Friday, 4 July 2014

Half As Crippled, Twice as Good.

Earlier this week I was described as the '...first person with Cerebral Palsy in the world to undertake a doctorate in Political Science'. This is probably accurate, I assume. Reading this though always takes me back to the question that dominates my psyche.

Do I have to transcend my disability so I can deem myself to be 'successful'?

I often equate this question by paraphrasing a saying that is popular with African Americans. Yes, I have to trancend my disability, because I have to be 'half as crippled, and twice as good'. I have always thought that this meant I must not adopt any professional concessions that directly relate to my disability. Even more importantly that I must not use my Cerebral Palsy as an excuse for the failure to achieve my goals. This is a point of pride and stubborness that has dominated my existence.

I've often described much of my life as one giant 'fuck you!'

You tell me that I can't talk? Fuck you!
You tell me that I'm intellectually impaired? Fuck you!
You tell me that I can't thrive in a mainstream school? Fuck you!
You tell me that I will struggle at university? Fuck you!
You tell me that you doubt my ability to complete a PhD? Fuck you!

Most of the time I am directly responding to my own personal doubts, but the majority of these comments have been public, and most have been directly to my face.

Way back at the end of 2008 that last particular 'fuck you' was a badge of honour for me. When I wrote the application for my thesis, I had to include a section about how my disability effects my daily life. I described my excellent ability to adapt to every situation that my disability throws at me. 'I have rarely asked for concessions, and I rarely take them when offered'. The 'fuck you!' was out in force again.

And then something happened. I realised how hard it was to do a PhD on the Sunshine Coast when all the resources I needed were more than one hundred kilometres away. And that this task was harder still when I was not able to meet with my supervisors on a regular basis.

It was at this time an important and destructive thought had entered my brain.

You are only living on the Sunshine Coast because you are DISABLED.

(I realise this now in retrospect)

I hadn't made concessions for a life that was a concession in itself.

That's how I got sick. Not only did I choose the most self destructive way possible to break free of my situational straight jacket, but I chose to obliterate everything in my wake until everybody connected to me understood my message.

It's time I took control of my life. Fuck all who get in my way.

And that's exactly what I did.

Post sickness I face more question marks. Because I was living on the Sunshine Coast for the first three years of my thesis I was working at around 40% productivity for the reasons above. When I got sick I lost almost a year because I was so emotionally volatile, I could not concentrate on anything else. So now I'm looking down the barrel of my third extension so I can finish the thesis.

If I ask for it, I will get it. I am disabled after all.

To describe this as a source of torment for my psyche is understating things. I fear my disability will defeat me. I fear that I am now taking twice as long to complete this thesis as I originally planned, and that I (and others) will say 'He's taking 7 years instead of 3 because he's disabled'.

As the time comes to decide whether or not to extend my deadline even further, the phrase '...because he's disabled' has been ringing in my ears.

That was until today, when someone told me the truth, and I finally listened.
Listen, if I had experienced what you have gone through I would have fucked up too. You're a perfectionist, and you are experincing the curse of perfectionism. What you are doing right now with your thesis is incredibly complex. You're the only person who is doing this particular thing. The only person in the world, walking or not walking. And you are disabled. Stop and think about that. 
You don't let yourself be a mere mortal. You didn't make these mistakes by being disabled, you made them because you have set expectations, which for the rest of us are impossible, but because you are Todd you can meet them. And you know you can meet them. That's how and why you have got this far. Fuck the deadline, push it back. You have got this, you know you have got this.  

1 comment:

  1. This is incredibly powerful... hands down the clearest statement I've read on the struggles we place on our own selves.

    Substitute any qualifier in place of CP, and it still rings true.

    As in, I'm a single mom, working full time and going to school; I'm a full-time caregiver; and more. It's not just disabilities that affect us, it's any circumstance we choose to allow as an obstacle!

    You're fortunate to have someone willing to tell you truth like this. It makes all the difference.

    Continued health and progress. Thanks for sharing this.