Believe it or not, in the last three days I have been offered three jobs – three industry jobs. (Casual, project work. Normal for my industry.) Two of them even involve payment of the financial kind, although the sort of payment that involves more ‘experience’ and less actual money, as is normal for a student. None of them involved my doing anything but existing.
(The ‘experience’ thing is pretty valuable. I’ll be finishing this course having done about half a dozen resume-worthy things, not all of which are usually part of my course. In the long term, it’ll be worth it: I’ll be more employable than someone else, and I’ve already got my chronic pain as a strike against my name. I do feel a pressure to be more awesome and even that strike out, and that means knowing how to do things that go beyond sitting in a classroom and turning in a paper. (Yeah, I’m mixing my metaphors.) The sad reality is that too many people aren’t going to want to hire a Person With Disability over an able-bodied person unless said PWD brings something else to the table. Having the ‘something else’ helps me maintain hope that I can work in the industry I love. Hope keeps me sane.)
Of course, as per the usual, this is only the beginning of the introspection, and writing about it led me somewhere else entirely.
First, I need to confront that ‘but existing’ qualifier. Were I in therapy right this moment, my psychologist would be giving me that Therapeutic Look, the one that says ‘K.A., I am concerned and I am going to pursue this with devastating kindness’ followed by a sincere, awkward, horrific conversation where we discuss why I feel the need to diminish my achievements (again). These days, actually, I’m pretty okay with the ‘why’, but it’s a long, slow process of holding that in my mind.
No, I did more than just exist: I’ve spent eighteen months working my arse off and giving my studies everything I can. I’ve been reliable and motivated and hard-working, and that and a little talent means a lot of people forget I have medical conditions that, by rights, should mean I do so much less well. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re in the middle of it all, but I guess I might be my own equivalent of those soft-news pieces where PWDs climb mountains and the able-bodied ooh and ah because it’s so fucking inspiring (and then return to their normal lives). I’ve made people forget that my hands and head are fucked. I’ve made people offer me the things they offer to able-bodied students. That in itself is an accomplishment. I have not just existed; I have overcome.
(Remembering that we live in an unfair, ableist world, of course. I shouldn’t have to prove myself to teachers who think on our first meeting that I might be a problem student. ‘Shouldn’t’ and ‘reality’, however, are two different things.)
What I meant, I guess, is that I’m now reaping the rewards in the sense that the jobs found me – that I am now living in a universe where I get to partake in karma’s positive side as well as the negative. I’ve earned everything that has and will come my way. I’ve paid for it in pain, my companion out of hell.
It would be nice if pain let me travel on my own, now, but I suspect it won’t leave me just yet, because I don’t think I’m wholly come to terms with it. If pain left me now, it would be an escape rather than a parting of the ways. I’m better than I was, but it would still be an escape, and escape doesn’t lead to growth, so I suspect pain will be with me for a while yet until I’ve learnt all it can teach. This is what two years of therapy does to you, by the way – the kind of interpersonal therapy that goes into a deep re-wiring of the soul. For me, it’s about coming to terms with the universe and myself. Surrender. The will that makes me do everything I have also makes surrender hard, but I’m young: with any luck and the universe’s grace, I have years ahead of me to figure it out. With any luck, this time, the universe will send gentler teachers than a disabling injury-turned-pain condition: this time, after all, I am listening.
(This is new to me, you know. Tarot cards and surrender and my pain as companion. It’s not just declaring my lack of gender that makes me feel as though I’m a whole other person.)
Second, this reflection on my hard work and growth brought to mind something I’ve been struggling with this week – my frustration and impatience with other people. Impatience with those who act like children, and complain about something not suiting them rather than finding ways of getting the work done. Impatience with those who sit back and throw away all the opportunities their able-bodies give them. Impatience with those who sit back and complain about the most petty of problems. Impatience with people who don’t try or use things as reasons to not try. Impatience, in short, with all those people who haven’t yet managed the very little soul-growth I’ve managed. People who complain instead of problem solve, waste opportunities, fail to step up and seize the power in their own hands, drift along and get kicked in the teeth, radiate misery and drain joy.
(I’m not saying I never do these things. I’m human. I do. I’m a fucking hypocrite and I admit it.)
It grates at me, because I feel so very keenly what they’re not seeing. I want to strangle the people who sit back and coast through school, because I don’t want them to have to return five years later with all the problems and complications I have. I want to shake those who complain about petty things, because they’re nothing compared to the challenges they could be facing, and they have no idea how lucky they are. I want to scream at everyone who complains about lacking motivation, because they need to learn how to be motivated now, so they don’t have to learn it when they’re in so much pain they just want to cry and give up. I want to be mean, cruel, terrible, ridiculous. Grow up! Wake up! Stop! Your lives will be so much better if you don’t make my mistakes!
I struggle with impatience with all those people who are me a month or six months or a year ago – impatience with my child self, my lost self, my broken self, my taking-my-body-for-granted self, my immature self.
(No. Pain won’t leave me yet, not while I still struggle with so much hatred for the person I was. Expecting otherwise is unreasonable.)
But it occurs to me, now that I am a different person, now that I am struggling with frustration and hatred and pity and a whole heap of other emotions (that aren’t acceptance or surrender) for what I was – I am so grateful for all the people who supported me and offered their kindness and their patience, but also held their peace when I floundered and complained and radiated misery and wasted opportunities and held such negative self-belief so close to my heart. I don’t know how you did it, those of you further along the path than I. I’m grateful that you tolerated my pain, my drain on your psyche, my childishness, my desperation, my whining, my insecurity. I’m grateful you bore the way I was nothing but sadness and pain. I’m grateful that you let me be to learn for myself and in my own time, when my heart and mind were ready, because of course that’s the only way we ever will change and learn.
You can’t force learning and growth on people. You can’t rescue people from themselves. You can only be kind. You can only be wise enough to know that the only way we ever learn the important things is through fucking up and then walking through life with pain as companion … and that love, real love and real kindness, is letting someone fuck up and learn.
Thank you, those of you – and you know who you are, those friends who gave of your time and compassion while living half a world away from me – who put up with me in my teenage phase, and took on the role of true parents that I didn’t and don’t have. I’m not sure how you loved me, since you have even less obligation and cause than my own flesh-and-blood, but I’m grateful that you did.
Of course, the only way to repay such a kindness is to pay it forward.
Patience. Patience with all the people who frustrate me, all the people who are – regardless of age – in their teenage phase.
Do you hear the looming silence? I do.
I’ve got no bloody idea how to go about doing that.
Still. The one thing I know about life is that it’s supposed to feel like an insurmountable challenge. No, I have no idea how I’m going to manage the patience and acceptance required for that level of true, deep kindness and compassion. But I also had no idea how I was going to manage school, nineteen months ago, and yet, here I am, managing school, and managing it well enough that people are offering me jobs and validating my abilities.
Put a stick in my right hand and let me climb the next mountain. Doesn’t matter how long it takes – I’ve got pain to keep me company.