Sadness | The Sunday Monday Post

If you’d give me the chance, I’d like to talk about being sad. Lost. Frustrated. Depressed.

But first, I want to celebrate a few things.

I have a friend who is currently transitioning (or “transforming” as she now says) and says she’s the happiest she’s ever been. I’m happy for her.

I have a friend who, after a year of multiple applications, crude bosses and near overwhelming responsibility, managed to get a job directly related to her field. I was there when she got the job offer and believe me, her smile was as big as the sun. I’m happy for her too.

Ms Improving Slowly (or Arguably Honest) had a mighty relaxing holiday and a break from all of my terrible jokes. I’m happy for her too.

My dad got a job rather quickly after his previous position ended and I can always see a small pep in his step after things like this happen. I’m happy for him too (although, it hasn’t motivated him enough to use the exercise bike we have!)

There’s a lot to be happy about when I really attempt to practice appreciative joy. That is, taking yourself out of the equation and simply enjoying the happiness that other people are experiencing. To me, that is one of the greatest upside of empathy. While it is often used in the context of trying to help people who aren’t in a good position, it can also be used to celebrate the positive!

I find, when you care about the important intensely, you begin to share the moments of happiness as you do the moments of sadness. And that is OK. In fact, I think that makes relationships that much richer. So much more valuable. 

When you’re around, regardless of the highs and lows, you’ll experience some good moments. Happiness comes along and it feels good.


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LoboStudio Hamburg

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned publicly, but I’ve dealt with depression for about three years now. In that time, there have been many many low moments. Currently, I think I’m in one of those spirals where everything you hold onto seems slippery and you retreat into yourself.

Just waiting for it to pass.

Of course, it’s difficult to imagine that it ever will! Even with the evidence that happiness has come about before, the hill always seems difficult and impossible to climb. Especially with the fact that a lot of my mood is tied to my pain. And that doesn’t want to leave me in a hurry.

In a “recent” post, I asked myself what the purpose of this blog is. What does Improving Slowly mean? The first principle was to accept that we’re all working drafts. That also means we’re far from perfect. And most definitely our thoughts aren’t always perfect, true, helpful or even valuable.

You may have these moments of extreme self-doubt – the same way I do. Doubting your skill set, what you add to the world, wondering who cares about you and asking yourself whether you should even take another step.

It would be best if you do take the next step. Even if it’s the tiniest step possible. Towards a small moment of peace where you are free of continuous self-judgement and vitriol.

I always say when I’m stressed that there’s always time to take two breaths to yourself. While this doesn’t solve my sadness, it helps me slow down and return to the present instead of dancing in the frenzy of the future.

One.

Two.

With time, even if it takes weeks, I begin to remember that sadness does pass.

The depression may stay around but that’s a much larger battle to tackle one step at a time.

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Jake Thacker


Relationships are important. I’m appreciating that more and more.

It gives me the opportunity to remember there’s more than myself in the world. I don’t need to get lost in my own thoughts all the time. I can enjoy the experiences of others.

Or I can help and be helped.

Being lonely is difficult and stigmatising. It’s something I want to explore in more detail so I won’t do it here. However, if there’s one thing to take from this post, I ask that you tell your friends and family that you appreciate them.

If there’s someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, maybe say hello again (you can probably skip the small talk and just ask something interesting – everyone is “good” or “fine”).

And that’s about it. Sadness happens. It also stops at times. Being sad isn’t a defect – it’s just an emotion.

And they pass.


As always, thank you for reading!

If anyone asks, I’ll be alright. I’m just trying to be more honest and show I’m not perfect but making steps to improve myself.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!


If you are depressed or anything of the sort, here are some resources (for the UK):

NHS DIRECT
Provides 24 hour access to nurse advice, information about healthcare and about local health services. Contact NHS Direct for help with a current health concern, to ask about out of hours doctors’ services and for emergency health advice.

Helpline: 0845 46 47, every day, 24 hours a day
Websitewww.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

SAMARITANS
Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental support, 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.

Telephone: 0845 7 90 90 90, every day, 24 hours a day
Emailjo@samaritans.org
Websitewww.samaritans.org
SANE
SANE is one of the UK’s leading charities concerned with improving the lives of everyone affected by mental illness.

Helpline: 0845 767 8000, every day, 1:00pm-11:00pm
Emailsanemail@sane.org.uk
Websitewww.sane.org.uk

ACTION ON DEPRESSION
Supports the running of self help support groups in various parts of Scotland which offer the opportunity for confidential local support and contact with others in a similar situation.
Provides an information service offering support and information on depression to individuals, their families and friends and professionals working with people who have depression; a quarterly members newsletter and a range of helpful publications.

Telephone: 0808 802 2020 Information Service, Wednesdays, 2:00pm-4:00pm
Emailinfo@actionondepression.org
Websitewww.actionondepression.org

Please go to Depression UK for more detailed links.

Should I be so angry? – Dissertation pt. 4

Another one? I did say it would a six part series. I’ve shown (hopefully) that it can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment (for being disabling) and now move onto asking whether you should be angry.

I enjoyed writing this section. Interesting stuff. In fact, I’d say all of it is interesting but I’m not reliable since I wrote it.

Maybe my next essay will be “Can I be too humble?”.  Anyway, although it’s the longest section, enjoy the rest of the argument :)

The previous posts:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Here’s What It Means to be Angry (part 3)


 

I have established an important premise in my argument. It can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment and its disabling nature. This emphasised with the knowledge that disabling factors cannot always or completely be attributed to the poor design of society. However, because of this, if we accept the social model of disability, it does not regard these emotions as legitimate because impairments cannot cause these problems. One move left to be made is for the social model proponent to argue that you should not be angry because it is counter-productive or useless.

If it is established that you should not be angry at your impairment, then it matters much less whether it is appropriate to be so. The social model theorist could claim to only be concerned with the times you should be angry rather than trying to accommodate for ‘appropriate’ ones. I will now explain the objections to being angry.

“Anger is harmful and offers no new knowledge”

Opposition to anger has a long history going back to ancient philosophers such as Seneca and the tradition has come in more modern forms. Seneca had this to say about anger:

The other emotions have in them some element of peace and calm, while this one is wholly violent and has its being in an onrush of resentment, raging with a most inhuman lust for weapons, blood, and punishment, giving no thought to itself if only it can hurt another, hurling itself upon the very point of dagger, and eager for revenge though it may drag down the avenger along with it (1928, Essay 1-107)

Although our modern conceptions of anger do not need to be encoded with the desire to have revenge, this is still an important idea. Anger is said to harm the person who is angry and “Anger embodies nothing useful” (ibid. Essay 1-129). This is quite damning because it makes anger seem like the most useless of emotions and we definitely should not experience. In the context of a disability, anger would be an emotion which makes the experience of disability worse by intensifying the limitations one experiences.

Glen Pettigrove and Koji Tanaka (2014) helpfully point out some more opposition to anger in the Buddhist tradition. Santideva argues a few interesting points.

  • Anger is pointless (Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life vi. 10)
  • Anger presupposes a confused, unduly partial perspective, which gives exaggerated weight to my perceived interests and insufficient weight to the interests of others (vi. 4-5).

Here, again, the discussion of anger is agent centred but the objection can still hold if we do not consider the insufficient weight to the interests of others. Rather it can be interpreted as not taking enough consideration of:

  • Our own interests (to not feel worse because of our disability).
  • How we think our bodies and lives ought to be.

With this, we should not be angry because we have a misguided perspective on what the actual significance of the effect disability has on our lives. This will be important for the future discussion but I will explain briefly a more modern form of opposition to anger.

Pettigrove and Tanaka (2014), in one of their many points, argue that anger is not particularly epistemically useful. They argue and present evidence for the fact that anger is regularly misleading with respect to its proper object and unrelated objects which may follow (p.281). They present the case that anger often leads people to participate in biased, heuristic-reasoning and become less likely to accept evidence which is contrary to their view (p.280)[1]. Moreover, they cite Randolph Nesse (2005) in saying that anger works on the smoke detector principle – meaning it generates more false alarms than true ones. In place of anger in political contexts, Pettigrove promotes meekness as a virtue (Pettigrove, 2012).

This counter-productivity critique is arguably more potent with respect to disability than related discussions about anger towards other agents or political systems. When discussing other people and public policy, we have a greater ability to control the object (people, public policy, etc.) and direct it to productive change. If I am angry that a building does not accommodate for people with mobility concerns, then I can demand that the building managers make appropriate changes where they can. As I mentioned earlier, the social model snuggly fits into the notion of agent-centred anger. In contrast to disability and impairment, it is more difficult to see how anger might lead to productive change. It may force to me to demand a cure but that involves making claims against others. What this says is that anger might be so counter-productive because it is futile. It is directed towards an almost inert object and that fact alone might exaggerate the anger even further.

There are more different forms of oppositions to anger but they usually take a politicised form which Srinivasan (2015) discusses in great detail. However, I wish to focus only on the idea that one should not be angry because it is counter-productive, does not contain useful information and it harms you.

I will tackle the first two arguments together. In response to these criticisms of anger, I argue that the experience of anger can be very epistemically productive. It gives us knowledge which might have been hidden to us before. In the context of agent-centred anger, one might become angry at an injustice which you did not realise was a problem.

In the context of disability, I will aim to demonstrate the epistemic productivity of anger by showing its productivity parallels well with realising injustice in political situations. In the 1950s and 60s,  Malcom X was seen as a very angry figure who was too radical not only in his aims but approaches to achieving them, especially when contrasted with his calmer contemporary, Martin Luther King Jr. His anger came from the historical and continued racial injustice committed by White Americans against Black Americans spanning hundreds of years. With this, we can see that the experience of an injustice or unfairness can cause anger. As a result, the experience of anger led to the knowledge they are experiencing injustice.

The knowledge granted by emotions in the previous example can be had with impairments. If someone suffers from chronic pain, they might come to realise that the reason why they are angry with their progression is because pain is very limiting. Then the anger is epistemically productive because it grants the knowledge that pain is disabling (rather than just not trying hard enough for example). Our bodies and knowledge of impairments are intimately tied to one another even though we can get things wrong about our own bodies. Being limited by your body, can be a very obvious experience for we are always experiencing what it feels like to use our bodies. We can have simple knowledge of it (i.e. ‘I cannot hear’ or ‘I am in continuous pain’) but that alone does not always signify a limitation because some do not view impairments as necessarily limiting[2]. When an impairment becomes disabling, then it might trigger anger and cause us to say “this impairment is harming me and places a significant limit on me”.

Therefore, anger contains useful information about impairments and the fact they can be disabling when we realise that it limits us from achieving significant life projects. A few points need to be emphasised. First, the notion of unfairness is important and must be remembered otherwise there is the risk of saying anything which prevents you from getting what you want can be appropriately responded to with anger. Secondly, the idea of significant life projects will be clarified. This notion is connected to the concept of Eudaimonia and personal flourishing. Meaning if personal flourishing is significantly limited by the impairment, this is usually regarded as disabling. Moreover, this might reflect things that nearly all humans desire for themselves (such as not being in pain or being able to recognise faces). Generally, this limitation will be long-term and have a near continuous presence in their everyday lives. Of course, people can dramatically change their goals and no longer view their impairment as a limit but as a reason for their flourishing. This is consistent with my argument.

I want to emphasise the focus on non-agent-centred anger versus agent-centred anger. Problems such as structural racism and sexism have a root cause in other people causing oppression by placing limits on others and causing harms. In this sense, society is disabling. However, with impairments being disabling, while society can be the cause of disability, it is not sufficient. An impairment can cause disability by placing limits on the person and causing harm without involving other people.

This is an important move for a few reasons. First, it means that disabilities which have no clear social remedies (this does not include curing the impairment) can be understood through the emotional experience of it. Perhaps another claim which follows is that emotions can contain valuable epistemic information. Disabilities such as chronic pain and fatigue often prevent people from achieving significant life projects, even if those projects are to not be in consistent pain or simply live a life without this general reduction in well-being.

A brief counter to whether one should or should not be angry might take the following form:

If one is learning how to walk, and they become angry because they find it very difficult, it might be responded that they should not be harsh on themselves.

However, while it may have good intentions, it can be misguided. They might respond by saying they are not angry at themselves because they are at no fault. They are angry that their impairment is preventing them from walking.

It might also be argued “do not be angry at things you cannot control.” If we cannot control the state of our disability, then we should not be angry at all. I ask that you recall the condition of significance and Eudaimonia in the discussion of emotions earlier. I could be angry because it is something I cannot control and feel I ought to be able to. For example, I myself cannot directly control whether systematic racism continues to exist or not and the fact it does exist, makes me angry. On the other hand, I cannot control whether the buses are on time (or show up at all) but the promptness of buses is much less significant to my life projects than experiencing racism is. Here it can be seen that the significance of the event can help us understand whether one should or should not be angry. If the event ends up being insignificant on a bigger picture, then there may be no need. On the other hand, if it remains significant to your life, then it is easier to deflect the criticism that you should not be angry.

Secondly, given the information that anger does contain, it prevents the social model theorist from attempting to explain away the emotional experience towards their body by explaining everything in terms of societal oppression. If a person is blind and is angry they cannot see anymore, it would be irresponsible to dismiss it by attempting to explain it solely in terms of what society has not done for them. It is true that society could do much more to help them navigate the world properly. It is not true that their projects are to simply being able to navigate the world nor should that be their only project or desire. They can be much more complex and personal. A blind person may want to see their child and their body prevents that from happening.

The third objection – anger is harmful – stands up better in face of criticism. It is plausible to believe that anger does make the experience of disability worse. Largely because it brings a negative section of your life to centre stage and makes you engage with it intensely. When one is angry, it is rarely a passive engagement between you and the object and thus can decrease well-being quite substantially. If something harms you, you wish not to be harmed then you ought not to be angry. Yet, I do not think this is enough to establish that one should not be angry. This is strengthened by the above points on the epistemic productivity of anger and leads to a different argument – does it matter if one should not be angry?

There is something to be said about whether someone ‘should’ be angry at an impairment or anything at all. Here, the separation between the ‘can’ and the ‘should’ becomes important. Anger (and other emotions) do not need to be justified solely in terms of their productivity or in terms of how they influence your well-being. If one is angry at a moral violation then that explains and justifies their anger. Remarking they should not be angry does not address the reason for their anger but says their reaction to it is mistaken. This is a problematic response because ignoring the reason for the anger is a perfect way to undermine personal testimony. This is undermined without reference to their reasons for being angry but the thought that one should not be angry for the reasons discussed above. It is enough that it is apt even if we have a case of apt counter-productive anger (Srinivasan, 2015, p.20).

So far I have argued that the criticisms of whether we should be angry fail. One last qualification needs to be made. I am not arguing that there is an obligation to be angry at an impairment even if it would be appropriate to be. Rather, if a person is angry, it not easily dismissed as counter-productive or being too harmful to be useful. With this, the social model of disability excludes anger as an appropriate emotional response to impairment which is an important mistake.


[1] Interestingly enough, they also argue (as Seneca does) that anger characteristically contains the desire to lash out at whatever has wronged you. This is a mistaken addition for a two main reasons. 1) Modern conceptions of anger do not need to contain that condition and you especially would not be justified in doing so simply because you are also justified in being angry. See Myles Burnyeat’s rejection of this (2002) and 2) given the earlier establishment that you can be angry at an impairment, there is no person to be angry at in this case.

[2] It is worthwhile to note the idea that impairment can also be socially determined. If this is true, then people might not find impairments limiting because society has not caused whatever biological factor in question to be a limitation. See Shakespeare (2006).


 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks. I hope you enjoyed the argument.

Do you think anger is useful? 

For long time readers of the blog (and people with the memories of the-opposite-of-a-goldfish) you might recall me writing this about anger. Do you think I’ve contradicted myself?

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Here’s What it Means to be Angry – Dissertation pt. 3

And we’ve reached the midway point, the longest section and the most interesting so far. A lot of milestones!

In the previous parts I discussed:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Part three is the beginning of my argument. Can you be angry at an impairment? I discuss and attempt to expand one of my favourite papers The Aptness of Anger by Amia Srinivasan.


Can I be angry?

Recall the definition of disability offered by the social model. Society disables people with impairments. In order to figure out where the social model goes wrong with regards to the justification of emotional responses to disability, I will assume it is true. From this, I will go on to analyse two things – can you have a rational emotional response to an impairment? If you can, does it mean you should? I will test two emotions – anger and sadness.

First, what does it mean for a model of disability to ‘allow’ an emotional response to something? It is definitely possible to be angry at a disability because you can express any emotion you want at any time. I can be angry at a pillow for simply being blue if I want to. However, establishing this is trivial. When discussing whether you can be angry at an impairment, it is really a discussion of whether it is appropriate to do so. Does it make sense, given the situation, to be angry? If not, the social model is simply disallowing an emotion that is inappropriate any way. If that were correct, I do not believe the social model of disability would be making a mistake.

I will now focus on anger and its expression towards other people in regular contexts which might make it easier to appreciate in the context of disability. When I say ‘I am angry that you ruined my shoes’ I am expressing a few things (Srinivasan, 2015, p.8). First, I have stated what I am angry about – you ruined my shoes. Second, this fact is also the reason for my anger and most importantly, I feel that is what also justifies my anger. Perhaps it is best understood in terms of unfairly setting back my interests (having good shoes). This can be contrasted with merely explaining my anger but not being justified in being angry or being irrationally angry. If an Olympic sprinter loses a race, they might be angry at the fact they lost but their anger, arguably, is not appropriate because their interests were not set back unfairly.

Let us unpack the justification of anger. Amia Srinivasan (2015) argues that genuine anger involves a normative violation against the way things ought to have been or more specifically, when a moral violation has occurred or will occur (p.10). This is different from what might be construed as disappointment – a violation against the way things you wish would have been. A much weaker violation. When we say ‘this should have been a different way’ and do so genuinely (by not conflating wishes with demands) we are making a powerful statement. There is a version of the world you are rightfully entitled to and because that version has not been realised, you have been harmed. And thus, your anger is genuine.

Before I continue, I am pausing briefly to highlight how well the social model of disability fits in here. Having the basic assumption that people deserve to be treated fairly and justly, the proper treatment of the disabled is a right they are entitled to. In order to participate in life as fully as non-impaired individuals, society needs to be arranged in a much better way to remove the oppression that is disability. The examples mentioned earlier show quite powerfully the discrimination disabled people have faced in the past up to the present day and here, their anger is justified. Proper participation in society is a right which is has been denied. Their anger is directed towards a clear object – the arrangement of society – and it has a great significance towards their own life projects.

Returning to the topic, while helpful, the current definition of anger presents a problem for my argument. This concept of anger generally tends to be agent focused. An injustice is generally thought of being committed by someone (or people) against another person (or persons). If this is true, then one could plausibly argue that it does not make any sense to be angry that one is impaired because that does not involve another person. If someone caused it, I would be angry at the person rather than the impairment itself. Not being impaired not how one ought to have been. Rather, it is how one wishes they would have been. I am simply conflating anger with disappointment.

I will admit that this objection has some valuable force but I maintain that Srinivasan’s definition of genuine anger is helpful because it gives us the chance to explore non-moral violations or non-agent centred moral violations.

Let us begin from the perspective of harms where there is no agent that is morally responsible. It is important we do this because being angry at a harm and being angry at the person who caused it are different things. Is it possible to get angry in a genuine way? Yes. These will tend to be anger at facts of the world. For example, can you get angry at the fact a flash monsoon has destroyed your home? Plausibly, yes. However, this anger’s object would be at the fact that it has ruined your home and unfairness stems from the fact that it was undeserved. The object (or proposition)[1] is the fact that it has harmed you (quite significantly). Perhaps then, following from Amia’s idea of moral violations, we are entitled to say “this monsoon should not have happened because it was unfair”[2] and it has significantly reduced well-being and upended your personal projects (i.e. having shelter). Before I make much needed clarifications for my argument, take the following example:

Can you be angry at the fact you are in poverty? There are a few possible statements I would be making when I say ‘I am angry I am in poverty’.

  • I am angry that I am in poverty and starving because it is harming me
  • I am angry that I have been put into poverty by other people.[3]
  • I am angry that I am in poverty and the people who can change it are not.

It is reasonable to think that all three statements can be true independent of or in conjunction with one another. Statements 2) and 3) are agent centred. They are directed towards the way the world ought to have been and making a claim against other people to change it. Moreover, changing it does not then alleviate the anger towards the fact that it happened (Srinivasan, 2015, p.12). We can see parallels with this and disability. Disabled people are permitted to make claims 2) and 3) about their own disabilities and perhaps they even should do so. However, statement 1) seems more contentious if we view such harms through the lens of the social model of disability. We cannot be angry at impairment for harming us and being a disabling factor in itself because it cannot do so – only society can. Yet, we can see that it is possible to be angry at a non-agent-centred harm for causing life to go worse in some way.[4] Especially when it is as significant as being limited by your own body or mental capacities. It does not matter whether the harm can be alleviated in this case because the justification for the anger is not based in the fact it has not been alleviated by another person. It can be justified simply because the harm is existing.

This argument becomes particularly potent when we consider impairments – which are seen as disabling because they limit our life projects – that cannot eliminated by societal change. Under the social model of disability, anger towards these impairments, even though they can be very disabling, cannot be classed as such because it was not caused by society. This shows quite explicitly the problem with ignoring impairment because it must class appropriate emotional responses towards them as inappropriate.

However, is my argument only applicable to disabilities which do not seem to be alleviated by social change? As mentioned above, it is has a case to be more powerful but it is not limited to this context. People with disabilities may not have goals which are achievable by simply changing society’s arrangement. Often, the goals of the social model of disability are surrounded on making sure every individual can participate in society as other non-impaired individual does.

However, we can see why this may not be satisfactory. If an avid runner loses the use of their legs after an earthquake, one might think that being able to get around society in a wheelchair properly is enough. Yet, we definitely can still attempt to appreciate the anger expressed by her if she simply wants to run and cannot. From Nussbaum’s framework of emotions explained earlier, they are often linked to Eudaimonia or personal flourishing and if running was helping her live a flourishing life, then the unfairness in losing that ability factors into why she might be angry.  Of course, her life aims and relationship with the impairment might change over time meaning she is no longer angry at the impairment but directs her attention externally. Disability involves a very active relationship with the person and their body in part because we cannot separate the two. However we define disability, it must allow for these reactions to be appreciated as appropriate and the social model does not do so.

A point to be emphasised is this: the fact that our claim of unfairness cannot be claimed against another person does not diminish the existence of unfairness. Being unable to say that someone else must fix the unfairness does not prevent the appropriateness of the anger but makes it a practical problem of experiencing anger with something you cannot change. The objection that this anger does not make sense because it cannot be attributed to another person is better suited for whether you should be angry rather than whether it is appropriate to be.

This is open to an objection I wish to address briefly but will go into more detail in the next section. It means there can be genuine anger at many things. If a small gust of wind ruins your umbrella just as you walk out of the door, it looks like you can be angry at that fact even if it ends up being quite inconsequential. I am inclined to agree that it is possible genuine anger might exists in these situations. This is mainly a problem for whether we should be angry at a reasonably small thing versus something which can be disabling.


[1] It’s difficult to assess anger at a ‘proposition’. The anger expressed is towards the object in the world which leads to the proposition ‘a flash monsoon ruined my home’.

[2] This brute bad luck is also seen as unfairness in discussions of Luck Egalitarianism. See Dworkin (1981) for one of many examples.

[3] This is along the lines of Thomas Pogge’s (2008) argument that affluent countries are the cause of global poverty.

[4] Unless we want to admit genuine anger for life going better than expected.


A few questions:

Do you agree with Amia’s definition of anger? 

Do you think anger at an impairment makes sense? 

Let me know what you think. As always, thanks for reading!

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing – Dissertation pt. 2

This is the second part of my dissertation talking about the social model of disability and emotions.

In part 1, I said what I’m going to do with my argument and did some of it. I defined the social model and medical model of disability.

Now I move onto explaining a framework to understand emotions…


 

It is important to have a framework to understand emotions if we are to understand the role of emotions in the experience of disability.  Martha Nussbaum offers this in The Upheavals of Thought. This account will generally be assumed true. I do not think the account is flawless but my argument does not fail completely if Nussbaum’s account is deemed unsuccessful.[1]

To Nussbaum, emotions are best conceived of as thoughts or cognitions. Her view is ‘neo-stoic’ as she draws greatly from the stoic accounts offered by Seneca and other ancient philosophers. Cognitions, Nussbaum argues, are necessary and sufficient for emotions (Nussbaum, 2001, pp.56- 58). Rather than simply being unthinking things which ‘push rather than pull’ us around, emotions always involve thought of an object combined with the thought of its importance (ibid. p.23). This is the first two conditions – they have objects and a thought about how important that object is. For an emotion to have an object, it means that it has some kind of target that is in the world and is about something (ibid. p.27). For example, someone might have an emotion because of an object o, in virtue of o, about o or that proposition p.

Secondly, they are intentional. Meaning they are full of value judgements about the object in relation to the person experiencing the emotions. Rather than being directed towards an object like an arrow is pointed towards its target and let go (ibid., p.27), it is almost like casting a fishing line out to the sea, latching onto something important and experiencing where that object stands in relation to yourself. Therefore, although emotions are argued to be thoughts, it is important to make clear that emotions are partial and ‘requires seeing the object […] through my own window’ (ibid. p.28). This has interesting implications for how to conceive of emotions. One to consider is whether an emotion can inappropriately respond to an object or event. There is definitely space to say yes as people can overreact to events but this then raises the question of when the interpretation of significance is misguided or correct. This will be discussed in relation to anger later in the next section.

The third condition is that they form beliefs about the object (ibid. 28). For example, if I fear snakes, I believe there is danger and that is because of the snakes. Moreover, the fear is present because I believe the possibility of danger is significant. With regards to belief then, emotions and their beliefs have some relationship to propositional content. If I am sad because I believe my dad died but he is actually alive then the content of my emotion is ‘false’. However, I will follow Nussbaum’s path in referring to such examples as ‘inappropriate’ because false implies something much harsher and discredits the emotion completely (ibid. p.46).

In close relation to this point is the notion of value perceived in objects. Under this account they are Eudaimonistic – they make direct reference to the person’s own flourishing (ibid. pp.30 – 33). Whatever the person considers of intrinsic value to their own life, whether it is because it affects her well-being or personal projects, emotions capture that significance. We must not mistake Eudaimonia with simple utilitarianism or ‘happiness’ but rather it takes for one to view their life as complete. (ibid. pp.32-33). This is consistent with the idea that emotions are very partial and they make judgements based on how they relate to our own life projects.

Assuming this framework is true, I will now discuss anger and its relationship to the social model of disability.

[1] See Cates (2009) or Griffiths (1997) for opposing views.


 

How do you think emotions are best understood? 

Thanks for reading!

The Two Definitions of Disability – Dissertation pt. 1

I got the bright idea to put my dissertation on my blog from LucyWritesWords (go read her dissertation, it’s good).

The question I attempt to answer is: Does the social model of disability allow for appropriate emotional reactions towards impairment? In fewer words: Can I be angry at my disability? 

There are a few things I would change if I re-did it now but I won’t edit it much for the blog. This is part one of six. Enjoy!


“Anger is loaded with information and energy […] When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar”

Lorde, 1987

The social model of disability has often been seen as the inspiration for disabled rights activists and disabled people[1]. Due to its change of focus from the disabled person to society, there is now something to do about disability rather than angling for a cure that may never come in one’s lifetime.

It has also come under much criticism in recent years for not taking into account the problem of impairment and because of this, missing out on both a large number of disabilities and the personal experience one has with their disability. As a way to explore this problem, I will ask whether the social model allows for appropriate emotional reactions towards impairment.

I will argue that it does not particularly in cases of anger and sadness and as a result we should move on from the social model. To do this I will

  1. First, explain the social model of disability and why it has been so heavily adopted.
  2. In the second section, I will present Martha Nussbaum’s framework for emotions as it will prove useful for the remainder of the essay. From this, the following sections will aim to establish that it can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment even though it is not an agent.
  3. The following section will answer the objection that you should not be angry because it is harmful and epistemically unproductive (it does not produce knowledge).
  4. Afterwards, I will briefly demonstrate a similar conclusion holds for sadness and ask whether the social model can survive despite my argument’s conclusion.

The Social Model of Disability

The social model of disability can be stated briefly:

In our view, it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments, by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.

(UPIAS, 1976. P.3)

The social model states that society causes disability by the way it is arranged and how it includes or excludes individuals with mental or physical impairments. This creates three important dichotomies (Shakespeare, 2013, p.216).

First, impairment is separated from disability. Impairment is the limited function of a physical or mental attribute and disability is the restriction of activity caused by the arrangement of society. (Oliver, 1996, p.22) Impairment is a personal attribute. Under ordinary modes of thinking, a ‘cure’ would mean eliminating the impairment rather than the disability. On the other hand, ‘disability’ is a public and structural problem. With this model, people are regularly excluded or disadvantaged by society because it is not correctly designed with impairments in mind. For example, should a wheelchair user need access to the first floor of a building but is only faced with stairs, the design of the building is disabling her. If, however, the building has a working lift, she can get around without any restrictions meaning she is no longer disabled by the arrangement of the building. This means ‘disability’ is something which can be greatly eliminated or reduced by changing the arrangement of society.  Perhaps, then, it is best to accept impairment and direct our attention towards social change. The divide between impairment and disability can also be seen as a parallel to the sex/gender divide started by feminists in the 1970s (Shakespeare, 2006, p.29).

Following from this is the second dichotomy. Disabled people are distinguished from non-disabled people because they are an oppressed group. There are three main barriers disabled people face: attitudinal, physical and institutional. In addition to this, non-disabled people are often the cause of such oppression because society is designed against the disabled. Perhaps not explicitly but that is the case nonetheless. This is backed up by history with a number of examples. It ranges from children being bullied because they are physically or mentally ‘different’ to disabled people being disproportionately unemployed[2] to simply not being able to navigate buildings or roads effectively or safely. Again, another parallel can be drawn with other oppressed groups such as ethnic minorities who are unable to function in society in an equal manner because they are excluded due to their race.

The third difference is with what is most commonly thought of as disability – the ‘medical’ or ‘individual’ model of disability. With this model, impairment and disability are much closer. Impairment stays the same but disability is defined as:

Any restriction or lack, resulting from an impairment, of ability to perform any activity or within the range considered normal for a human being. (Emphasis added)

(World Health Organisation, 1980)

The most common view among the non-disabled, which states that disability is the limitation which arises from impairments. For example, the wheelchair user’s disability mentioned earlier would be her lack of properly functioning legs. In difference with the social model, the medical model has a much greater focus on the individual’s body and its supposed faults. When we look for an intervention to include a disabled person into society, the focus is on a cure or compensation. This, it has been argued, is often a cause of social exclusion and with some directed thought, clear why many disabled people are opposed to the medical model. If impairment is permanent or long lasting, saying something is ‘wrong’ with them is seen as a comment on their person rather than the impairment. If they do not have a normal body, they must be abnormal and demand special attention to compensate for that.

There are many benefits to the social model. First, it allows people to point their attention towards injustices which disabled people do face in their everyday lives. For example, not having their testimony of their personal experiences taken seriously. Rather than society simply excluding people because they are disabled or treating them poorly, it is what causes disability. If this is true, the ‘cure’ for disability is not hoping for a cure which many never come, it is through demanding civil rights they are entitled to.

Second, it often has a great impression on how disabled people view themselves. Some people note that they feel liberated and no longer feel bad for having a disability. “Nothing is wrong with me. It’s society’s fault” is the attitude sometimes realised (Crow, 1992, p.2). They can also direct their attention towards things they can change by going into social activism or learning more about disability and the lives of disabled people. In a sense, it also helps that, if no cure can be found, we no longer need to look for it.

Thirdly, it sets a clear agenda for social change (Shakespeare, 2013, p.217). A key example of this is the disabled rights act of 1995 (2006, p.30). If people become more aware of the injustices they face, they often try finding ways to alter the world so no more injustice is experienced.

With the social model, an implicit discussion of impairment can be teased out. That is, there is no discussion of impairment involved in the social model because it is seen as unimportant. It seems that impairment is a neutral (or possibly positive) attribute of a person because impairment cannot in itself be disabling. It is society which disables people with impairments. Therefore, it has been criticised on the basis that it does not properly take into account the experience of impairment.

For this paper, we will find that it does not properly consider the range of justified emotional experiences people have with their impairments. However, this does not necessitate a return to the medical model. The remainder of the paper will aim to answer a few things. First, how we might want to view emotions. Second, whether the social model excludes certain emotions towards impairment and third if it does, what does that mean for the social model of disability? Does it need to be abandoned?


[1] Using the terms ‘people with disabilities’ and ‘disabled people’ inspires controversy regardless of its use. In the first instance, you have the claim you should ‘see the person and not the disability’ on the other, you have people who are being disabled by society. As a result, I will use them interchangeably with no normative force behind them.

[2] See ‘The Poverty Site’ Work and Disability: United Kingdom (2011) for statistics detailing disability limits people who lack but want work much more than gender, age and parent status.


Do you think the social or medical model of disability are useful? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

Should You Follow Your Own Advice?

The first answer seems to be yes. If you’re giving advice, you must think it’s good to follow therefore you should too.

I don’t think the answer is obvious. There are situations when you can give advice without following it yourself and still be in a good position.

Unpacking the question of whether you should follow your own advice is valuable in a few ways. The first is that it’s  interesting (to me, at least) and second, it gives us the chance to think about whether the advice we’re giving is useful.

Not following your own advice

There are a number of situations when not following your own advice is perfectly fine or even the right thing to do.

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech at Stanford. He said to the students ‘follow your heart’. That advice, as argued by Cal Newport, he didn’t follow. He didn’t seem to be the most passionate about technology or start-ups but ended up becoming a leading influence within technology and his effects are still felt today.

Whether or not this argument is convincing, similar things happen to other people. Leo Babauta recently admitted he’d stopped focusing on single tasks (although he wants to return) and still produces great work every day.

Despite writing Create Without Expectation, I still find it difficult to rid myself of paralysing expectations to do well.

You’ve probably given advice, not followed it, yet still achieved what you want.

In these examples, there are two themes.

In the example of Leo, he’s graduated his advice and can now handle more than the person he’s giving his advice to.

He’s no longer like the person he’s advising.

This doesn’t need to be elitist. When we start learning maths, we’re taught techniques that a teacher would no longer use. The advice is still valuable for the beginner but not for the advanced person.

If a person is sufficiently advanced enough to know the effects of following the advice, they can give advice without following it themselves. For example, fat dietitians or personal trainers can still give useful advice about losing weight and doing proper exercises.

In the example of Steve Jobs, it’s possible that the advice simply isn’t very good, too vague or unrealistic.

Who can give advice?

Anyone.

It’s easy to give advice. There are many people who give relationship advice without ever being in a relationship or people who talk about beating procrastination despite being the worst procrastinators.

The requirement for advice giving is low.

A lot of advice seems to be personal experience with a self-proclaimed detachment from the situation. Personal experience adds credibility because we then know that it’s at least worked for one person and that person has no reason to lie to us (assuming they’re trusted). Objectivity helps because they can analyse the situation a few more ways than you might have yourself.

Following advice, even if it’s good, is harder. The advice giver is nearly in opposition to the person receiving it. They are attached to the situation and the problem becomes very personal to them when the advice giver tends to be very detached.

“When we think about other people, and what might be right for them, it’s a lot easier to see them as the big picture. It’s much harder to apply that big-picture perspective to ourselves.”

Hal Hershfield

It’s when advice giving and advice reception is complementary we make progress. In order to make these two position complementary, I’ve found it helpful to reduce the importance of objectivity and practice more empathy.

How should we give advice?

Advice can still be good without the advice giver following it themselves. Different situations often demand different types of advice.

However, what seems to be more likely is that by giving advice to other people, you’re giving advice to yourself. This means you’re in similar positions. Should you follow your own advice in this situation? Yes, if you have some desire to change.

If you can’t, it might speak to the quality of advice you’re giving. Which brings us to why the question is helpful.

If you can’t follow your own advice yet give it to others, the advice could either be bad, too simplified or irrelevant.

It’s easy to give lazy or ‘just-do-it’ advice.

  • Just start working
  • Just save more
  • Just stop eating so much

Simple advice, right? Sometimes helpful but rarely does it inspire much action. It’s easy to give because it negates the problem and packages it as a helpful answer.  Most importantly, it distances us from the problem – reducing our likelihood of being empathetic when helping others.

We probably don’t aim to be dismissive when giving such advice but I’ve found it’s useful to make a greater effort to refrain from giving dismissive advice.

“Once you understand something, it is difficult to remember what it was like not to understand it”.

Peter Lipton

When we’ve overcome a problem, it’s tough to appreciate how it was to experience it.

If we’ve lost weight, it’s unlikely the only step we followed was to ‘eat less’. It probably involved reducing portion sizes, drinking more water and taking the stairs instead of the lift.

If we’ve improved our grades, it’s unlikely that we just ‘worked more’. It may have involved setting out time for the library, taking more breaks and focusing more in class.

And so on.

This just-do-it advice tends to be a label for more detailed advice that needs to be unpacked rather than the advice to be followed. It’s easy to get the two conflated because we might not even notice the small changes we make in order to achieve the bigger goal.

Not following our own advice when we think we should, helps give an insight into why other people might not either. There’s a large difference between ‘knowing’ you should do something and feeling it. It befalls many of us.

So should you follow your own advice?

Yes, if it’s good and relevant.

By asking this question we’ve discovered that good advice can be difficult to give. It requires empathy and an effort to be attentive to the problem rather than dismissive. Thankfully, asking whether we would actually follow it can be a signal towards whether it will be helpful.

It’s a good thing to try being helpful (I wouldn’t write this blog otherwise) and trying to improve how helpful you are is another goal worthy of attention.

No, if you don’t need it (or want it).

We don’t always have to follow our advice just because we’ve given it to someone else. Sometimes we don’t need it as it’s become irrelevant to our own needs or we know it’s proven to work and don’t need to apply it to our own lives.

There’s a bigger discussion about what good advice is and how to give it but I won’t start that here. I don’t know a definite answer to any of those questions.

Do you follow your own advice? Do you think you should?


 

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Further Reading:

Why don’t we take our own advice?

Your Own Advice is the Hardest Pill to Swallow

Why Is It So Hard To Take Your Own Advice?

The One Phrase to Beat Procrastination

Procrastination plagues all of us.

Whether it’s a writing an essay or cleaning the house – we have tasks we want (and need) to do and put them off anyway.

To combat this, we’ve probably read a number of useful things on stopping procrastination. Break down the goal into small and manageable tasks, plan your day, set deadlines, and work without distractions and so on.

They’re all helpful but we still put things off. When we think of the task, we begin to feel uncomfortable. Let’s delve into that feeling of resistance.

What do we feel when we procrastinate?

Should we actually spend time with these feelings, we might learn a few things.  We’ll split the tasks into the classic Eisenhower matrix.

If it’s important but not urgent, we’ll find comfort in procrastination because we don’t have to do it but feel guilty because we know it will be helpful. If our thinking continues, we might feel guilty for having these feelings at all.

If it’s urgent but not important, we might feel anxious or on the other hand, apathetic towards the task. The task’s urgency means we have to think about it but since it’s unimportant, the deadline might just zoom past without consequence.

If it’s urgent and important, the feelings  of guilt, dread and discomfort are multiplied. We’ll feel trapped within the confines of our own procrastination – like slaves to distraction and quick entertainment.

Depending on how bad the procrastination is, the task will remain undone and we’ll just deal with the consequences.

There are many feelings we have while procrastinating. A lot of it stems from the fear of discomfort and results in self-criticism that makes us feel bad rather than change action in a sustainable way.

How can we combat this?

The phrase to beat procrastination

“It’ll be better after I start”

Since all of our feelings from procrastination are born of inaction, using them it’s useless to gauge how well the task will be done. We often overestimate the difficulty or underestimate our ability to try.

Stop thinking about how you might feel during the task and quieten the internal monologue convincing us to give into instant gratification. Start the task then experience how you feel.

Starting something always feels better than not starting but wanting to.

I’ve never felt worse for starting something I’ve needed to. Of course, I’ve abandoned things or disliked them for a variety of reasons but it’s better to have justified reasons and progress under your belt rather than being guided by fear.

Conclusion

When you find yourself procrastinating, say “it’ll be better after I start”.

Because it will and you’ll be OK.


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Other helpful reminders for procrastination:

Create without expectation

What’s wrong with now?

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

Let the Fear Pass

Fear is like a cloud.

It hovers over your head and the tasks you want to complete. But after a while, it passes and the sky becomes clear again.

When I notice myself putting something off and ask why, I tend to feel uncomfortable. Usually because there’s not much reason other than  ‘I don’t want to’. Appealing to laziness is the same thing.

Usually, the bigger the task, the greater the uncomfortable feeling. This, and generally poor energy management, is probably why students tend to leave big essays until they begin to panic about the deadlines.

I experience this feeling a lot. It often leads to potent self-criticism that only serves to make me feel bad.

One thing I’ve found helpful is to meditate on this feeling. It takes less than a minute.

What am I experiencing right now? Am I worried about what’s going to happen if I try?

More often than not, it’s fear. Either the fear of discomfort or fear of failure. Every time I catch myself experiencing these feelings, the less powerful they become.

We don’t have to fear the discomfort of trying something new because it can signal a challenge that fosters some personal growth. It’s important not to diminish this growth even if you think it’s tiny. If your challenge was to pick up dirty clothes from the floor and you surpassed it, that’s a cleaner room you didn’t have yesterday.

Neither should we fear failure to the point where it stops us from moving forward because we can only succeed at something if we try and the joy of succeeding is greater than the pain of failure.  Giving ourselves the excuse not to try is only a disservice to our abilities and passions.

Once permission is given not to be consumed by fear and not influence our actions, it passes. Just like a cloud.

As with many things, observing fear and letting it pass takes practice. I still fall victim to putting things off due to these fears as they will always pop up somewhere. It’s a normal thing and it’d be silly to expect everyone to be fearless all the time.

The goal is to move forward despite its existence.

At first, even noticing you’re afraid of something is difficult then moving past it can be a small battle. But don’t get discouraged if you notice its been victorious. Next time you’ll focus on the feeling again and it’ll become easier.

With time and practise, the fear will weaken and you will be immersed in the present moment.

***

Further Reading: 

  1. Create without expectation
  2. On Productivity and Presence
  3. What’s wrong with now?

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I’m 20

I’m 20

Self-review can be difficult. Especially when it feels like the negatives from the previous year have become worse and the positives more rare.

However, there is nothing wrong with this difficulty. This year has been tough but there’s little value in either trying to show a false persona (whether the portrayal is happy or sad) nor would I benefit from ignoring it completely.

I’m turned 20 a week ago and here’s the review of my past year.

What’s happened in the past year?

Writing

My journal has continued and become an even more important part of my life. I started when I was 18 and it’s still going. I’m nearly at 500 days with over half a million words. Even if it just tends to be personal rambling, it shows the usefulness of consistency. In the early days, there were times when I just didn’t want to write anything. Either because I’m too tired or I’ve had a bad day. Now, I don’t do it based on how I feel. It’s just something I do. It’d be weird if I didn’t write every day. I’m pretty sure journalling is more regular for me than eating breakfast or sleeping for 8 hours.

It’s a wonderful habit which has slowly proved itself as a much needed anchor throughout my day.

On the other side of the coin, my blog has been inactive. I will explain why later. I did have a productive month in March but I can’t explain to you why that was the case! The same thing happened last year. Maybe March is just the best month of the year.

I have a few favourites though. My post on living with chronic pain is the best explanation of my current problem. I also enjoyed writing about comparing yourself to others and why we should listen.

University

I study Philosophy for those who don’t know. I’m still at university and it’s not the worst thing in the world. I’ve kept and made new friends. I don’t actually know if I’m any better at philosophy at the moment but I have gained new interests in the field. The main one being about global justice and health.

The course is based on what can and whether anything should be done about healthcare in countries around the world. Currently, there is a great inequality of healthcare around the world and it’s something we all know. However, we are also much less likely to actively do anything about it and much less likely to claim responsibility for all the poverty-related diseases in the world. Questions such as ‘Does Aid Work?’ and ‘Are all humans moral equals?’ were central to the course. I feel the course has made me much more compassionate and at the same time, it’s made me feel like my arguments are actually increasing in relevancy instead of being dismissed as useless.

For anyone reading this who know me in real life, I’ve gone on and on about this course. I apologise for nothing.

Depression and Health

This is what I wrote last year:

“Being in pain every day for over five years has started to take its toll on my mental health. My various coping mechanisms are struggling to handle just how prominent all of these medical problems are in my life.”

Unfortunately, nothing positive has developed. My depression is much worse and my pain continues without change in intensity.

I could write for a long time about this depression but I won’t bore you with the rambling. Depression makes me feel alone in the company of my best friends and sad when I’m surrounded with happiness. It has sucked out any motivation I’ve had for the things I used to enjoy and made it difficult to just do normal things. For a while, even during my exam period, I would just lie in bed doing nothing of value. But it’s not like I would sleep either for I also have to deal with insomnia. I’m also still using a walking stick. Which clearly doesn’t help this whole situation.

As you can guess, this year has been filled with a lot of frustration which is often directed at myself. I still meditate but I’ve struggled to find any kind of peace. The days when I would walk outside and just appreciate the sounds and sights are far and few between.

Very recently, I was actually told I can’t have anti-depressants yet because I needed to test stronger painkillers! That seemed to just highlight some of the absurdity of the whole situation.

But that’s ok. Things like that happen to people all the time. I’m not alone with this depression but I don’t know how much comfort that brings to me any more.

So that helps explain why I haven’t written that much over the past year and my current difficulty with university.

I’ll get better. I haven’t lost all hope in the world. I need to get to a million words in my journal, after all.

Looking Forward

To every psychologist I’ve spoken to, they’ve asked me: What are your goals for the end of our sessions?

I have to filter out the standard “I don’t want to be depressed” answers because it isn’t that useful.

To all of them, I have said in response “I want to be ok with how I’m feeling”. That doesn’t mean that I have to feel happy all the time. It is centred on finding peace with myself and mindful of who I am. And really just being involved in my own life rather than being a passive spectator of the days that come and go.

Aside from the standard goals of becoming a better writer and developing new skills, I’d say that is the most important. If that means that I’m not on a walking stick when I’m 21, all the better. If I still have to deal with chronic pain, hopefully I’ll still be able to find some peace in my day.

And that is it. Here’s to a better future.

 

Living with Chronic Pain

I’ve been trying to put into words what it’s like for me to live with chronic pain for a while now. It’s quite difficult to explain living with chronic pain beyond ‘it’s difficult’ without seeming overdramatic. However, I think it’s worth having a go. I’m going to split this into three parts.

  1. My motivation for writing about it
  2. What the problem is and how it came to be
  3. Chronic pain and me

If you want the main portion of the article, skip to the third section. The other two are brief and largely explanatory.

For those who don’t know, chronic pain is usually defined as pain that’s continued for over 3 to 6 months. Everyone experiences it with different levels of intensity and react to it in different ways. With that being said, this post will be completely personal to me. However, I hope it’s still useful if not entertaining.

My motivation for writing about it

I find writing therapeutic. Trying to write my thoughts out in a clear manner is helpful even if the result isn’t always particularly successful. I’ve made a few efforts to understand what I feel about the illness. They haven’t made it very far since my initial reaction tends to be nothing more than frustration towards it.

However, what could be more important than that is giving an insight into the issue to other people. The reason why this is important is not because I desire a flood of sympathy. It’s because a simple understanding of various illnesses, disabilities and limitations prevents prejudice and judgement formed due to ignorance. Not everyone has learned to withhold quick judgements so it’s useful to educate where I can instead of feeling victimised which will result in an even worse attitude towards the problem.

What the problem is and how it came to be

My medical problem is somewhat complex and boring to explain but I’ll try to keep it short. I won’t run through a detailed timeline of the issue.

The large majority of my pain comes from my back injury that was sustained about 5 years ago playing rugby. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. In reality, I don’t remember getting hit in a bad way or a specific moment where all the back pain came from. It just steadily got worse until I had to stop playing the sport. I have slipped discs in my upper back that rest on my spinal cord which slightly complicates the issue a bit more.

I still use a walking stick because my right leg is weak because of my back problems. More recently, I’ve also found that my hips are a bit rubbish so that’s affected my walking also.

Chronic pain and me

My relationship with my pain has changed a fair amount over the five plus years that I’ve had to experience it. It’s moved from apathy to anger to optimism which is sometimes marred by pessimism. To say it’s been a smooth ride would only be dishonest. Sometimes I wish that I could keep the bright optimism that I once had but of course, the experience has to change the longer I live with it. It’s the human thing to do.

In the first two years or so of my injury, it’d be best to describe my feelings towards the pain as positive.  Yes, I was in pain for most of the time, but that doesn’t matter too much. I’ll get better soon because it isn’t meant to be a very long term problem. The saying ‘other people have it worse so I’m fine’ often found itself in my justifications for why I was still happy. In some cases, I’d feel bad for complaining about the pain because in perspective, while my condition may have been worse than my friends and family, in the larger scheme of things, I was pretty lucky. After all, I could still see, eat good food and laugh. I couldn’t do sport or do things I enjoyed for as long as I’d like. But that was fine. I’d just adapt and slowly get better.

This reminds me of the time when I was stretching in class and my history teacher quickly remarked ‘it looks like you’re dancing!’ to which I later thought, since all good thoughts happen in the shower after the actual event, then invite me to the chronic pain disco! At the time, I laughed and continued to read whatever I was reading at the time. Such comments didn’t really make me feel isolated or worse off because of what I was experiencing. I just didn’t need to feel singled out because I was in pain all the time.

As I grew older, I began to view my pain in a different way. I went from a phase of using perspective to make myself feel better to feeling frustrated and sad.

The longer the pain lasted, the greater my feelings of frustration and hopelessness became. After two years or so, my optimism slowly began to crack and one of my most poignant fears revealed itself to me.

This pain is normal.

That might sound odd coming from a person who had already experienced it for far longer than necessary. Why had it taken so long for this to happen? If it’s normal, doesn’t this mean I can now live a more fulfilling life around the pain?

To the first, I’ll answer with a brief story. I went to my doctor for a check up on the most recent MRI scan I had taken. As is rare with pretty much every person in existence, I remember going to the hospital happy and hopeful. It was possible I’d be told there was a great improvement in my condition and I’d get some kind of timeline for when I could expect all of this to end. Almost as wonderful as being told two hour lecture would end early. I sat down and after a discussion of how useless my doctor finds my Philosophy degree dressed up in backhanded compliments, I was told that there wasn’t a difference in the scans that I had taken months ago. He’ll see me again in a year and hopefully there will be a difference then. When I got home, the frustration of being told such a disheartening thing resulted in me kicking a hole in my door. (Almost shocking from the guy who enjoys writing a lot about the value of meditation, right?)

Following from that moment, I guess it dawned on me that I could be stuck like this for a while. I could no longer fight it by comparing it to people who were worse off than me. I lost the comfort of genuinely being ok with my situation. I had to begin the arduous process of accepting my condition.

To the last question, yes and no. Realising the pain is normal has led me to improve some areas of my life. For example, I started meditation much earlier than I probably would have in an attempt to find more peace with my pain. Studying, by necessity, had to become much more efficient otherwise I would never get anything done on time. Such skills have spilled over to other areas of my life since being like this has simply motivated me to learn more about how I can improve myself and get back on a normal level playing field.

As you have hopefully guessed, the positives comes with its negatives. Realising the pain is normal has highlighted the fact that being in pain every day and tired as a consequence of that shouldn’t be normal for a 19 year old. With the pain being such a large part of my everyday life, my feelings of loss likes to tap me on the shoulder then punch me in the face. “You can’t go out with friends without being in pain!” “Can you walk around university without feeling tired and frustrated every single day? Of course not.” “Let’s be real, I took away parts of your teenage hood and I’m fine with it.”

Well, that’s what it would say if my feelings could talk like they were separate people. Instead, I’m faced with the wonderful task of reminding myself of those facts. It leads to a strange situation of trying to toe the line between self-loathing and blaming something on my pain. My situation has taken away small freedoms that I usually would take for granted and they’ve cumulated to restrict me greatly. Being able to work on something I enjoy is frequently marred by pain that hinders my concentration. Working on an essay takes far longer than I think it should because I’m too tired to work for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Even not being in pain is interrupted by the knowledge that it will come back. It leads to feeling extremely guilty for resting during those periods instead of making the most of it. Simply living my days without pain in mind was taken away.

Far too often, I fall on the side of self-loathing. I blame myself for things I know are not completely in my control. I get angry when I can’t complete something on time because of the pain. Why can’t I just work through it? Man up and get it done.

As much as I try, I cannot. I try to convince myself I can but it results in anger and disappointment. I’m unable to just brush past the pain even though it’s so familiar. Despite the pain being a regular occurrence in my life, it definitely hasn’t lost its potency. In a way, this familiar thing always feels new. It’s as powerful now as it was when we first became acquaintances.

Following closely from this is the indefinite nature of the whole thing. As I mentioned earlier in my brief story, I was told to wait by my doctor. Years later, I’m still waiting. I haven’t been told any kind of timeline for when I can expect my condition to get better nor have I been told it’s permanent. Given that information, I’ve tried a large variety of things to cope with or fix the problem but none have shown themselves as a solution to it. How many times need I answer the question of when can I expect to get better with “I have no idea”? Having to say that to other people and myself has proven to become a huge emotional burden. Maybe part of me has become tired with it all. Dealing with it day in and day out not actually knowing when it’s going to end has sometimes driven me to the point where I’d rather just disappear. Not die, but no longer exist so I finally have some rest.

If I’ve made it to this point, what could I be waiting for? It’s been years and an end doesn’t look to be approaching any time soon. I’m waiting for it to get better. I’ll eventually be free from the pain, worry about regular things and enjoy my days like I should have been for the past few years. My optimism has not failed completely. Even during the times where I’ve felt the most depressed. This problem is very difficult but I have valuable positives to take from it. I’ve become much more involved with personal development. Helping myself and (hopefully) other people become better and find peace with themselves is wonderful. I have wonderful friends and family with colourful life experiences who have and continue to bring joy to my days. I have a place to talk about this where people will listen so what I have written won’t be greeted with silence.

And finally, I’m still here.

Chronic pain for the most part is silent. One needn’t grimace all the time if she’s in pain nor does she need to cry when she gets home. She can just have the pain and live with it.

For those who have suffered in the past or currently are dealing with the problem of chronic pain, I hope that your relationship with it doesn’t become one of hate or anger. Of course, it’s terribly difficult to remain the happiest person in the world when you feel the suffering is so potent, meaningless and unfair. However, if it’s something we are to live with temporarily or permanently, that time, hopefully, won’t be of complete despair.

Unfortunately, I cannot give any professional advice on dealing with chronic pain but I do invite others to share any experiences they may have had with such issues. Perhaps we can help each other. For those who know someone else suffering from chronic pain, I can say the least one can do is to offer a warm smile and helpful hand if they need it. Depending on the length and severity of the pain, the relationship with it can change quite substantially. Chronic pain is just as emotional as is it physical.

In a way, writing this post has exposed a vulnerability I could have hidden but chose not to. Sharing my experience with it may have helped or you might simply know me slightly better now.

Whatever you may have gained from this, thanks for reading. It’s greatly appreciated.