Friday, March 8, 2013

The Things We Do For Lack Of Honest Work-The Sequel

                After writing my previous blog about how many people perceived themselves in their work and/or careers,it suddenly came to mind that it would be appropriate to have more definition as to how such attitudes would effect someone such as myself: a disabled American who doesn't have such a life,for whatever specific reason. Much as I hate to admit meet,human beings are often prone to using pejorative terms of all sorts in regard to their personal prejudices-whether that be racism,sexism,homophobia or ableism. That is apparently the word used to describe prejudice against the disabled. And it's the the type of prejudice that I have found to be extremely rampant in in this day and age. And it' also a term that  fits so well into what this is all about: ableism.

               I'll start from personal experience. When I am first making friends with someone,which is not incredibly easy for me considering my own disability,one of the first questions they will ask is what to I do for work,and how do I make money. For a long time I was extremely frightened to answer because on the few occasions where I did they forthcoming conversation wouldn't go well. I would be promptly accused of not being a "real man" or a "real human being" for not having "a real job",and on one occasion long ago even told I was therefore unworthy to talk to.  At first I was weepy and depressed. So I began finding ways to walk around the subject in casual conversation and avoid it when I could. It became a pattern almost as destructive as the self pity I felt about feeling left out-of not being "like everyone else".

               So how exactly would I define myself in a career? And have other people had similar experiences? The first part of that question is of course the only one I have a definite answer to. I did have a job once. It was in a very industrial environment,cleaning soiled napkins and towels in a giant machine. There I saw and experienced many things. There was a man who was sick from an allergy to industrial chemicals. He was always slumped in a corner. No one seemed to notice because many of the workers spent their days indulging in gossip and other naval gazing,or trying to explain to me,in vein,how to use the equipment they did not themselves know how to use. One day,all of this overwhelmed my senses. It was like a child,fearing bullying,begging his parents not to go to school.

            All of my life,I'd always been a little bit different. The most succinct way to explain it is that every time I tried to do something "just like everyone else",I stumbled and failed miserably. I suppose my parents accepted that it was just how I was-just me. But this was different. I grew up understanding everyone had to work. They had to get up at unreasonable hours,work long days somewhere for next to nothing and that was the only way to live. And now,again,I was "different" and denied even that somehow. I lost almost all my self esteem and thought I'd either be a homeless adult,or what many people refer to as a sponge-a financial drain on my family and friends. A life without anything remotely resembling dignity. I felt like nothing.  

            When I came out about my homosexuality,and began a life with my first boyfriend,things began to change. He had allowed himself to become what I feared I would be "for lack of honest work". So he ended up on welfare. I heard in the offices we went to for benefits things I probably wasn't meant to hear. That some of these state employees had a personal love of making fun of and even laughing at the poor-at the lower class. I felt it I reported this,and I now know this happens,no one would believe me. I actually had nightmares for days about this. As this relationship I was involved in came to an end,I started to realize what was so different about me. But I didn't know before. After another failed relationship,I went to a therapist and everything I had dealt with started to make sense.

              I was dealing with an issue within the social/general anxiety spectrum that only meant one thing: I wasn't going to have a career as I'd defined the term to myself. Eventually one very special therapist helped me with a unique type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It wasn't about altering my personality as others had tried during school and other things. It was about changing how I perceived myself in the world around me. It was about embracing my own unique outlook rather than trying to ingratiate myself upon others. Some elements of this I still struggle with,of course. Sometimes it's all too easy for me to avoid the uncomfortable questions people ask me about what I do for a career. One of the things that helps me with that is being able to have activities in my life I am successful in on the creative level.

               Many people admire my photography. Still,the first question they will tend to ask is on the level of where the commerce is for me in it,or how I can exploit it to make money. That is where many of the perceptions of other people I illustrated in the first part of this blog comes in. And even though I've improved a lot from that very confused young man who was completely ashamed of himself for not working and thought of himself as a lazy vagrant,that is still a line of questing I have much difficulty answering. Life isn't always fair,no. But is this level of unfairness necessary? Now when I meet new people,I am inclined to ask them about their interests,what they love and their personal tastes. Some people tell me easily. Some are very surprised because I don't ask them right away about their work or careers.

           That's the main lesson I've learned from this: sympathy. And even on that I am far,far from perfect. Some of the language I use have led some to believe that my problem with work is not from a disability,but rather an aristocratic self image defined by a "too different to be labeled" type of narcissism. That's only because defense mechanisms I've developed against the many forms of ableism I've encountered are not always 100% effective. The important thing is I keep up with what I call the Charlie Brown Effect: I am seldom successful,but continue making the attempt anyway. So what else would I have to say on this subject in another blog?Perhaps bring out that disabilities really do come in many different forms. To the point where part of the "ableist code" as it were is the idea that everyone is disabled if they think about it enough. Of course,that is a whole other story.





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