(title is a lyric from the Heather Small song Proud)
A few days ago an acquaintance heard I’d done something and was really impressed. She was trying to encourage me to write about it for Tenants Times because doing so could inspire other people and it was a big deal what I’ve done.
I was frustrated by that conversation because I couldn’t see what the big deal was and I don’t understand why it’s news and people who don’t know me would be interested in it. Plus all I could see was it turning into some form of inspiration porn even if I was the one to write it.
I think she was frustrated by my not viewing it as a big deal and also I don’t think she understood my comments about inspiration porn (I feel I did a poor job of explaining it, in part because of previous conversations). She commented that I’m worried to feel proud of myself. Which I denied to her and couldn’t be further from the truth.
But here’s the thing: what impressed her (and the two other people in the room) was in part what I did but mostly the fact I did it by myself. And in a wheelchair.
And here’s the other thing (which I didn’t think to share with her). In my circle of friends I can name at least three people who would have decided they wanted to do what I did and gone off and done it by themselves. Plus, it’s something I first did by myself in 2006
A friend has pointed out to me since that society considers this an unusual thing to do alone so maybe that’s part of the reason for her comments. Perhaps it’s something my acquaintance wouldn’t feel able to do.
I don’t view this as a massive inspirational achievement. And she’s right when she says I’m not proud of myself for having done it. But that’s because it’s normal for me. The fact I did it “in a wheelchair” shouldn’t come into it.
As a wheelchair user it’s strange that sometimes I can be doing the simplest thing and I get praise and encouragement when I really don’t need it. And then I get told I need to stop putting barriers on myself when I say access means I can’t do something. Because the very fact I use a chair makes my existence a big deal.
It’s ableist, in a way. Because if an able-bodied person had said “hey I did this” it might have turned into a conversation about how she wouldn’t have done it. But it would never have turned into a conversation about writing an article, being inspirational and needing to be proud of myself.
Able bodied people are allowed to be normal and mundane you see. Wheelchair users are either sad people who suffer and need to be pitied or objects of inspiration and awe who are overcoming barriers and our disabilities. We can’t be normal, it’s the law.
It’s pretty fucking othering to be criticised for not being proud of something that isn’t an achievement, I’ve done loads of times and didn’t even have to put a lot of thought into. That reminder that you’re different, you’re not normal and you never can be hits like a ton of bricks. Hearing them talk about how I should write about it to inspire people frustrated me because I’m more than the girl in the chair. Being criticised for not being proud left me feeling pretty shit about myself to be honest.