Perspective

At FabTherapists’s recommendation, I have joined group therapy. After two sessions, the jury is still out as to whether or not it will be beneficial. One goal is for me to intentionally work on how I interact with non-disabled people in an environment where I can get feedback. In other words, if another group member offered me help I didn’t need, I could actually question the person about the impact of my response and their initial motivation.

Last week, someone discussed how their job was making them unhappy and stressed. As they were leaving work ruminating on this, they walked past a vet who was a double amputee and “it put my stuff into perspective.”

I hate when people do this and had a rather intense response. It did not go well and the therapist said, “That pushed your buttons. Next week how about you come back and explain why.” I decided that a blog entry would be an excellent way to clarify my thinking.

My first objection is that life stressors should not be compared. Each of us is a unique individual possessing certain personality traits, backgrounds, coping abilities, resources and so forth. How we each deal with life stressors should be viewed separately in the context of who and what we are. Invalidating your own life stressors based on your perception of others’ circumstances being worse minimizes and invalidates what might be a truly distressing situation for you. It’s not fair to do that to yourself.

My second objection has to do with the way disability is being viewed. To make a comparison, an impression of what the disabled person’s life must be like has to be formed. What is that impression based upon?

All the societal beliefs about disability that we are taught come into play to create a picture of what that person’s life must be like. Often, such knowledge is based on inaccurate information, distorted images portrayed by the media, stereotypes and misconceptions. It eventually boils down to seeing the life of the person with a disability as being les happy, more burdened, less rewarding and more stressful. The person with a disability is suddenly relegated to a place of less, lacking and unhopeful.

When I have questioned those who view my life as “hard,” I hear about how it must be awful not to be able to see x, y and z, how I can’t enjoy a, b, or c, and how I won’t ever be able to do j, k or l. I *never* hear about how my life must be hard because I live in a world that sees me as less, has distorted ideas about blindness, treats me as a child and refuses to perceive my value. Which do you think is actually what I would label the “hard” part of my life?

And that’s the reason why what my fellow group member said bothered me to such a degree. They just diminished the double amputee vet to a “hard” life based on physical limits. He wasn’t a father, brother, or lover. He was someone whose life must be so stressful that it makes one grateful for the paltry stress they have. Personhood was stripped away. Value was ignored.

It isn’t that much of a leap to go from “They just reduced that man to nothing” to “Do they see me as nothing?” I struggle every day to find ways to be valued for who I am, to be connected by love and affection to other people and to live my life authentically. The last thing I want is for my life to be reduced to someone’s means to feel better about their own existence. *I* just got lost in that equation and used in the process.

To answer my group therapist’s inevitable question, “How does that make you feel?”

Devalued. Invisible. Used. Angry. Frustrated. Resigned. Tired. Hopeless. Sad.

Worthless. Scared.

2 thoughts on “Perspective

  1. I like what you’ve written, and accept your analysis of the comparison between one person’s problems and another’s. I can see why you get lost in the process.

    However, if I may add another bit of perspective — a lot of the time, when people do that, they are really saying something about their own abilities to cope, as in “Wow! I don’t think I could deal with all that he/she has to deal with.” And, related to this, “Wow, that has to be an amazing person to be able to cope with those issues. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

    While still ignoring you, the person, as you noted, it’s not always a negative process — sometimes (often? always?) it’s ignorant (unknowing), but approving.

    In any case, your thoughts are well written and well expressed! Thank you for the insight!

    • Hi Larry,

      I love reader feedback not just for the ego stroking implied but also because it gives me an idea of when I’m making my point and when I’ve missed the boat. This time around, it appears the boat sailed without me.

      Yes, the person could be engaging in either of the thought processes you’ve described. The part that bugs me is the implicit assumption they are based upon. “All that she has to deal with” implies some sort of burden or problem or difficulty. It assumes facts not in evidence, if that expression makes any sense to you.

      If people assumed something positive about my character because they realized coping with how the world deals with blindness is an accomplishment, I’d be fine with it. However, they are assuming it’s hard to be blind. That’s not accurate.

      Am I getting clearer?

      Jen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *