28 Apr 2014

Celebrate Different Experiences

A good friend of mine posted her experience with depression, which you can access via this link here. To say that it was eye opening is cliché, as what she described is something that I cannot even begin to appreciate or fathom for that matter. I never experienced it, except for the occasional bouts of mind-numbing boredom. But then, I do jump back up onto the bandwagon and keep on going. On the other hand, it made me think.
Depression is experienced individually, and no one experience is the same (though there are similarities).
In fact, we may experience eating the same ice cream differently from the person you are sharing said ice cream.
Which brings me to today’s post, something that has been slowly but maturely wanting to get out, and absolutely nothing to do with depression.
Many of you who frequent my blog may already know that I have a disability, and if you didn’t know then... well, now you do. My kind of disability isn’t a Johnny-come-lately thing, but one that had been with me from the start. It is as much part of me as the colour of my skin. I just can’t get rid of it, no matter how much I want to go to the second-hand store and ask “how much for a well used disability?”.
On second thought, I should try that, even if for giggles.
Living with my disability has had its ups and downs, and the occasional trip sideways. It was there with me on my flight over from Poland to New Zealand when I was seven; it was there on the day when I was pushed over a flight of stairs by this boy who was hard of hearing. It was there during my first trip to the head master’s office, and it was there with me on prom night. It was even with me when I kissed a girl for the very time, and had faithfully attended every graduation ceremony I attended. In other words, it had always been a part of me – even when I did my level best to ignore it – and it will be part of me until the day I kick the bucket.
Yay, lucky me; Right?  
Actually, yeah... definitely!
But my point here is that my own experience with disability is my own. The first time I realised this was during my postgraduate years at university, when I was doing a professional social work qualification. My first placement was in mental health, in a community trust that worked with children and adults with mental illness and intellectual disability. Whilst society generally puts them in the same camp as those with physical disability and those who obtain it by accident (because really, who deliberately wants to become disabled in any manner?), the people I met definitely experienced life differently. I could not connect with them in any way, shape or form.
Oh, there was this one guy that actually liked me as his trainee social worker, but I suspect that it was because he saw me as his little project. Then again, I endeavoured to get to know the guy as a person and not as a case study to figure out, and I got to know what he liked and what he didn’t. Via him I got to understand, or at least have a better appreciation of what he experienced.
The other time was during my slugging match with my academic self, in what was better known as my time writing a Master’s thesis. I got to interview people, plus meet lots too.
In one instance I met this forty-something mother of two, who had ended up using a motorised wheelchair due to her disability getting progressively worse. This was someone who had travelled the world, got married, raised two children and had a far better artistic talent than I ever did. But the thing was, she let her circumstance dictate her life. If the support worker did a no show for the allocated times to help her go into town, she didn’t go.  
Heck, when I rolled into her house all the way from university (she lived a fair distance), she was surprised that I did so without the means of a specialised maxi-taxi. In turn, I was surprised that she was surprised. I mean, come on, it’s why they’re called motorised wheelchairs! To take you places, much like jogging... but sitting down. She in turn hardly drove around her own neighbourhood.
But the point here is that that was her experience, and it wasn’t my place to judge her as some weirdo – and still isn’t really.
And that is my point, my dear friends.
Never assume.
Never judge.
Just accept those around you as beautiful people, who have much to share with you and I.


  1. Thank you Piotr for this. In particular I wanted to share the idea of normal as relative. It struck me that what I would think of as an unconquerable obstacle, being in a wheelchair, is not unconquerable for you, in fact it is your normal. In the same way that your friend struggles with depression, and we would have difficulty in dealing with that, it is her normal. We are all normal, but not in the same way.

    1. Pretty much, Seth. Normal is as unique and different as the two people standing or sitting next to you

  2. Pio, this is really a thought-provoking piece. As a Teacher and a Cub Scout Leader, I have to say that for the most part I treat everyone equal, totally and speak the person not the helper (type thing). Having had a similar conversation with you earlier this week, I was not surprised that you have written something like this - it clearly is close to you heart, wheelchair or not. In fact, my friend, it is something close to my own heart, and I do strive (irrespective what it sounds like sometimes Pio) to ensure those I work with are treated just as well as those who are not using chairs for mobility, or white canes to 'see' or hearing aids to enhance their hearing or other form of helpful tool.

    Sadly, there are too many people in this country (UK) who do not feel the same, who are only out there for themselves and to pot with other people whether they are Autistic or are diagnosed with ADHD (or something similar!). That, sadly, is the nature of the world we currently live in.

    Personally, depression is something I have fought in the past, it is not a great place to be, especially with young children around...neither is my current condition of Post Concussion Syndrome which entails a great many ailments that mean I cannot function effectively as I did, but, as you say, my friend and as you so rightly pointed out to me the other day and so chastised me in my verbalilty - we are different! Difference is something our good Lord made us, difference is good. The world would be boring if we all were the same...but no some have blond hair, some are fat (like me ;)), some have really monotone voices, others use wheelchairs or zimmer frames for mobility, whilst still others do not move at all...we are all different for a reason and Piotr, my friend, you have taught me a lesson these past couple of days, a very important lesson, which I knew of course...but you reminded me of through this passage - good work.

  3. Nigel, I'm sorry to see that you're enduring Post Concussion Syndrome. I do hope you'll continue to progress . . .

    Otherwise, I agree with Nigel, Pio. I think we were all created differently so we could learn something from everyone we meet.

    And yes, depression is a very different "animal" from physical limitations/disabilities. I don't know why anyone would not see that . . . that anyone sent you out there when you hadn't the training to deal with it makes no sense whatsoever, but I'm glad you were able to make the best of it (as you always do).

    Mind, you can learn a lot from someone who is depressed but fighting as hard as she can. (That's what it sounds like you learned.)


    1. Hi Barb,

      It was part of my training programme, so it wasn't as if I was thrown into the deep end. Had supervision, the whole nine yards.

      I think for me it's a matter of perspective on what is normal, as Seth pointed out earlier. Normal is relative, not uniform.