Who Would I Be?

‘Suppose you could take away the tics,’ he said. ‘What would be left? I consist of tics – there’d be nothing left.’

Witty Ticcy Ray

Who would I be without my disability?

Perhaps an odd question to ask. The answer should be ‘a better and happier person’.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. I found myself resonating with Witty Ticcy Ray – I might be nothing without it.

For most of my teens, I’ve had to deal with pain, walking problems, and more recently, the resultant emotional fallout. In the most developmental stages of my life, I’ve grown up with it and lived my life around it.

To some, it’s the same as growing up with a favourite sports team or book series. A lot of the conversations you have with friends and family are around this favourite thing. For me, my habits and motivations have been moulded around my disability.

It’s difficult enough to answer the question of who I am right now let alone who I would be without a life-changing event.

A simpler question to ask is: Would I be a better person?

At first, I thought the answer should be a resounding ‘YES!’ I’d be pain-free. I’d read more. I’d have more fun with friends. I’d live without needless discomfort. I’d still be able to play sports. I wouldn’t have had operations 2 operation in a year. I wouldn’t even have to grapple with this question.

Yet, there was some resistance to my answer. I don’t know if I would be a better person.

I tend to view my disability as a negative thing and wish it gone every day. I have never thanked fate for my problem. Still, my answer to the question was not confident.

My hesitation came from the good things that have happened as a result of my disability.

I probably wouldn’t have become interested in personal development as early as I did. One of my motivations for starting a blog was to see how I could improve life despite my problems. In fact, none of my readers knew I had a disability until I wrote Living with Chronic Pain.

It’s unlikely I’d be as concerned about the welfare of other disabled students. In turn, that’s probably affected how I treat people more generally.

Would I be interested in meditation and mindfulness? These are two things I am forever grateful I started.

My disability has shaped me in some good ways. Would I still have those good qualities without it?

If I say I wouldn’t be a better person, does that mean my disability is a good thing? How can I reconcile that with my efforts to get rid of it?

If my disability is a good thing, why name it a disability?[1] Surely everyone faces some discomfort and this is just my personal one.

If I can’t call it a disability, what has been the source of all my discomfort and frustration?

Currently, I’ve asked many questions and given few answers. When I started thinking about these questions, I thought about what I’d be admitting with my answers.

Despite my attempts to steer clear of this, perhaps my disability is integral to my identity rather than just an addition onto the core ‘me’.

Maybe I can’t complain about my discomfort if I cannot imagine a better future.

Now I know that I have a lot more to consider. I have more questions and uncertainty to live with. I have a difficult dance with self-honesty and awareness.

To take a further step towards honesty, I’ll say it’s really scary. It’s like existential angst all over again. Unfortunately, I don’t think Albert Camus wrote a disabled version of The Stranger or The Myth of Sisyphus.

However, I’m glad Witty Ticcy Ray inspired the question. Given the length of the problem and the uncertainty surrounding the end, it was going to pop up eventually.

As always, thanks for reading.

***

1. The quote at the beginning is from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Put it on your reading list if it isn’t there already. Witty Ticcy Ray was a man who had Tourette’s and was given Haldol to stop them. He became angry because he it took away his wit and quick reflexes. However, he still faced the problem of not being able to live a normal life with them.

2. When I wrote and shared Living with Chronic Pain, I was surprised at how well it was received. To everyone who read it, thanks for giving me the confidence to write more about disability. Hopefully, it’ll not only help me but other people who have disabilities, and those who are simply interested in it.

3. Here’s some more stuff to read:

The last two are positive articles about disability. I’m not sure if I share their enthusiasm but it’s also important to consider that mine is much less severe than theirs. It’s always good to have differing opinions about this subject rather than an echo chamber.

4. There have been a lot of end notes. Here’s another one.

***

[1] Julian Savulescu and Guy Kahane offer a definition of disability in The Moral Obligation to Create Children with The Best Chance of the Best Life. I think I satisfy it but it doesn’t take away from the question.

A stable physical or psychological property of subject S that,

(1) leads to a significant reduction in S’s level of well-being in circumstances C, when contrasted with realistic alternatives,

(2) where that is achieved by making it impossible or hard for S to exercise some ability or capacity, and

(3) where the effect on well-being in question excludes the effect due to prejudice against S by members of S’s society.

Or more simply, had x condition not existed then the person’s well-being would be higher. But it excludes things like not being able to fly as a disability… so far.

The Courage to be Wrong

Realising we’re wrong can be quite worrying. If we’ve erred there must be something that is wrong with us even if it’s a small thing. It is usually greeted with feelings of shame, anger, sadness or even apathy towards our development. If we get something wrong now, why bother trying again?

Even though, we understand that humans are fallible beings, it is still difficult to accept the feeling of wrongness. We may even look at various motivational quotes say things like “failure is the path to success” or “I can accept failure but I can’t accept not trying” but still close the door on being wrong.

Why does being wrong feel bad?

In light of all of the opinions we have about being wrong and how it’s okay, we’d probably expect to have different attitudes towards it.

The reason why being wrong is viewed negatively negative is due to the various cultural attitudes we have towards it. We view wrongness as harmful, unable to be salvaged or improved upon. When we hear about important mistakes and how they’re damaging to either people’s lives or finances or anything you can think of, we hope to never been in their position.

These attitudes  are also found in our education.  The person who does poorly on a test or ask really simple questions is often viewed as dumb person in the class. They hold back the smarter students from progressing, they mustn’t have studied and they may even frustrate teachers. So when someone gets something wrong they feel like they’ve failed themselves and they’re going to disrupt other people.

It results in a fear about being wrong.

Is Being Wrong OK? 

Of course it is! Failure is the path to success etcetera etcetera. We all ‘know’ this but should we really believe it and take it seriously?

I think so.

When we find we’re wrong, a few things happen. We’re given the choice to keep our false belief or accept a new one. We might fear that we’ve slipped down the ladder of knowledge and can’t climb back up.

These situations aren’t bad. They’re just difficult to handle which is why we sometimes react so negatively to being wrong. But that may not be necessary.

Being wrong about things gives us an opportunity to further knowledge rather than wallow in how little knowledge we apparently have. We have to overcome our resistance to changing our minds.

Embracing our ability to be wrong is difficult and obviously isn’t as simple as just being happy with being wrong about everything. I’m not asking we think being wrong is the best thing possible. As some people may object, getting some things wrong affect the well-being of people in drastic ways and should be chastised rather than encouraged. Here they point to a surgeon making a mistake in a surgery or a bank charging the wrong person exorbitant fees. To that I say:

1) They happen all the time and should be corrected.

2) It’s unrealistic to expect perfection in all decisions regardless of their importance. Such an expectation creates the excuse we see wrongness as inherently bad.

3) Most people can be wrong about things without any severe consequence.

Embracing our ability to be wrong means that we view it as a normal part of decision-making and belief forming. It isn’t something that should create the fear of being judged as stupid and unable to change our opinions.

Fearing wrongness paralyses our progress and prevents us from trying to improve. We’re far more likely to just stay in our comfort zone where mistakes are less frequent and echo chambers are especially loud.

It takes some courage to admit being wrong and use that experience to further ourselves rather than viewing it as an unrepairable fault.

If it offers any comfort, I could be wrong about all of this and we can continue shaming people who get things wrong and feeling bad when we make mistakes.

***

This post was inspired by Kathryn Schulz who gave a brilliant TED talk on being wrong. She also wrote a book about it called ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’. I read it last year and thought it was great and can recommend it without reservation (unless you just hate non-fiction books).

So if I write more about wrongness, blame her.

 

Create Without Expectation

I write a lot in my journal. As of today I’ve written over 560,000 words. I don’t expect it to make sense or answer any of the burning questions I might have had throughout the day. It’s easy to write in my journal because I don’t really care much about how sentences read or whether the whole idea is coherent.

In part, writing becomes easy because it’s done without expectation.

I don’t expect perfection. If I have an idea, it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t come out the way I imagined. It can be written and changed around a little bit. Perfection isn’t a goal and that breaks down fear I might when I want to create something.

Writing for an audience (however small or big) seems to create expectations that paralyse progress. It’s easy to have big ideas that need to be broken down into a multi-part series or might be shared with more people than ever before. Holding those expectations over your head inevitably raises questions like:

  1. What if it isn’t shared with anyone?
  2. What if it is shared and no one likes it?
  3. Will it be helpful?
  4. Will people laugh because of what I’ve written or laugh at it?

And so on.

When we think about writing and making it reality, we might fear it won’t live up to the standard we’ve set ourselves. If we write it, we’ll only prove to ourselves that we never should have started in the first place. If we write, we’ll only make a fool of ourselves.

Expectations shouldn’t be hindering our progress. Sometimes, it’s best to do without them and just see what can be created. Sometimes, that can be the most fun. My example is when I wrote The Aspiring Writer. It would have been easy to shelve the idea because no one would enjoy it or it might be confusing. That voice is in the back of my head whenever I’m writing something but it would be sad if it stopped me from creating completely.

After trying to abandon my expectations I’ve found that I’m pretty bad at judging my own work because it always tends towards the critical rather than celebratory. Which is neither balanced nor helpful. The critical voice is quieter because I let it pass rather than believing it to be 100% true.

If you have any creative project but seem to be paralysed by fear, create without expectation. Throw them into a river and watch them float away.

You see your project as it is rather than what it might be and create without paralysing fear.

***

This doesn’t mean that you can’t want things to be good.

You’re allowed to create and change it afterwards. However, it does mean your expectations shouldn’t stop your from sharing it with others. If we think we can improve it, we’re always allowed to. We don’t need to demand perfection straight away.

What’s wrong with now?

The next time you catch yourself putting something off for ‘later’ try asking yourself the question: “what’s wrong with now?”

What’s happening right now that’s making me put the work off? Why can’t I do it now?

I find the value of this question comes in a few ways.

It makes us truly aware of what we’re actually doing. The spiralling of bad habits such as procrastination, binge-eating, excessive gaming/movie watching, are often born from mindlessness. Asking this question brings us back to the present moment and makes us aware.

We look at what we’re doing and honestly assess whether it’s more worthwhile than the other important task.

Say I’m watching something on Netflix and remember I have an essay to write, assessing my situation lets me understand that what I’m doing isn’t actually going to help in the short or long-term. I can put the show to the side and work on my essay instead. Most of the excuses we use often appear weak when we put a little bit of pressure on them. The movie can be paused, Reddit won’t shut down and we can save YouTube videos.

What happens when we face an excuse that actually has some strength behind it? At that point we can set priorities. If we’re doing something that we honestly feel takes priority, then we’re doing the most important task. Which is the main goal. After the first task is done, we can move onto the next without guilt.

Answering this question requires honesty but that mustn’t be mistaken for self-hatred or criticism. This isn’t a plea to fill all of your waking hours with meaningless work. In fact, I think that would be counter-productive. Resting after work or just taking a day off with friends can be the most important thing to do.

Now, deciding which task is genuinely the most important is slightly more difficult. However, that’s fine as it’s just something we have to wrestle with at times. Asking this question helps us start deciding what to do instead of getting lost in distraction and later being disappointed at the end of the day.

As with many things, taking advantage of the moment and overcoming your internal fear of starting (or finishing) a task requires practice. There are still times when I ask this question with another task in mind, answer it with ‘nothing’ and continue putting it off. However, it’s still a helpful question that’s made me more mindful of my desire to find procrastination and move onto more meaningful work.

Set priorities. Be honest. Be mindful.

Soon you’ll answer the question and find nothing is wrong with the present moment because you’re doing all you should and want to be doing.