Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Conundrum: What Others Think

In my as yet unpublished novel, my female protagonist struggles to resolve her feelings of being not like everyone else with her desires for ordinary things like career, love and family. AS a disfigured woman, she believes it is a one or the other choice – be true to how it feels to live in this world or hide all of it under the fa├žade of a typical life. Part of the story’s resolution involves her learning they are not mutually exclusive things.

The other night I was trying to explain the relationship I have with my family to a recently-acquired set of friends who know nothing about my perspectives on disability let alone my history. I tried to articulate my struggle to be seen as independent, but the words coming out of my mouth didn’t even make sense to me. After all, more than one family member has proclaimed their amazement at my ability to live on my own which contradicts any impression of them viewing me as dependent.

Today I finally put two and two together and actually arrived at four. For me, there are more or less three states: child-like dependency, the way I live my life, and my assigned role as “SuperJen.” The first encompasses such things as me being treated like I am five years old, people wanting to do things for me, and the assumption that somebody must “take care” of me. “SuperJen” is born when people acknowledge that I live on my own. They see my life as some extraordinary accomplishment beyond most mere mortals to achieve. In the middle lies the reality of my life which is a combination of me receiving help for some things, doing others on my own, and sometimes acquiring the necessary assistance to then carry out a task for myself.

I finally get it! Most people put me into one of the extreme categories instead of the more complicated reality with all its shades of gray. Our brains with their this or that dichotomization of the world has trouble with shades of gray. *I* have trouble with shades of gray. No wonder I’m either five or SuperJen.

Back to my female protagonist’s impasse. Until today, I never saw her problem reconciling experience and desires as somehow parallel to my frustration with being put into one of two equally inaccurate categories. The bottom line is that both are about how others view our lives versus the reality we know in our hearts. We are obsessed with others perceptions. My female protagonist doesn’t want mundanety to be viewed as capitulation to how she is treated. I don’t want my acknowledgment of either my need for help or my accomplishments to cause others to pigeon hole me into five-year-old or SuperJen. I need to face the fact that a character I created has something to teach me because she learned how to find a balance I have yet to achieve.

Moral of the story? I really need to stop worrying about what other people think. Then again a major part of my life’s work and the reason for this blog is focused on what other people think. Others perceptions often impact the choices and opportunities available to me. Then again by caring about what others think and behaving accordingly, I am restricting my own actions. How do you reconcile those two things? If you can find a way, take a whack at world peace because I think it might be easier.

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