Strength is often perceived as a symptom of disability. If one can endure the everyday difficulties of having a disability, they must be strong. It’s the ‘super-crip’ labeling. If one can simply go out and get the newspaper with a smile on their face, they must be strong. If one can cope with an affliction that so many others believe they couldn’t endure, they must be strong. It is rather condescending when perceived strength is spelled out like that.
A blogger friend, The Chaser, wrote me some beautiful words of support last week. They gave me encouragement and reminded me of my strength. They weren’t condescending, and spoke the truth. A true observation made by someone that has never met me:
“People somehow think that since you deal with this illness you are strong enough to handle everything they have as well. They lean on you. Expect that you can take it…after all…look how strong you are with everything else in your life. You overcome, that’s what you do…your heart is even more sensitive than your skin…and you love harder than anyone gives you credit for…and when you hurt, you hurt like anyone else. You hurt like everyone else.”
Lots of people tell me how strong I am. I just think of it as getting on with life. Going through physically painful times. Enduring the stares and comments because of my appearance. I just get on with it. If let these things stop me, I’d probably be bored at home, receiving welfare payments, watching re-runs of Oprah and wishing I had a life. And so for this great life I have, being strong is the only choice I have.
I don’t see my ‘strength’ until people remind me of it, and sometimes say they admire me for it. And in recent times, I believe my strength is a reason I can take on a lot emotionally. It may well be a reason I gave so much of myself to help someone else. He once told me that the he loves me for how strong I am. And this strength is the reason I am hurting so much, and also an assumption that I am going to be ok.
Todd from Toddocracy wrote a moving blog post about strength and disability last week, too. It resonated with me, and was the inspiration for this particular post. I want to share it with you. Thanks for letting me re-publish it, Todd.
“People often confuse strength and perseverance. Especially when it comes to disability. Apparently people see me as ‘strong’ because I put up with my disability and attempt to build life beyond its restrictions. This requires neither of the above two qualities. I am not strong because I attempt to live an adequate (yet ultimately unfulfilling) life. Nor is it perseverance, because that implies I must have a degree of honourable character in order to look past my own flaws. And I cannot.
Give me anything in the world and if I had the opportunity I would flee from my current circumstances. The fact that I have not implies nothing, except that I have neither the means nor the opportunity to do so. I never will.
So in this context, what constitutes strength?
- Is it making the ‘best of’ a miserable situation and finding the little things to make a happy life?
- Is it forming the unrealistic expectation and hoping circumstances change?
- Is it trying to find a way out hoping that a ‘better situation’ can be found?
Trying to find the answer to the first question could constitute strength, but the other two do not. Sure, achieving the small things in life and being proud of the most minuscule achievements can have a positive short term effect. But when the core problem remains this placebo is short lived. In my case it will never, ever change no matter how many small moments there are.
This also takes away the last two questions: there won’t be any changes and better circumstances will not be found. So all that is left is to remain stoic.
This is the reason why I am highly opinionated. When I am required to sit down and cop my misfortune on the chin for every minute, of every hour, of every day, I refuse to do so in any other aspect of my life.
Perhaps that is what strength means?”