Friday, 29 July 2011

Manual for a Mechanised Man - Book 1, Entry 1 - Self-Image

Everything flows from, is influenced by, or is otherwise affected by your self-image, that is, who and what you perceive yourself to be. The way you feel about yourself determines most of the choices you make in life and, indeed, determines many of the outcomes of these choices as well.

Self-image, to my way of thinking, is not simply one overarching concept but rather an amalgam of at least three distinct areas of expression.

- Self worth and identity;
- Gender; and
- Sexuality.

These may shift, change and/or evolve and morph over time but I sincerely believe that, as with anybody and not just the disabled, the core beliefs formed in childhood and adolescence will shape not just your formative years and early adulthood but will influence you throughout your life.

It is almost impossible early on in life to grasp the full magnitude and extent to which an adult is enslaved and locked inside the prison of their own making, the prison built in childhood from the messages conveyed by society at large, peer groups and self interpretations, feelings and beliefs about one's value, place and role in the world.

Only now, in the last year or so, have I been able to look back on my life so far and begin to notice and appreciate the things I did well whilst also contemplating where I went wrong, and why.

To illustrate, I remember - I must have been in primary school - my teacher was demonstrating on the blackboard during a maths lesson the importance of angles and correct measurement. On the extreme left of the board he drew a circle, representative of the Earth. On the extreme right of the board he drew a second circle, representative of the Moon. He then drew a straight line connecting both circles to demonstrate the path a rocket may take to the Moon (obviously, he did not take into consideration the Earth or Moon's rotation or gravity, as this was merely a simple demonstration designed to illustrate one single point). He then drew a second line starting from ‘the Earth’ on the extreme left of the board but this time he deviated a couple of degrees from the straight path drawn first. The more he drew this straight line, and the closer it got to the right side of the blackboard, the more this second line moved away from the first line and the further it became from its target, ‘the Moon’. The lesson was, of course, that a small deviation - a small angle away from a target - grows greater with distance.

Similarly, and hindsight is always 20/20, I know that some of the more negative beliefs that I formed early in my life have magnified and grown over the years and, not unlike Skynet's realisation in the Terminator movies, I see now that it would have been better to have dealt with them early on, or at least made then more malleable and less rigid in their infancy because, ultimately, they entrenched themselves deeply within my mind. Whilst not fully and overtly taking over and controlling my behaviour, these beliefs have influenced me from the shadows, sometimes playing me like the unseen hands of a puppet master controlling a marionette.

What I am referring to are pretty easy traps to fall into, but perhaps I believe that because it is somewhat consolatory. I also think that any person, able-bodied or not, can fall prey to the type of thinking I will soon describe. Perhaps it manifests more in the disabled, but I really have no way of knowing that for sure.

You would be correct if you detect in my words a hint of regret. Perhaps akin to the regret of a gambler who has just lost money on a foolish bet. But at the same time, identifying these pitfalls enables me to perhaps derive a more accurate assessment of my life to date. I am compelled to do this, and although it is trite to say that one's past determines their future, it is nevertheless true to some extent. I have to make sense, and take inventory, of my life so far. In order to move forward, I need to articulate where I have been and the route I took.

As you read this, and if you are in a similar position to mine, some of what I am saying may make some sense to you or at least you may feel that it touches upon areas that you may be struggling with. I took my bearings from the world around me, like most people do. But in the area of my disability, and more particularly as my disability - for want of a better term - interfaces with people, places and things, I lacked somebody who could truly understand and appreciate the full extent through which my disability defines my character, even when I was sure that it didn't. I am not talking about love, care and empathy; my family gave me that in spades. I am not even referring to experiencing life in a wheelchair, because generally speaking paraplegics have greater mobility than I but I retain full sensation and movement throughout my body. Quadriplegics, even incomplete ones who retain some movement of their arms, generally have less mobility than I do but they often look more ‘normal’ than I, and, if they retain movement in their arms, are generally physically stronger than I am. So there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to understanding, subjectively, a disabled person's reality unless there is a commonality in the features, or symptoms, as they manifest. The rarity of my condition has always felt isolating.

If my words resonate with you, or you think you understand, or most importantly you want to understand, then I will do my best to convey to you what it is to be me, for whatever that is worth. I say this, not with false modesty, that if I have had some achievements in life they should not be too difficult to eclipse as I have needed quite a lot of help. But you shouldn't try to better me or anyone else, you will be far happier if you run your own race and set your own goals. That's what I tried to do, although at times I veered off course, got lost or ignored signposts signalling danger. And you will do this to, it is human nature.

Yet, to shift to a golfing analogy, perhaps my words may serve to point out some of the sand traps, lakes and other hazards whilst also providing some advice on how to stay on course and keep to the greens. For amongst my many failings, I have succeeded in some respects. I have succeeded perhaps almost as much as I haven't. Ultimately, as Sinatra or Elvis used to sing, I did it my way. Or at least I tried to.

Whatever your reality, enjoy the ride. Life is not worth living unless you make it fun.

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