Thursday, 23 January 2014

Thriving in 'The Shit Hole'

In retrospect, September 26th 1998 was probably the most pivotal day in my family's existence. I remember it like it was yesterday. Dad had to rush to the airport at lunchtime, a stressful event in any case because that was the day the Adelaide Crows were playing in their second consecutive Grand Final (which they subsequently won, in a huge upset). However it was even more treacherous because he was having a second interview for the position of Primary School Principal at Matthew Flinders Anglician College (MFAC) on the Sunshine Coast. I was on VCR duty that day in case he didn't arrive back in time for the start of the match.

Just over two weeks later on October 13th, the family found out that he had got the job.

It is hard to exaggerate how angry I was.

The year before we had stayed on the Sunshine Coast for a week. At the time Dad knew someone who taught at MFAC, so we took the 30 minute drive from Caloundra to Buderim. As we drove through the Buderim main street I remember my exact thoughts 'What a shit hole! I'm glad we don't live here!'.

On January 13th 1999, we arrived in the shit hole, a town where there were more nursing homes than fast food outlets. I was 15. This in my eyes was an abysmal, catastrophic decision. I was giving up our Footy Park membership to live in this geriatric abyss?

When I moved to Queensland, I said that I would have to live there for 15 years before I could call myself a Queenslander.

I am still South Australian.

Though I maintain permanent residence in 'The Land of Thugby' I still miss my Footy Park membership more than any activity in Queensland. The move is the best thing that has happened in my lifetime, but at least in Adelaide it doesn't rain torrentially and the majority of the sporting population plays REAL football.

Despite this, I have to thank 'the shit hole' for so many things. At the time of the move I was a real dickhead, with no real purpose or life goals. The move to a different locale cemented my thirst for the political. And I was lucky my parents found a good high school that identified my talents and supported them. Though I wanted to move away from the Sunshine Coast the second I arrived there, and still wanted to every day after that, I was also lucky that I was in the right place at the right time.

Enrolling at the University of the Sunshine Coast and their vastly underrated politics faculty allowed me to be an enormous shark in a tiny puddle, with great educators and compatroits. I developed academic confidence and excelled whilst completing two degrees. That was something no one thought I could do when I was still living in my hometown.

Though I have absolutely no desire to live in Adelaide or the Sunshine Coast ever again, I couldn't have asked for two better stopovers on the path to independence.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Fallen Buzzer

In my apartment complex, we have a buzzer system in order to summon carers as we need them. They are connected to a mobile phone which each of the carers carry during the course of a shift. If for example, I need to go to the toilet, I simply press the buzzer and the next available carer answers it. As soon as they arrive, either the carer or myself turn the buzzer off to indicate that my request has been answered.

Normally I have a buzzer attached to the headboard of my bed so I can reach to press it when I want to get up. Through sheer happenstance the velcro that attaches the buzzer to the headboard came apart sometime on Friday night. I was fast asleep so I didn't hear this. When I awoke at nine yesterday morning the buzzer was on the floor. What was I to do?

Every carer who works at the apartment knows I'm not the most jovial person in the mornings so they don't come in to my room until I buzz for them (this is at my request). The nearest buzzer is connected to the wall, above the headboard. I like to sleep at the bottom of my pillow with only the very top of my head touching the pillow. In order to reach the buzzer connected to the wall, I have to inch up the pillow so I can reach the wall buzzer, using the muscles in my upper body. By 10am I was halfway up, and at exactly 10:53 I reached the buzzer.

The first carer responds about three minutes later.

'Good morning sleepyhead! Have another late night?
'Well yes, but the buzzer fell off the headboard and I only just got to the one on the wall after two hours' I replied
 'Shit, sorry! the carer says
'Not your fault. Can you fix it? I was going to get up, but now I need a nap'

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Greatest Cripple Ever Known

In my bedroom I have this picture framed on my wall.



I purchased it three years ago at the start of my battle with debilitating depression. My psychologist suggested that rather than constantly looking at things that reminded me of past events, I should focus on a person that I admired most.

There are many reasons that I instantly chose Franklin Delano Roosevelt, some are obvious, others not so. He is arguably history's greatest political leader. He was also physically disabled. Numerous historians believe these two tidbits are mutually exclusive. That Roosevelt's ability as a political leader, the same qualities that helped him withstand the enormous challenges of the Great Depression and the Second World War have nothing to do with each other. I would respectfully disagree. In most cases, having a disability teaches you empathy, compassion and a greater understanding of human nature. We are not merely people who face challenges every day, we excel in life because the tenacity and persistance required to live are transferred into all other pursuits. It was certainly true in Roosevelt's case.

A new book, The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency shares these sentiments. Tracing the 12 years from when Roosevelt first contracted the polio virus in 1921, at the age of 39, to when he was first inaugurated as President of the United States in 1933, James Tobin argues this period shaped the fortunes of FDR's presidency more than any other. Prior to his illness, Roosevelt was like every other upper class New Yorker of his era, who lived a privileged childhood while his overprotective mother doted on Franklin's every whim. Educated at an exclusive private school before entering Harvard, it seemed that FDR lived a charmed life. Destined for a career in politics Roosevelt served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the First World War under President Woodrow Wilson, he then managed to secure the position of Vice Presidential candidate in 1920 for the Democrats as part of James Cox's quest to become President. The Democrats were soundly defeated.

It was the first time in his whole life Franklin Roosevelt did not get what he wanted.

While pondering his next political move, he contracted the polio virus and things were never the same again.  When the illness began to take hold in April 1921, he did not get out of bed for 6 months, largely left to his own devices and a lot of thinking time. He decided on two interlinked goals: to walk independently and to revive his political career. Tobin's book recounts Roosevelt's singleminded drive to achieve these goals.

As strange as it sounds, the lack of technology in the 1920 and 1930s worked to Roosevelt's advantage. While much of Tobin's book argues that Roosevelt never 'hid' his disability from the American public, the lack of constant media coverage certainly worked in his favour. As I have argued previously, a person with a physical disability will never be elected to high office in today's political environment. Regardless, Roosevelt used his disability as a political advantage, creating a new narrative as the cripple who overcame insurmountable odds. Though he would eventually forego his desire to walk independently, his legendary political career was forged between April and October of 1921 in his bedroom at Hyde Park.

Though the book doesn't delve into Roosevelt's Presidency I would argue that without the polio there would be no New Deal, which in turn means no welfare state, and in turn no basic social reform programs, which sustained economies worldwide for the latter half of the 20th century. Without the greatest cripple the world has ever known, life as we know it would not exist.

If there's one quote that encapsulates Franklin Roosevelt up it would be Tobin's last:

Early on in his Presidency, FDR discussed the merits of implementing a policy. An aide told him 'You can't do that!' to which he simply replied:

'I've done a lot of things I can't do'

Thursday, 2 January 2014

'The Unsound of Limb...'

I'm currently reading The Man He Became about how Franklin Roosevelt won the Presidency of the United States in spite of his polio. Given my two areas of academic interest: political leadership and society's attutides towards people with a disability, this book is a natrual fit for me (A review of the book may come when I've finished depending on time restrictions).

However one quote in particular jumped out at me, which was taken from Robert Murphy's The Body Silent and I just had to share it because it encapulates the frustrations of my entire life as a person with a disability.
The disabled must comfort others about their condition. They cannot show fear, sorrow, depression… or anger, for this disturbs the able-bodied. The unsound of limb are only permitted to laugh. The rest of the emotions, including anger and the expression of hostility, must be bottled up, repressed, and allowed to simmer or to be released in the backstage area of home…’