I remember reading a post by a mother a while ago, talking about her disabled child. Basically her post was saying that it annoys her when people say her child is “amazing” because they can do interesting, “normal” things despite their disability. At the time I think I agreed with it because it was well written, etc, but I didn’t really think much about it.
Last night I read a poem by a 16 year old girl who was paralyzed from the chest down. The person who posted it explained how she got paralyzed, etc, and then said how amazing it was that she managed to live a happy, fairly normal life despite her disability.
I have decided that this kind of thinking irks me. I don’t often think about it too much, but I do sometimes get comments about how inspirational I am for doing seemingly standard things. In fact, my dad sometimes gives me the “you’re amazing” talk. Don’t get me wrong, I do think I’m amazing and wonderful, but it’s certainly not because I can manage to be happy. I just like myself.
I have probably mentioned this before, but I’ve been disabled since I was born. I have Muscular Dystrophy, which makes my muscles week, and for some reason I can’t extend my arms or legs all the way. I also have epilepsy, which is mostly taken care of by my medication, but I still get symptoms occasionally. I have pretty terrible eyesight, too. Quite frankly, none of this has ever bothered me too much. I mean, it’s inconvenient in some respects, but I have far more important things to worry about.
I’m not special because I can write coherently or read stories, or critically analyze movies. I’m not special because I’m good at racing games. I’m not special because I’ll get up and sing in front of people. I’m not special because I learned to play guitar upside-down. I’m not special because I’m going to college. I’m certainly not special because I can manage to be happy. I choose to be happy. There’s nothing particularly different or amazing about that. It’s not that hard. Anyone can choose to be happy. It just makes life easier.
Saying that “people like me” are special because we can manage to be happy and functional is actually a bit insulting. It implies that we should pity ourselves and let the world run our lives for us because we have the right to. I have no interest in doing that. I sometimes pity myself. It’s true, but it’s certainly not because I can’t walk. Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t ever been able to get a date and why it’s so difficult to get gigs as a newbie musician. Then I stop worrying about it and move on because worrying solves nothing. And yes, I do complain about some of that stuff on this blog. This is where I do my worrying about it.
We’re just people. Maybe we look a little different and our bodies or our minds work differently, but at our core we’re no different than anyone else. I met a man this past semester who had no arms and no legs. He seemed very nice and I didn’t get to talk to him very much, and it only occurred to me after our conversation had ended that he was somehow driving his wheelchair with no arms or legs. I asked his sister about it because she is a classmate of mine, and she said because he lost his limbs when he was young, he was able to develop muscles in his elbows that most of us don’t use. I thought it was cool because I learned something new. It’s a testament to how adaptable humans in general are. This man was not inspirational to me, however, because he wasn’t trying to be. I liked him because he was friendly and interesting. He was just a normal person to me because I expected him to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad some people can find “people like me” inspirational. They would be wrong, but it doesn’t cause them too much harm. What I would ask is that they keep it to themselves. Be our friends. ask us about what we’re interested in. Argue with us about philosophy. Treat us like you would treat anyone else. Just stop telling us how amazing it is that we’re happy.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!