I’m an Inspiration: Living with Limited Mobility

So I guess I need to start accepting the fact that people feel inspired by me just existing and doing normal activities….

It always rubs me the wrong way when people say they find me inspiring.

I get approached all the time by strangers, telling me “semangat”. A word of encouragement in Indonesian – roughly translates to “keep up the spirit“.

Or “hebat ya“. i.e. “you’re amazing“.

At the gym people would tell me I am so brave, did not let my limitations hold me back, asking for a picture together so they can share with their friends, for motivation.

Uhm, okay, thanks? insert 65% polite 35% awkward smile.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand they meant well and where they are coming from. From evolutionary standpoint, it’s natural to view people with disabilities as “less than”. Less fit, less wired for survival.

The assumed story is that these “less than” people would feel ashamed, like they are useless, be depressed, and see no point in living. Then the next logical assumption is that it takes a great deal of effort for them to show up in public to participate or thrive in life. As if the default path is that these people would become a burden to the society. Well everyone is a burden to the society in some ways don’t you think?

What I know for sure is: statistically speaking, you could find people in this world really who fit that profile, disabled or not.

People who genuinely do struggle in finding a motivation to live life to the fullest and be a valuable member of the society.

I suppose it makes sense to assume that the rate of risk for depression is higher for people with disabilities, but I have never looked into any research, ran any survey, or talked with anyone with physical disability. So I cannot speak with data to validate how realistic this story is.


The root fallacy here is we judge things from our perception and our baseline of what is normal. We imagine how we would feel if we were put in that situation. But we often forget, our normal is not other people’s normal.

Every single one of us was dealt different stack of cards in life. We are born into different families, different privileges, different intelligence, different race, social statuses, genetic predisposition, and all the shebang. We then go through life, get different circumstances, we overcome challenges, and make the best decision that we can to deal with anything that life throws at us.


But, why am I so annoyed by it?

I have never actually sat down and asked myself that question.

One reason I can think of right off the bat: I wasn’t comfortable being praised and complimented.

And this is a common thing. Accepting compliments not something people are generally good at.

Just Google it. You’ll find countless variations of articles and guides “Why Can’t You Accept a Compliment”, “Why is it So Hard to Accept Compliments”, “Guidelines and Expressions for Accepting Compliments“. It’s one of those neat and complex social skill of signalling a balanced sense of confidence and humility. There’s even a TEDx talk for it!

Basically, I don’t like the attention. Calling out my disability is drawing attention to and putting the spotlight on /that thing/.

Why?

  • First reason: Generally speaking, compliments can make people with low self-esteem feel uncomfortable because they contradict their own self-views. People actively seek to verify their own perceptions of themselves, whether those are positive or negative.

  • Second: Apparently we blush when complimented and that this cheek-coloring reaction is a universal human response to social attention.

So let’s see, do I have the first thing? I think I have a pretty good self esteem. I think highly of myself. A bit too much, if I want to admit. So I concluded it’s really the social attention part.


Another stronger reason is actually: I don’t like being awarded something I didn’t earn.

I don’t think there is anything amazing with how I live. OK I consider myself amazing in many things but going to a traditional market to grab a bite is not really one of them.

I am just doing what I can with what I have. Just like everyone is doing the best that they can with the resources they have.

I was born with this, so I don’t really find it cool or amazing that I “managed to” walk, study, work, commute, drive a car, go on solo backpacking trips everywhere, or even have the drive to “thrive” in the world.

I don’t have to motivate myself to do anything despite my needing crutches to walk because honestly I don’t even notice it.

Like, would you even notice how you have two hands if you are born with two hands?


Digging deeper, one word popped up: sympathy.

You could say I am fighting a constant low grade battle of “don’t treat me differently”, “don’t pity me”, and “I don’t need any help”.

And this is so destructive. It’s the root of many of my life problems, combined with perfectionism and being a control freak.

Only in recent years as I come to become more mindful and confront more and more of my beliefs thoughts and feelings, my default OS, I realise I was not being completely honest with myself.

I thought I was so nonchalant about the whole disability, but actually I am so self conscious of it, secretly hoping that no one would notice and call it out or draw any attention to it.


90% of people in my life don’t treat me any differently despite the disability.

There have been only a couple of times where a couple of people I’ve known for some time in different contexts confess that they do admire my grit.

And I am more open to accepting that because after all they have come to know me beyond my disability, they see me as a person with more dimensions.

Funny story: I’ve had one or two persons say to me out of the blue, that they don’t “see” my disability, they just see me as a person.

I couldn’t put a finger on it or articulate what is so wrong with it at that time, but now I do: Well if you don’t see or notice it, you wouldn’t even think of mentioning it would you? haha.

It’s the same as people who say “I don’t see you as a black person” or on a flip side: “you are pretty good at guitar as a woman”.

But writing this made me realise that yes, I am quite proud of some of the things I have accomplished, experiences I have collected, and challenges I have overcome.

And I can’t deny how these are intertwined with my disability. Either despite it, or fueled and motivated by it.

And I am beginning to unpack my root emotions and defenses, to make peace with people’s assumptions, and ultimately own it.


First posted to Facebook.


Also published on Medium.

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