Daily Archives: September 21, 2008

On adjustment, dogs, and not “smiling through the pain”.


I’ve recently seen a lot of people comment on disabled people’s opinions, in the context of “adjusting” to whatever condition we’re said to have.

Basically, if a disabled person is fine with being disabled, then it’s clearly some kind of defense against having to “hope” for a cure. The idea of just being okay with the way your body functions (at least to the extent most people are) seems to be unthinkable to some people. And the idea that disabled people’s opinions come from deep emotional conflicts over the fact that our bodies work the way they do… just no.

I used to talk online with someone who had cerebral palsy. She said that every time she had a negative emotion, it was considered to be “not adjusting to her disability”. Even though she was born that way. She didn’t need to adjust, she’d always had a body that operated the way hers does.

The fact is that a lot of disabled people either actively don’t want to have bodies that function in typical ways (at least not in all respects), or else basically don’t want to be bothered.

About not wanting to be bothered:

Lots of children dream of becoming sports stars. This may lead to them getting into that sport on a child’s level, but very few take it to the point of making it their life’s goal. Often, they do not have the kind of body, or reaction time, or cognition, suited for whatever that sport is. And generally they find other things to do with their lives, enough other things that not being a baseball star doesn’t ruin their lives, and most of the time they don’t even think “Gee, I’m not built to be a baseball star.” It’s just not part of how they work, and so it’s not even an idea that crosses their mind often.

Not everyone is built to be a sports star. Most people don’t lament not being one, or they might do so a little but not a huge amount. This is because it’s considered normal not to have a body optimized for that particular thing.

The same is true for disabled people. We don’t have standard bodies (I’m including brain in body for simplicity of language here, and also because it is a body part), any more than most people have standard sports-star bodies. Most of us don’t lament that fact. Those that do (especially those who suddenly became disabled), generally get over it.

Or as one person said, whose name I wish I remembered so I could cite wherever she wrote this, “I don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘Yep, still disabled.'” (That’s either a quote or a close paraphrase, I’m not sure.)

Most people see disability as this huge, life-altering, scary, tragic, horrible, unremittingly unpleasant, thing. And so they imagine that’s how most disabled people see it.

Some of us do. But most of us — even many people with shortened lifespans — see it as an inconvenience at worst. We may or may not do things to make our bodies function in more typical manners, but most of us do not spend all our time engaging in pointless exercises in self-pity. The fact that some people expect that we do (and that all our other thoughts on disability are just a defense against feeling sorry for ourselves) says more about the people who say that (and their conception about what it’s like) than it does about us.

Dave Hingsburger once compared me to a three-legged dog. I had clearly found ways of doing what I needed to do, with the body I’ve got, rather than emulating someone with a more typical body. I was also not particularly wallowing in a huge sea of negative emotions for having the body I’ve got (why would I?). He’d seen a three-legged dog that was the same way.

In fact, three-legged dogs and cats generally do just find ways of doing what they’ve got to do with the bodies they’ve got. Not because they’re “too simple” to know better or something, nor because they’re any stronger or braver than humans are, they just for whatever reason don’t tend to automatically go in the direction of “Woe is me, I am disabled.” They seem to just figure out what needs to be changed and change it (if they weren’t born that way, in which case they just figure out what to do the same way anyone does).

I think that human beings could take a lesson from dogs and cats this way. Not like “Wow it’s so inspirational that that cat still walks around even though she’s got to use a cat-wheelchair for her back legs.” (What do they expect her to do?) Not like, “Wow that dog really overcame his disability, and we should do the same!” More like, why throw all these pointless and meddlesome ideas on top of an experience that’s close to universal when taken across an entire lifespan?

It seems though that many people view disability as necessarily something that you have to be in a constant adversarial role with. In which case you have to “adjust” to it or something. But… really, views about disability are not all tied back to some imaginary experience people would think we are having as disabled people. People seem to think they have to make a relatively simple thing more complicated than it is, adding all kinds of layers of emotion and misconceived thoughts to it.

So, no. My views about my body, such as they are, are not all “adjustments” to having it, any more than most people’s feelings about their bodies are “adjustments” to having their bodies. But it seems like in some circles you have to have a more-or-less standard body in order to be allowed the privilege of not having their thoughts and feelings (especially positive ones) about their body be considered an “adjustment” to the awful state of affairs that their bodies are presumed to be. Or as the book Pride Against Prejudice by Jenny Morris said, just because we are happy does not mean we’re “just smiling through the pain” or “just putting a good face on it”.