Friday, 9 August 2013

That's not helpful

Hypothetical situation: a person was born without vision.

They're perfectly capable in all other respects, and they live, study, work, play, get about, and do all the things countless people with vision impairment do all over the world.  They might have a service animal, use a cane, have screen reading software, perhaps a sturdy bookshelf of Braille tomes and some well thought out furniture placement.

Do you think it would help to have well-meaning strangers constantly trying to convince them that one day they'll see?  That if they think more happy thoughts, dress differently, lose weight, eat the latest fashionable South American berry, take this course or read that book or go to some other seminar, suddenly they'll have sight and then - and only then - will they be able to live a full and productive life?

Or would that be insulting and disrespectful?  To assume that happy thoughts and a book about self belief will change the physical and medical reality of one's body?  To assume that a person isn't already well versed in their own condition and what will or will not benefit them?  To assume that their disability is some sort of personal failing rather than just a thing that is?  To assume that one cannot be happy, or their life have meaning and value, unless they function and look and act just like you, the self-elected arbiter of "normal"?

But there's a long, long history of people doing this to me in relation to Aspergers.

If I say I struggle to make friends, I get well meaning talks about 'putting myself out there' as if that had never occurred to me.  If I point out that there are things I can't do or can only do in small doses because of sensory issues, I get told to just try harder, which is as constructive as telling our hypothetical blind person to just look harder.  If I try to explain that I don't have the neurological or emotional infrastructure to handle a partner or kids, I get blather about how I'll change my mind and there are plenty more fish in the sea. 

When I was younger I always expected I'd marry and have kids, because that was just what people did.  But now that I'm older, I know better.  Family life, while I'm sure it's lovely, just isn't for everyone.

But because I assumed it would be a part of my life, when I realised it wouldn't be, couldn't be, there was a lot of anger and sadness.  I grieved.  I have, on occasion, had an actual stab of pain in my gut on meeting a child with a name I'd planned to use for mine.  Coming to terms with this, saying goodbye to the children I never had, making peace with the reality of my life as it is rather than as I thought it would be, was hard.  It was a process.  It took a while.

So telling me that I'm still young and there are plenty of men in town these days thanks to the industry boom and I should go out more and have I tried dating sites and I should get a job on a mine site because there are plenty of men there (although exactly what they expect a disabled former journalist with a literature degree to do on a mine site remains unclear) it's not comforting.  It's not helpful.  All it does is bring back all that old pain back again, and never let it go away and never let that part of me that still hurts properly heal over.

So when someone says they're single, or childless, or planning not to have kids, or not looking for a relationship, think.  You don't know their story, their experiences, whether they have a condition that affects their fertility or their ability to connect with other people or generally cope and function in their everyday life.  Think before you speak.

And then, shut up.