Having a public appearance tomorrow, I need to handle any 'you're inspirational' comments well. I can't snap at people because then they won't buy my books! - I mean, because it isn't nice.
Why does being told I am inspirational annoy me?I get told I'm inspirational by complete strangers, where all they have seen is me being wheeled up a ramp onto a train, and manouvering myself into the wheelchair space or pick up a packet of cornflakes or sit and have a drink.
For me, these things do not require great bravery or courage. And even if they were difficult for me, I am fully aware that the person being inspired has no way of knowing what my struggles are - which kinda invalidates the praise.
So it doesn't feel like praise. It feels like 'Clearly your life is terrible, so I, from my pedestal, will be inspired by you because you have exceeded my expectations for you, which are practically zero because you use wheels and therefore can hardly do anything.' At best, a backhanded compliment - at worst, an insult.
It unsettles me. I know that I have done nothing noteworthy - yet am routinely at risk of being fawned upon by strangers. But if I really challenge myself and go for it (e.g. use crutches instead of wheels) - strangers won't think twice about me.
Their inspiration isn't triggered by me, or anything I have achieved, but by their own view of disability. I am immaterial. The disability is the important thing. I don't like it.
It is really really uncomfortable to be praised highly for something that is totally normal/automatic. Would you praise an ablebodied stranger for managing to open a standard door? What about if they drank a cup of tea? - not unless you wanted to insult or patronise them.
I want people to accept that I have a different normal and it is no big deal. Yes, I have wheelie skills that they lack, but if I started telling every person I saw who walked better than I can "You are inspiring, the way you walk" I'd soon be locked up for excessive weirdness and harrassing members of the public. - so what gives them the right to do that to me?
But on the other hand...I get exactly the same phrases said to me by people who know me a little. Perhaps the guy I've been chatting to for an hour on the train - who's witnessed my ability to speak go AWOL. Or the taxidriver who used to live down the road from where I grew up and has driven me loads of times - seen me on bad days, knows a little of my condition. Or the nurse on my hospital ward who has just relocated my wrist. Again.
My initial reaction is the acute unsettled feeling of wrongness. The knowledge that this phrase is based on assumption and is actually nothing to do with me at all.
And then I think - actually, they do know a bit more about me. They do have a shrewd idea what some parts of life are like.
To be honest, it still feels wierd - because, for example, learning to cope calmly and cheerfullly with random bouts of inability to communicate verbally is, for me, just another essential life skill. But thinking about it, well, not everyone does cope calmly and cheerfully with that kind of thing. And most of my coping strategies/skills are based on my faith in God - so hardly something of great personal merit.
And then there are comments in reaction to my stickman pictures/work...Again, this feels weird because mentally I link it back to the disability - relevant in scenario 1. But actually, thinking about it, someone liking my work really isn't about my disability at all - it's about my work.
And while I don't think a talent for drawing stickmen is particularly inspiring, nor my ability to 'take the mick' as something of great worth, other people can think what they want.
So: in conclusion, this is how I currently feel:Don't go up to a stranger whom you know nothing about and declare that you are inspired by them. It is weird and often you are basing your reaction on lots of assumptions which may be incorrect.
If you get to know me a bit (or a lot), or if you like my stickmen and decide I'm inspirational....OK. Very nice of you and all that, I won't be offended - but nor will I treat it like a profound comment. If I inspire you to live a better life, happy days, but really I'm just getting on with my life. Occasional comments are OK if you feel the need, but don't overdo it.
And I reserve the right to be amused.
After all, 'inspiring' is generally used in association with 'getting off ones backside and doing something' - whereas I remain firmly planted on mine.