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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Is Calling a Person With a Disability "Inspirational", "Brave" or even "Strong" a Compliment?

Erin Tatum said it better than I ever could, in her essay for the Everyday Feminism site.    Please don't let the title of the site sway you.  No matter your gender or sexual orientation, this is an excellent article written by someone who has been disabled longer than I have -- since childhood or maybe even since birth.  So Ms. Tatum has a different perspective than I have but that doesn't make her adult experience any different from mine. In fact, the article was forwarded to me by my friend Anthony, who is male.

How do I feel?  Well, I have only been hearing these things for 13 years and not a lifetime.  It really depends on who says it, and the circumstances.  It means more to me when it is uttered by someone who knows me well -- sometimes.  There is a woman in my building who is very religious.  Every time she passes me outside, she calls me her "little angel", places her hand on my head and asks Jesus to heal me.  Believe me, there are other neighbors who need that just as much or more than I do; several years ago, we had a heroin addict who was found dead on his toilet five days after he died.  There is another neighbor who succumbs to schizophrenia about once a year and has to be hospitalized.  I don't see my pious neighbor placing her hands on my mentally-ill neighbor's head.

I have been told more than once after expressing my sympathy for a friend's misfortune, "oh never mind me; your problems are much bigger".  What an insult!  What that does is to disallow me from the privilege of being a sympathetic ear and a true friend -- i.e. an equal partner in a relationship.  An even bigger insult is the admission of a friend that she didn't want to tell me about her vacation because she didn't want me to "feel bad".  And more than once, I have heard that other people didn't want to "hurt" me by telling me about anything good happening in their lives.  To assume that I can't be happy for someone because I am disabled, is the ultimate insult.  And, to treat my recent re-connection with an old flame as the elephant-in-the-room, or to tell me that "nobody wants to see you hurt"?  What makes them think I am emotionally fragile because of my disability?  Actually, it's quite the contrary -- I've had to put up with more rejection and abandonment in the last 13 years than all the 47 previous years as an able-bodied person.  I am stronger than I've ever been.

Lastly, my posting of an article on Facebook recently, about a woman in California who was diagnosed with my disease and chose doctor-assisted suicide -- really opened my eyes.  My "friends" called her "brave".  All of a sudden, my choice to live wasn't the brave choice at all.  A real-life friend even told me that my choice wouldn't be her "cup of tea" and that she would have chosen death, like the woman in the article.  The fact that so many people would rather be dead than be me, really blew me away and made clearer their interpretations of "inspirational"

I'm sure some people will see this blog post as ungrateful.  They are paying me what they consider to be compliments.  Please follow the link above and read what Erin Tatum says.  Compliment my hair, my new sweater, or my writing or artwork. You can tell me I'm an inspiration because I managed to lose 22 pounds despite being a wheelchair user and have limited exercise options and hypothyroidism [slow thyroid] -- I'm proud of that.  But don't tell me I'm an inspiration because I choose to get out of bed every morning and do what I have always loved -- help people through my writing, and try to be a true friend and giving person.  Don't assume I am so wrapped up in my own misfortune that I can't listen to that of anybody else.  Most of all, don't presume that I begrudge the fortunes of other people, or -- worse yet -- that I can't hope for love, desire closeness from the opposite sex, or that my heart is any more breakable than it was when I was walking, and that somehow the wheelchair means my ego has become an easily-shattered piece of glass.
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