“Try not to associate bodily defect with mental, my good friend, except for a solid reason.”
— from David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Disclaimer: This is a real work in progress. I can’t seem to fix it so it doesn’t come across as a lecture, and that’s not my intent. Please keep in mind that the “you” here is the general “you,” and is not meant to refer to what you personally might have done or said or thought. Please also feel free to tell me to get over myself in the comments.
I’m bailing on today’s prompt – my very first kiss was entirely forgettable and nothing to write home about (but if you want to know about a first kiss, you can click here – this is one of my favorites, despite the ending). Instead, I want to touch on something that’s come up in a few comments lately but is by no means a new “problem” for me.
My hearing loss doesn’t make me special, you guys. Here’s what I mean:
Toward the end of my third year of law school, a classmate I only knew in passing randomly came up to me and told me earnestly that she was “so impressed” that I’d managed to get through three years of law school despite not being able to hear. This was clearly meant to be taken as a compliment. And this happens a fair amount; in fact, it happened just yesterday in the comments section.
The other way it comes up is, “That sure must have been hard, but look how strong it made you.” I call that the Magic Cripple. This also just happened, on someone else’s site.
Let me be clear: I know there’s no condescension intended in these statements, that the people who say these things mean well. I get that, and I appreciate it. But the only thing statements like that do is reinforce the idea that I shouldn’t have been able to come through a thing like losing my hearing overnight, that I shouldn’t have been able to succeed at law school (or anything else) because I can’t hear normally anymore.
Having a disability and being successful are not mutually exclusive, and to imply that they are (even if you don’t realize you’re doing it) is harmful. It perpetuates the stereotype that people with disabilities are less than and can prevent them from even being offered the opportunity to show what they are capable of. It happened to me. When I was finally ready to try to find a new job after losing my hearing (and my old job), I sent out hundreds of resumes (which stated that I needed to be contacted via relay) and called so many places (via relay) and was offered . . . three interviews. And even each of those three places more or less openly doubted that I could do the job once they learned of my hearing impairment, even after meeting me.
The way I see it, there’s no magic in “overcoming” a disability. It doesn’t make you brave or inspirational or strong. You were either already brave and inspirational and strong before (or, at least, had it in you to be) or you weren’t. What I mean is, some people will succeed after, say, losing their hearing or the use of their legs, and some won’t. What determines that is who you were before, not the fact that a terrible thing happened to you. I’ve talked about this before:
Sometimes people say, “You’re so brave,” or “I don’t think I could have handled it as well as you have.” I rarely think of myself as courageous, and people only see me that way because they think what happened to me is unbelievable. They ask, “How did you ever get through it?” I say, “You do what you have to do. You get up every day, even when it’s hard, and you take it hour by hour – minute by minute if you have to: Get out of bed now; go to the gym now; eat lunch now; read this book now. Then you go to bed and do it again tomorrow.” Eventually, it isn’t so hard to get out of bed, and one day you realize that life can still be good and that you want to be a part of it.
You can’t imagine it happening to you, and if you tried, you’d assume that you wouldn’t be able to survive, let alone succeed. God knows that’s how I felt when it happened to me. But the truth, for almost everyone, is that you would.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I appreciate where you’re coming from, and I know you mean well. I’m just asking you to think about the way you see me, and other people like me. All I’m saying is, what I’m capable of with a hearing impairment is generally not more remarkable than what I would be capable of with normal hearing. I’m different, but I’m not special.