“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A change in the family

I have a friend who has a physical disability. He developed the disability later in his life as the result of a traumatic brain injury and I never knew him as someone without a physical disability. We have lots of discussions about a variety of issues, however, last night, both as we sat together over a cup of coffee, and earlier when he addressed a class of mine, on several occasions he talked about how he has been feeling recently like his mind is clearing. He said one of the major results of his mind clearing is the realization as he says that, "I am not stupid!"

He talks about how his family has changed as a result of his becoming disabled. In his case, he feels the change is for the negative, like perceptions that people might have had about him for a long time are now coming to the surface evidenced in their treatment of him. I think he feels that his care, his need for various kinds of supports have brought the negative feelings out. His reply to his family is expressed in his pronouncements to me and last night's students. "I am not stupid!"

Clearly, he is not stupid. But I wonder about that, particularly in the case of someone who becomes disabled later in life. To those to whom you might have been less than kind, it is like the chickens come home to roost. But even to those with whom you have the best of relationships, it can become difficult. We are not prepared for the demands of a disabled family member, especially if we have fallen into the ruts of a comfortable family routine. I have to subjugate my desires to my family member's care and that is difficult at best. I can't imagine someone having to take care of me, for example. I am 6'7" and weigh every bit of 250. How would you like to have to move me around? And as nice of a guy as I might want to be, it will still be very difficult.

My friend sees himself as just a person which by the way is what he is. But he gets frustrated with the treatment he receives from his family and those in the community. He has come to grips in many ways with his disability, his limitations. What he has not come to grip with as of yet is the way people treat him as a result of his limitations. He feels he is being treated in ways that should have nothing to do with his disability. As he has grown into his disability (so to speak) many components of it are absolutely irrelevant, however, some of those same components are used by to society to define him, at times, as stupid and that is really frustrating.



Mark said...

Your friend is learning the difference between disability and impairment. His injury placed certain restrictions on his body that he can, at some level, adapt to. His disabilities are externally applied to him by the perceptions of others, the law, actions of family members, and his own past and present, interpersonal relationships.

In that sense, each of us are disabled by the perceptions of others and the roles we accept in life. It is not "fair" when the disabilities imposed on a person are irrelevant to his personhood.

It is also not "fair" when the person afflicted by an impairment makes himself more difficult to love and care for by behavior or the simple fact of the difficulty involved in providing high levels of care and support for that person. It is tough to be in the shoes of either party. Your right Jeff, as nice a guy as you are, I sure wouldn't want to take you to the bathroom six or eight times a day. But it might be a good workout.

Julana said...

This is off-topic, but I'm wondering how California's economic woes are going to affect people with disabilities out there.

Anonymous said...

This is mildly off topic. But, I work at Starbucks, and a lot of people treat me like I'm stupid. I want to yell at them, "I am not stupid" like your friend. People judge just because we are behind the counter and they are on the other side. Family/people judge and it hurts. They don't know what we are capable of. Only God knows. Sometimes they just need to be more patient... =)