I am often told of how “brave” I am. I am praised for my courage and random strangers tell me how I inspire them. There are aid workers who go off to work with Ebola victims, placing themselves in death’s sights in order to save lives and ease the suffering of others, who have probably received less praise for their bravery than I have. There are those who have gone into space, climbed mountains, trekked across the arctic and sailed single handed across the world who have inspired fewer people than I. I am a living miracle. A messiah for the modern ages.
“What have I done to be so goddam amazing?” I hear you ask. Easy, I am a disabled person and I’m not dead yet. It’s that simple. I have had conversations with people on Twitter who have commended me for my bravery just for lying in bed and moaning about the Tories. I’ve even had comments on this blog praising my courage simply for stringing sentences into paragraphs- whilst having a disability. I’m brave for being a mother. I’m brave for not dying. I’m brave for brushing my teeth.
It’s funny, this idea of the disabled person as idol. We live in a society where disabled people are continuously vilified as the economically inactive, and therefore “scrounging” dregs of society. Yet at the same time, if deemed to be disabled enough (for which we must also be self-denying- if you let slip you’ve got a flat screen TV you’re fucked), then we are placed on a pedestal. The late, great, Stella Young used to talk about “inspiration porn”. For example, you will often see memes about this disabled person had x wrong with their body but they still did y- all hail the cripple! The implied message being that if a crip can do that, so can YOU (because the presumption is that YOU are not a crip yourself). Similarly, any story intended to pull on the heart strings, climbs ten places in the sentimental stakes if you shove a cripple in there. A story about a missing dog- sad. A story about a missing dog, whose family has a disabled kid in it- a tragedy. We end up in this situation where we’re bullied, harassed and marginalised, whilst at the same time playing this role of making non-disabled people feel warm, and motivated. It’s like disabled people are the nation’s cigarettes. They know we’re bad for them, but damn! We’re just so satisfying!
How do we delineate between a brave disabled person and a cowardly one? I’ve been quite open about the fact that I struggle with depression, fits of crying about my situation for hours on end, and having made several attempts on my life. It seems you don’t need to cope (or even choose to live) with disability in order to tick the brave box. Would I be considered less brave if these people saw me hobble out to the car (though not the energy deficit that would follow later)? Apparently being able to do that pushes you into scrounger territory. Would they doubt my courage if they found out I had an iPhone? What if I had a 70” flat screen television, with the biggest Sky package you can get? Would making my life more bearable in that way make me more of a coward? If the Daily Mail is to be believed it would seem so. What if I told you I smoke way too much? Or that I drink 20 cans of x lager per week? Would I inspire you then? At what point do we become too autonomous, and make too many consumer choices, that we cross that threshold from sentimentality’s darling into The Daily Mail’s feckless scrounger of the week?
If you’re a non-disabled person please don’t utilise our disabilities and/or illnesses to make yourselves feel good. Don’t place us on pedestals simply for not being dead. I don’t need to win trophies for every sentence that leaves my lips. We are not here to make you feel good about yourselves, or to feed your PMT inspired need for sentimentalism. But in turn, don’t judge us badly for every well feeling day you see us have, or for every purchase we make, or cigarette we smoke. We don’t need to live under society’s microscope. In the Venn diagram of the inspirational cripple, and the feckless no-goodnik we tend to fall within the intersection. We’re just people, trying to get through life like anyone else- we just have a few more barriers than non-disabled people.