Saturday, June 09, 2007

Serenity.... Coming to peace with disability....

Over the past few days, I've been reading a lot of articles, emails and blog posts about Paris Hilton and I noticed a common thread running through them.

A lot of talk about an obligation to be a "productive member of society." Whether it's Paris Hilton's wealth or a non-visible disability such as mine causing someone to not be out there producing, the attitude seems to be the same.

I've been dealing with a disability that knocked me out of commission in 2004 when I was only 52 and by some perception far too young to not be able to be "out there". While I may not have been "out there" very effectively, at least it appeared that I was a "productive member of society". That seemed to satisfy others.

As my limitations progressed, I had to do a lot of re-defining of many things I thought I once understood about myself and life in general. It also included letting go of all the old definitions I'd bought into about who we really are and what is and is not important.

I had to let go of the deeply-ingrained belief that I am what I do and I am what I have. Given my upbringing and further indoctrination in the corporate world, my self worth was totally tied to what I could do and what material proof I could collect and hang on to that proved to the outside world that I was a worthy person.

Not. Easy. At. All. Not in a society that tends to measure everyone's worth that way. But I didn't like the alternative much which was to see myself as worthless because my body and mind had both quit on me. I couldn't keep up with "out there" anymore.

I had to figure out what out there really is ... that world I could no longer be a part of without a fully functional body and mind. The world of paid professional performance and the status of title and good pay. The world of freely-chosen activity, the world of acceptance and automatic respect from others as a "fully productive" citizen of this country.

I wasn't about to let go of that so I just kept pumping up my confidence and strong will, and pushing myself mercilessly right past all of my very real limitations for way too long, causing, (you guessed it) even more damage until my two choices were disability or suicide.

So for me anyway, there was a serious downside to relying on the power of my will to "stay out there" and to all that positive thinking and confidence boosting. I used it to deny a solid reality I simply did not want to face. My spirit was sending me desperate signals that it was hurt and tired and needing me to stop whipping it into action it simply could no longer sustain and I refused to listen.

Now I am understanding a lot of things differently. I understand that I need to truly partner up with my spirit ~ as it is ~ rather than beat her up for no longer being what she once was.

I need this body to last me as long as I am here and it needs a voice, too. It needs me to listen to what it says it can and can not do on any given day. It needs to be respected. It needs me to listen now and provide what it needs on a regular basis so it can keep hauling me around for a lot more years.

My spirit was very nearly dead by the time I stopped. I also needed to partner up with her and to understand that her needs are just as important as physical needs.

Most of all, she needs my compassion, my love and my gratitude for all those years she served me without any real care or nurturing and in spite of the incredible neglect and abuse I heaped on her for a half century. She has faithfully stayed with me, damage notwithstanding.

My definition of "confidence" has been drastically altered. Now my confidence comes from the proof I am collecting in my ability to shift with life as it shifts, from one stage to another, from one condition to another, from one definition of what my reality is today, to another.

I have confidence now that whatever happens next, I will, after going though whatever messy, noisy, angry transition it requires of me, find a way to adapt and adjust and eventually learn to enjoy what is to the absolute max, no matter how anyone else measures my "worth".

I think what I am finally discovering is that that my "out there" isn't out there at all. It's in here ~ inside of me ~ where all my own truths dwell, where no one and no event can ever take them away again. (Well, maybe for a shaky sad day or two but not for long.)

It's like a high wire act to find that thin line between giving in too soon to the body's limitations as they get tired or hurt or older, and pushing them too hard and causing more harm. It's been trial and error all the way.

But I do notice the stronger more mutually respectful and loving relationship I can build between my body, mind and spirit, the better I feel.

Eventually, we all have to do this one way or another. The prevalent attitudes must be challenged, whether it is Paris Hilton or Josephine Everyone. We never know another person's limitations or abilities and it's time to let that judgment go.




Christine said...

This was a very thoughtful post this morning.

I struggle a lot as a stay home mother with what "out there" and productive really means in this society. Yes, I am raising two children and that is an important thing to do. But there are many who believe that I am not "out there" enough. That I have abandoned my career and education for diapers and finger paints. It took me a long time (and I still struggle) to finally be able to say: SO WHAT! This is ME. Period. No excuses, explanations, reasons, etc.

I am so glad, Chani, that you have come to understand your spirit and body. It sounds like after pushing yourself too, too hard you are now understanding that "in here" is what is really important for your physical, mental, and spiritual health

thailandchani said...

Christine, I think that is one of the most contentious debates going on (still) in the women's community.

Personally, as both a social conservative and as a woman, I can't stand it! My own belief is that raising children is the most important "job" in the known universe and women who choose to do that should be offered all the support our community can muster up!




jen said...

you've described what it truly means to survive, and not just as an individual, but societally.

the internal and external pressures are extraordinary, no wonder your body and soul had about given up. and you are right, the society we live in doesn't gracefully allow for that.

And when one truly survives something, it's clearer then to allow for others survival too.

Anonymous said...

How fun that my last blog is about the same: being retired, you are nothing, since you do nothing any longer, you don't produce. What is to be? How to reconstruct a new being? But in the building of another oneself, I see three parts: body, mind and heart. The main problem to me is the last one, the social part, to live with others of any age, not only babies or elder.
And also to produce something without being paid for should have not less value. But we are rotten in this because of the world in which we live.

QT said...

Chani - what an incredible journey you have been on. Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

I will only say one thing about Paris - she has not been examined independently and determined to have a disability, be it mental or otherwise. Of course, serving time in jail is going to make you sad and depressed. What you are talking about is a permanent disability, not a situational one.

thailandchani said...

Jen, yes, it does provide for others to survive, too. As long as we talk about it, acknowledge it and honor it.

This isn't a uniquely American problem, either. While it's not to the same degree, the same judgments exist in Thai culture.


G, maybe it takes a degree of separation from "the world" as we know it, finding our own validation and simply living it in front of others. That breaks down barriers.

Coming to peace with it ourselves means we have to adjust our own perceptions first.

And that's usually the hardest part. :)


thailandchani said...

QT, I hear you.. what you're saying. As far as Paris is concerned, I think envy is making people so angry at her.

As I've said... she deserves to be punished. There is no question of that. She needs to be punished, not just for her own growth but for social harmony.

On the other hand, having grown up in that same area, although not with the same degree of wealth, I was constantly challenged with "you could do this or that. You can do anything you want. You just don't want to..."

Her birth is as accidental as mine and there is no way to know what kinds of limitations she brought to her earthly life.

I'll grant you that her partying and carrying on doesn't lead me to cry a river of sympathy for her .. but she does need to be examined as an individual ~ not just a mythological "spoiled rich kid from Los Angeles". That may or may not be the case. None of us know for certain.

Some people could perceive me as just a "spoiled rich kid from Los Angeles", too.. but enough of my background is known to hopefully counter that perception with some reality.

We need to do the same for her. I'd like to know the facts.. what is her illness?




Snoskred said...

What annoys me about the Paris situation is not about whether she is or isn't a productive member of society. It's that she clearly believes she can break the law and get away with it, whenever she likes, as often as she likes.

After being sentenced to spend her time in jail, Paris was seen driving. Again. While her licence was still suspended for drink driving. NOTE - THIS WAS AFTER BEING SENTENCED TO GO TO JAIL FOR DOING EXACTLY THAT! Hello? Anyone home in there, Paris? Paris, if you break the law you go to jail, and I don't care how much money you have or what you do. Too many people are killed on roads all over the world by people driving drunk.

I sat there and watched her be taken back to jail yesterday and it truly filled me with a sense of justice. She should never have been let out. It's a matter of days in jail, suck it up. When you get out, get a driver. Learn your lesson, Paris. Life is tough. Life is not fair. Life is not something you can buy your way through when you make bad decisions and things get a bit tough.

And then to watch the Mary Winkler thing at the same time - this is a woman who was being scammed by the Nigerian Scammers, a lot of the news stories seem to leave that out. Such a small amount of time for shooting someone in the back and then leaving them to die. I'm sorry, abuse is no excuse. :( If a man had done that to a woman, it would have been life, right?

slouching mom said...

That "must be productive" argument has never worked on me.

You would probably laugh at the number of people who tell me (or think that) I am wasting my PhD.

What is a PhD for but to be a professor, they ask (think).

To learn?

flutter said...

I think there is a difference, between being peaceful and quiet and being unto ones self as opposed to being reckless and harmful and quite possibly causing harm to others.
When she decided to drive drunk she took her destructive behavior outside of herself and into the arena where she could have caused someone else irreparable harm.

That's the only part of her actions that I care about. I don't care how "Productive" she is or isn't, but her choices should not cause harm to others.

As far as you are concerned, your peace, your compassion and your heart make you one of the most productive people I know.

Anonymous said...

"It's like a high wire act to find that thin line between giving in too soon to the body's limitations as they get tired or hurt or older, and pushing them too hard and causing more harm. It's been trial and error all the way."

This is the paragraph that struck me. I see it in everyone I know who is past a certain age. My mother is, I think, a bit of a hypochondriac, when her problem is really that she doesn't compensate for her age and pushes herself too hard.

thailandchani said...

Snoskred, I think most of us can agree that her behavior is bad. Over the past few days, I've heard a lot of comments about her not working ~ what does she offer to society, etc. etc. etc.

Those are difficult questions. Obviously, she offers something to her family and friends. Maybe that's all she needs. Maybe that's all she can do.

I can understand anyone saying she needs to be punished for driving drunk. That is without question the truth.

The judgments about her character bother me a bit, since none of us actually know her.


SM, I believed for a long time that I couldn't survive without being "productive". It's not because I think that's the highest value in the universe.. but I honestly didn't know any other way to live. If my doctor hadn't suggested that I go on SSDI, it's very unlikely that I'd be alive right now. Seriously. There was only one leg left.. and it was bending.

To learn. Exactly! How can anyone waste a PhD?

People think rather strangely about things sometimes, don't they? :)


Flutter, thanks for the kind comment. :)

I agree that she should be punished for drunk driving. My true hope is that she will use this time to think, reflect, get the help she needs and come out of it a better person ~ for herself ~ and for all the rest of us who have to drive on the same roads.


De, I think it's programming. When we were kids, that is all we heard about. Right after WWII, the root values of this culture began to shift. The Market became more important than family, well-being or anything else.

We were all to be little cogs on the huge corporate wheel.





heartinsanfrancisco said...


You know that I respect and value you and your opinions, but I cannot agree that your name and that of Paris Hilton belong in the same sentence.

It isn't that she grew up in Beverly Hills, or whether she is "productive;" it's that she has absolutely no sense of responsibility for herself and clearly believes that the rules which govern society and are our only protection in life, do not apply to her.

Driving with a suspended license is wrong. She does not have the excuse of being a welfare mom driving to her low-level job to support her children. She arrogantly chose to drive drunk yet again to party wildly, endangering other people, which she did not have the right to do. She could easily have hired a driver, but she knew that privilege would get her out of any meaningful punishment.

Can you imagine how she would have been treated had she been a non-white poor woman?

I know that we are "supposed" to suspend judgment on others. But how can we know them but for their acts which speak for them and tell us who they are? I believe that such signs should be taken notice of for our own protection, and so that we can try to avoid making the same mistakes. It doesn't mean that we have to call them names and hate them, but we can still judge their actions wrong even while sending kind thoughts to their everlasting souls.

Snoskred said...

heartsinsanfrancisco said - "I know that we are "supposed" to suspend judgment on others."

I think when you break the law, you give up your right to have people suspend judgement.

First, a judge is going to judge you. That's a given. They're doing their job.

Second, society may judge you. Even if you're not Paris Hilton, if you're just Joe Blow from down the street probably something will be said in the local community paper, you may not be named but often they will write what happened and the sentence given - they do here, anyway.

Third, society may judge the judge's judgement on you. That's because we really have to do that in order for the legal system to work right. If someone who kills people gets off on a light sentence there is sure to be outcry, and I think there should be. People have to be held responsible for their actions.

I'm not judging her for being any of the things which she seems to me - I'm judging her based on what she did wrong. If she hadn't done anything wrong she'd be noise in the background of our lives, as many celebrities these days seem to be.

I'm having a bit of a day today, as you might see by my post. ;) I'm so tired of people being nasty to each other on the internet. I'm glad you provide this safe haven from it all, Chani. :)

Anonymous said...

One thing I've noticed is that if you ask a young person to tell you about themselves, they'll talk about music and friends and what they like to do; if you ask an old person to tell you about themselves, they tell you what they're job is and what they own.

"Oh, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now…" ~Bob Dylan

Julie Pippert said...

It's probably been (and is) the toughest challenge of my life...these expectations.

Gwen tackles the question in What To Expect from a more "what we expect of ourselves angle, and you tackle it here from a more societal angle.

I've written about (and I'm not kidding) a dozen fit and start drafts on the topic.

Potential is the other side to this complicated coin. As is means and opportunity.

Sure the US has this big investment in the societal ideal of *realized potential* and *Big Success through power and wealth."

I feel sorry that Paris is so tortured for whatever reason. However, she drove under the influence, got many warnings and offers of help, whch she ignored. She got a punishment. And now, with her behavior, she continues to indicate a lack of understanding of her role, her impact, her culpability.

I'll see where else this goes in my mind.

Between you, Gwen, a news story, and Nick Hornby, I think it is al finally to gel in my mind.

Thanks for addressing this.