The two-week experiment|The Sunday Monday Post

We’re two weeks into 2018.

How many new year resolutions have been broken and revitalised already? How many are still going strong?

That doesn’t matter too much. We all hear the same advice – make it a habit. Shoot for sustainable change rather than drastic alterations to our lifestyle. If you slip up once, get back on track as quickly as possible.

I agree with all of this advice because it’s helpful. However, it doesn’t address the main problem I find with New Year Resolutions.

They’re often boring and create too much pressure for perfection.

Who cares about being healthy when Pringles are £1? or exercise when it’s raining and windy?

2018 isn’t special. Neither will 2019 be. There is nothing grand about the change of year. We all know this, yet depend on it anyway even if we decide not to formally create any resolutions.

Why is this a misleading mindset?

Let’s take a quick look at the term “resolution”:

The firm decision to do or not to do something

“I’m going to exercise more”

“I’m going to eat less junk”

“I’m going to call my parents once a week”

Whatever the form, the underlying philosophy is that “this is the time I finally make a change!” When we make resolutions, we often treat them as though we should make a specific change and if we fail, we are failures. That isn’t true – it’s a misleading train of thought.

Experiments and Projects

I returned to an idea I probably heard from the likes of Tim Ferriss and that is the two week experiment and six month project. 

Experiments are an opportunity to try something new or do something slightly differently. They view failure as a possibility rather than something which must be avoided at all costs.

With New Year Resolutions, we always have the possiblity that we’ll fail but it’s as though we choose to ignore it because we believe we can will ourselves to success (it’s not that easy).

Two weeks is a short enough timeframe for our efforts not to feel unproductive and damaging. If we choose to jump ship early, we haven’t sunk too much time into it. If we enjoy it, we can simply carry on and maybe we’ll stick with it long enough.

It’s also a short enough timeframe for it to stay exciting, I’ve found. It’s like we get to become a slightly different person for a short time! Given how easy it is to get stuck in mundane routines, small changes can be wonderful.

The six month project allows for an overarching theme to come from the experiments.

A six month project: Learn data visualisation.

Two-week experiment no.1: Only utilise data on a sport you know nothing about when creating visualisations.

Two-week experiment no.2: Produce a new visualisation every two days.

Two-week experiement no.3: Work on a detailed visualisation that utilises a new skill and produce a story at the end of the two weeks.

You get the idea?

A current example of mine is the following.

Six month project: Lose weight.

Two-week experiment no.1: Have a vegan meal a day

It’s been going very well actually. They’re fun and a helpful break from the bad and good habits that I’ve maintained for a while.

Try the following:

  1. Write down a goal you’ve wanted to achieve.
  2. Think: six months has passed – what do I want it to look like? That is your new project.
  3. Experiment: what’s an interesting way to make progress on your project? What haven’t you tried before? What has been unsuccessful in the past and how might you make a change to it?

Now, be reasonable. I don’t recommend you try fasting for two weeks or skydiving without a parachute to aid weightloss.


Happy 2018!

What might you experiment with next?

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

Will I be OK? – Accepting and running away

I’ve maintained a journal for over three years.

Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.

A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?


I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.

I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.

I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).

So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.

Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?

ihor-malytskyi-204553
Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

What does it mean to be OK?

Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.

We say it to our friends all the time:

“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”

“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”

“You’ll survive this tough patch”

Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?

There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.

Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:

  1. Life with chronic pain is bad
  2. I have chronic pain
  3. Therefore, I have a bad life.

There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.

We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.

Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.

joshua-clay-27368

I don’t know

Let’s look at it differently.

Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.

Perhaps I won’t be OK.

When faced with uncertainty, could it be best to believe it because it’s the most helpful option? Admitting we don’t know if we’ll be OK doesn’t mean we should definitely believe we won’t be.

Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.

It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.

Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.

Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.

Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.

Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.

Will I be OK?

ricky-kharawala-10194
This doesn’t have much to do with the post. But I like it. Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!

But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.

We can start with a few things:

  1. Give ourselves a place to be vulnerable

Sometimes, everything just becomes overwhelming. And you know what? That’s fine. Having a physical place we can relax and simply experience our emotions is useful.

For me, it’s lying in bed or the yoga mat. For others, it can be a park they know they’ll have privacy.

Whatever it is, it’s a place for honesty. Over time, it may even become a place of strength. A place where you can say to yourself “I’m not running from this”.

2. Let the fear pass

The fear of the negative emotions approaching can be just as bad as the experience you’re hoping to avoid.

It can be difficult to notice but with some mindfulness training, it becomes easier. You may find that your body becomes tense or you crave junk food (not personal experience…).

But the fear won’t bite. We just sit and focus on something small. With time, the fear will subside and we will have the focus to engage with the tough emotions.

Like many skills, emotional acceptance is one to be developed through practice. We may not know we’ll be OK (whatever that means to us) but sometimes it’s helpful to believe that we will be.

Then, with time and practice we can answer the question of “Will I be OK?” meaningfully. Maybe we’ll accept that we do not know the answer.

Will I be OK? Perhaps.

Will you be OK? I definitely hope so.

Whatever it is, let us appreciate that we’re developing the skills to help ourselves along when times are difficult.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you have a sacred place to be vulnerable? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

4 Actual Reasons Why We Should Live In The Present

Live in the present – be mindful – meditate – be grateful  and so on.

It’s great that “mindfulness” had enjoyed an explosion in popularity. You can now find colouring books and apps that will help you stay grounded in the present moment.

But with this rise in popularity comes over-saturation. We’re told to live in the present moment to reduce anxiety. To appreciate the world more.

Does this still hold much weight when we’re all told the same thing over and over again?

Mindfulness isn’t a cure – it’s a practice

Given the way it’s marketed, mindfulness practice can be seen as a cure.

Meditation, colouring books and the like are no silver bullet. It can be wonderful the first time we make a deliberate effort to calm down but there’s often little use in that if we do it once and move on the exact same why we were before hand.

There are many reasons to be stressed and rarely does it all come down to a lack of mindfulness. Job insecurity, long hours at work, lack of autonomy are all reasons. It’s difficult to say all you need to do is breathe for these problems to have little impact on your well being.

So this is why being mindful and grounding ourselves in the present moment need to be practiced regularly if the stresses of life are also regular. It won’t cure everything but it might make things a bit easier.

But why practice living in the present at all?

delaney-dawson-130928.jpg

Maybe she’s living in the present – Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

 

  1. We stop living in explanation

One of the main themes in The Obstacle is the Way is to take action.

Worry less, act more.

It is easy, when faced with a mundane problem, to spend the majority of your time thinking about what to do and all of the possible outcomes in the future.

Of course, there might be tens or hundreds of possible outcomes (if you think for long enough, I suppose) which all seem equally likely and catastrophic. Yes, we need to think about future consequences before acting. Doing otherwise would be foolish.

However, if that’s all we do then our minds become a theatre for worry rather than measured consideration of the future.

Indecisiveness is an easy way to never do what you enjoy.

When we live in the present with purpose, it’s easier to understand the challenges that we’re impacted by right now. From there, it’s easier to take intentional steps forward to making a solid decision.

We reduce the stress of feeling as though we have control over nothing by realising we can control the something in the present. No matter how small it is.

2. We stop thinking about whether “it’s fair”. 

Holiday writes:

“We aren’t content to deal with things as they happen. We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, what’s “behind” this or that, and what everyone else is doing.

Then we wonder why we don’t have the energy to actually deal with our problems. Or we get ourselves so worked up and intimidated because of the overthinking, that if we’d just gotten to work we’d probably be done already”.

Maybe I’m hypocritical for talking about this because I have a bad habit of thinking about the fairness of my pain. It took me a year to agree with Nietzsche when he says people hate meaningless suffering more than suffering alone.

However, most problems aren’t existential. Even so, I’ve noticed that in the moments I’ve stopped thinking about whether it’s fair for me to be in pain, I’ve found a bit more peace. Maybe it just doesn’t matter but a problem to be dealt with.

Fairness does matter. However, when that’s all we think about while doing nothing but worrying about it, perhaps we’re causing more suffering than we need to.

So we bring ourselves to the present moment. How can we get past this obstacle and use it to become better?

3. We become better friends with ourselves

Practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly for the past four years or so has taught me a few things. The most important one is that thoughts pass and emotional states leave.

Emotions and thoughts are best thought of as “phases” rather than permanent states of being. Even in the large overall states of being like depression, personally, I’ve noticed that emotions aren’t constant. Even if I’m a bit less sad than a few hours ago – that’s a change. To me, it demonstrates that change is possible.

This is enough to keep slivers of hope around.

Because of this, we can remember that the hatred we have for ourselves based on the past or the future can leave when we return to the present. If the hatred continues in the present, we can try shifting our focus to starve our ego of attention or ride the wave and watch the emotion leave.

joshua-clay-27368.jpg
Photo by Joshua Clay on Unsplash

4. It teaches acceptance

The present moment is not always pleasant. The present can suck just as much as thinking about the past can – not every moment grounds you in peace or happiness.

What if you’re in pain? What if all you can hear are sirens in the background while you’re stuck in traffic? There are many ways we can simply dislike where we are no matter how present we try to be.

To me, this is where a big mistake comes from in the marketing of mindfulness – the idea that mindfulness solves all stress.

daniel-mingook-kim-139409.jpg
Sitting on rocks all the time is uncomfortable anyway – Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash 

I wish we focused more on acceptance. Plenty of the discomfort that comes from uncomfortable experiences is the mental resistance against it. Nancy Colier writes:

[…] as long as we are “checking out” on the moments that we don’t like, we are an extra step away from being able to change them.

We may not be able to change the sirens disturbing us on the drive home but we can begin to accept that it’s difficult to be there. Acceptance does not mean losing the will to change.

Living in the present helps us accept what is may not always be what we want. That can be painful and disappointing. But it’s a worthwhile realisation that will be forgotten and remembered again and again as we continue the practice.

And finally… 

Living in the present moment can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just better to escape into fantasy or light conversation.

But it’s also remarkably helpful. It can reduce stress and anxiety, help us act on problems rather than think about them endlessly.

Most importantly, it can help us practice acceptance. And with that comes more peace, more compassion and more engagement with our everyday lives.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you find it easy to live in the present?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

I’m 22

It’s been a while since I last posted. I have reasons, many of them are bad. But I’m here now, and that’s what matters.

I’m also a month late (again) for my own birthday post. Some things just don’t change.

As usual, this is an integrity report. What do I care about and have I been living towards those values?

I started doing this after seeing Scott H Young write birthday posts and James Clear write integrity reports and combined them. I’m not creative, I just borrow a lot.

Living a life of integrity is incredibly important to me. One of the greatest sources of unhappiness I’ve found in my days is where my expectations and actions don’t match. Of course, expectations can and should be managed to be reasonable so you’re not perpetually unhappy. Perhaps then, it was a problem of expectations. Instead, living in line with values is important because they determine your actions and your expectations.

Living in accordance with my values is satisfying because they ask me how I can improve myself and contribute to the world positively. This doesn’t need to be through large political rallies – it can be something as simple as letting someone know they look nice in their shirt.

So I will ask:

  1. What are my values? Has anything changed?
  2. How am I living towards them?
  3. What can I do better?

create more consume less

What are my values? Has anything changed? 

Last year, I explained all of them in a bit of detail. If you’d like to read that, you can find it here.

Growth

  • Anything worth doing is worth doing well
  • Improve slowly with compassion
  • Exude grit in the face of adversity
  • Examine the world honestly

Well-being

  • Give myself permission to be content
  • Eat healthily and exercise
  • Take time to slow down, often
  • Make steps to becoming the person  I want to be

Compassion and Contribution

  • Make the world better for others
  • Contribute to the world rather than simply consume it
  • Speak with kindness and leave negative judgement behind

To summarise: Create more. Consume less. Add value.

I haven’t had much reason to make drastic changes to the values that I want to live by. However, there is something I’d like to add under the “compassion” category.

Forgive myself.

We have thousands of thoughts flying through our heads all the time. Unfortunately, many of them negative and those thoughts are the easiest to latch onto. They seem to identify us because they appear permanent and personal.

“I’m an idiot” “I’ll never be able to produce good work” “My body hates me so I hate my body”

While I try to be a good friend to others, I can’t say I do the same for myself. If my negative thoughts were said by a separate person, I’d think they were terrible. Why must I do it to myself?

So I want to exercise a bit more self-compassion. Forgive myself for mistakes, bad working days, displays of rudeness, whatever it is. If I want to care about the important, I think I would like to regard myself important. At least to me.

Am I living with integrity?

I’ve learned a significant amount from over the course of the past year.

How have I grown as a person?

From the time between 21 to 22, I have finished a Philosophy degree and started a Master’s degree.

The pain is still a big problem so when I think of being more “gritty” I suppose I can point to that. I’ve pushed through, reminded myself that I’m capable and continued. This isn’t to say that I just grit my teeth and endure the pain. That would be dishonest. Rather, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn more coping mechanisms to help me get through it. They aren’t all perfect (or positive) but it’s a useful step that I’m happy I’ve taken.

I’m most proud of learning how to swim. For the longest time, I was petrified of swimming. I was certain that I could drown even if my face was completely above water. The water was lava. Everything was lava.

And I looked stupid in speedos.

fishes drown

I ditched the speedos and picked up adult swimming lessons. I think, in part because I was truly determined to learn how to swim, I overcame my initial fears quite quickly. The water wasn’t lava, it just stung when you forgot to put goggles on. To my surprise, you don’t float as easily as instructors sometimes say but that’s the point of swimming, I suppose.

After many weeks of flailing around in the water, I swam a length (then told everyone about it) swam another two (and shouted it at anyone who would listen) and determined that I could finally swim.

I enjoy swimming a lot now and go regularly. I’m currently trying to swim a mile. But the real victory for me was taking a fear and figuring out how to get through it rather than ignoring it because I could.

I’m not even good. I’m just glad I can swim. We’re all capable of improvement in one way or another. I’ll be faster than Michael Phelps one day.

I can say I’ve been eating healthily and exercising. I’ve lost over 20kg, slipped up many times but improved slowly with compassion and appreciating that I’m a work in progress rather than the finished product. Believing otherwise will always create disappointment. I prefer to think of myself as a person capable of improving rather than a perfect human.

I’ve been growing in many ways. I’ve grown academically and in fitness. As a result, my well-being has generally improved in the long-term.

Compassion and contribution may be the most important set of values for me. If there’s anything for me to be remembered by, I’d rather it was a memory of helping others rather than “wow he could swim 5 miles”. Life’s too important to ignore others completely or make it harder for others.

One of my ways of contributing to others has been through my writing. This blog. My aim is to now write about ideas of practical significance, and thought-provoking but useful pieces. Despite my perpetual doubt in this area, a surprising number of people exclaim their enjoyment of my work and that it proves helpful. I have written some important pieces such as: Care About The Important, Intensely, You Are Stronger Than Your Pain, and Sisu – Developing mental toughness in the face of adversity.

I started meditating consistently again to enjoy some moments of peace and to help manage my pain. I volunteered briefly for Certitude – a charity helping people with learning disabilities. I have cut back drastically on negative judgement and definitely refrained from negative gossip as much as I can (even though it is wildly addictive). Instead, it’s lovely to praise people behind their backs – it always raises the mood of conversations.

What can I do better?

In the spirit of being kinder to myself, I will try not to be too harsh.

Last year, I said I want to write regularly, stay in for the long haul, be more proactive and continue meditating.

I haven’t written regularly. There have been far too many gaps in content because I spend too much time in my head expecting perfect posts then not posting at all. Or simply not writing for the blog.

It’s disappointing because I enjoy writing this blog and the content. It makes me even happier when I notice that my friends and readers enjoy the work too. The kind words are often etched into my mind because I’m so grateful for them. I’m not simply chasing more praise. I hope to create more consistently because it is much more satisfying than binging YouTube videos.

To achieve this, I think I need to stop expecting perfection or fearing the worst from readers. Some posts may miss the mark. Others may do extremely well. I’m not the best at judging that I’ve realised. I should heed my own advice and create without expectation.

On a slightly different note, there is definitely more space to make life better for other people. Whether that is participating in more charity events, donating to charity, offering help without being asked first, whatever it may be, there often is still a way to improve someone’s day.

Since I’ll be taking a leaving academia (without any intention of returning to do a PhD), I suppose I’ll be forced to be more proactive and stick to things for longer.

And that brings me to the end. I’m 22. I’ve grown in different ways and stalled in others. Reflecting on this has helped because it’s reminded me that I, along with everyone else, will keep on improving slowly.

As always, thanks for reading.


 

twitter and facebook mascots :DFollow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

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!

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.

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.