change’ on ourselves? Confessions are perhaps in order. I know what it was like when I didn’t want to be called ‘disabled’. I thought it was, more than anything else, an insult to everything I thought I was. I wrongly assumed that it meant that calling myself ‘disabled’ removed the claims to my worth as an individual. I also thought that it would not get me forward in life if I included my ‘impairment’ into the way I saw myself.

Needless to say, like my disabled/’normal’ (?) friend, I persisted in denying my impairment. I would do everything not to appear with other disabled people, or be associated with them. I would exert myself at the point of pain in standing up and walking for distances that literally took my breath away.

There were, of course, some benefits. I was able to act the part so well – when I didn’t use a wheelchair fulltime – which nobody would realise as long as I sat down which meant that I didn’t get the pat on the head right away. I also felt that I was doing the right thing, and that I should aspire to achieve ‘physical normality’ at all costs. Literally.

Nobody contradicted my disillusionment. Doctors, priests and even family members thought that walking ‘normally’ was the only ‘sane’ path that I should undertake. Even if I should fail, the struggle to reach this impossible goal was sanctioned – if not blessed – by everyone I knew. When I made an effort to walk longer, I was praised. My academic success or my achievements in my personal life were somewhat overshadowed by this hopeless struggle.

The road to ‘normality’ leads to … the sea! you either sink or swim. But if you get to swim, remember it will always be against the mainstream current. (Note: This is one of the slipways at the village where my summer house is located. The slipway is leading to a rather calm and murky sea.)

But what did this pursuit of a ‘normal’ body do to me? I can’t really say that my life centred on achieving ‘normality’. For I had many interests, and still have. I enjoy writing, listening to music and discovering new ideas and facts. But it did leave a scar on the ways I looked at myself. For whatever I did, I was not ‘normal’ enough. If I should do even the simplest thing, their would be a lingering thought that I am still ‘lacking’ or ‘failing’ to reach this goal people so much desired that I attained. I was practically living for others, not myself.

And what about me? I denied part of me. Indeed, I was so ashamed of my ‘impairment’ that I would describe myself using any title except the bad ‘d…’ word. Consequently, I felt always a failure at everything I did. I pitied other ‘disabled’ people who I thought worse off than me. I hated my ‘impairment’. Indeed, I hated even my own body for being what it was. Again, my life was not in my own control.

And yet, last Friday brought back the realisation that others have not grasped the self-destructiveness of denying their difference … or the fact that something can be done about it … that they should not be the ones to sacrifice their very identity to be accepted …

Indeed, the tragic thing is that arguing that one is really ‘normal’ means that you’re not only denying your own version of ‘normality’ – whatever it is, but it is also affirming that your position in society is rightfully ‘inferior’ because your body ‘does not work’. It pains me to recall how many nights I have hoped to wake up ‘normal’ in the past. And I am aware that some may still cling desperately to a dream that only leads, if any, to a fragile happiness based on other people’s opinions of what is right and wrong … of what is healthy or sick and ultimately to what is true or false.


Frogger said...

Really interesting post. I've been reading only for a couple weeks, but you seem to have a perspective that I do. Do you think it would be good if society expected people with disabilities to be proud of their disabilities? To own them? That feels like a really empowering position to me.

GordonGT said...

I agree that disabled people will be empowered if they own their impairments, and go as far as being proud of their differences. However, with the biases we still find in the Western bias which define the 'normal' according to physiological criteria, with people who do not conform as less or inferior, society's 'encouragement' is highly unlikely and still problematic.

For, the question really is, why are disabled people themselves not the ones to have to claim their impairment and own it? I am still struggling myself to assert myself as a disabled person in my society, and I admit that it is hard to do - especially when you're faced with the same negative ideas of disabled people as objects of charity, 'abnormal' or pitiful that it can get you down.

But unless we are the ones who set the facts right, and not try to 'appease' others, the change will come slowly - if at all. The problem here is that this wish to be included often divides disabled people because some may 'accept' unquestionably that their impairments are the ONLY source of their problems. When in fact, it is not the cause of our actual disability.