Do You Wish You Were Normal?

Epilogue – The Rough And The Smooth

It probably won’t surprise you to know that one of the biggest questions I get is ‘do you wish you were normal?’  Like most things, the answer isn’t that simple.

One thing I wish people knew about disability is how easy it would be and sometimes is to get downhearted about the things you don’t have, because when I think about it, there are a million things I wish I could do.  For example, I wish I could play a game of football, just once, and throw myself into tackles safe in the knowledge that I’d be able to get up unaided afterwards.  Maybe I’d even try donning the pads and helmet and hitting some people for the Manchester Titans.  Hell, sometimes I wish I could’ve driven a rally car or something like my dad.   I think if I’d had the chance, I’d have tried any sport that would’ve taken me.  I know wheelchair sports exist, I know disabled sports exist; but just once, it would’ve been nice to play in the same team as my peers, alongside them, in the trenches, going to war.  I didn’t ever feel I wasn’t a part of what they did, but nonetheless, they all experienced feelings I never could, and I wished I had. 

It’s not all about sports or athletic things – even the mundane always felt like it eluded me.  I spent 15 months locked down during Coronavirus, and it suddenly dawned on me on those nice, never ending evenings in the summer, how much I’d like to just walk, without thinking about time, distance and destination.  In fact, thinking about it, I’d like to do anything without planning for eventualities where I might struggle or hurt.  I’d like not to constantly be thinking three steps ahead when I walk. It’d certainly have helped my anxiety.  Shit, sometimes I see an advert on the TV, or a music video, and I see people skateboarding or rollerblading down sun-kissed streets in California, and I find myself wishing I could do the same thing.  That walk down the Embarcadero in the middle of a heatwave in San Francisco? Rollerblade that shit. I wish I could’ve.

It’s stupid, dumb, romantic stuff too.  If you’ve read this far, that’s probably not a surprise.  But maybe I did all those things and said all those things because the one thing I yearned for was to feel remotely confident around women, or to not have to worry about certain ‘physical’ things I’d quite like to do without having to explain first.  Or things like being able to go on a dating site without having to feel like you have to explain that you’re disabled, just in case she meets you and decides immediately you’re not the one.  Most of all in this sector of wishes, I’d like to feel confident that if I ever do get married, my first dance won’t look like someone shifting a very uncooperative and bulky fridge.

It’s no one’s fault that these things are an issue for me, or that my disability might be an issue for them – in a romantic sense, it’s a human response to feel a little bit put off by something different from the norm.  It’s an impulse to worry about a relationship with someone who’s not as able-bodied as you.  Athletically, it’s arguably a doctor’s career on the line as to whether they would ever clear you to play sports, in the knowledge you could get badly hurt.   Sometimes you start seeing it everywhere –  I can’t tell you how many job interviews I went to and loved, but then didn’t get the job, despite seeming qualified. I’m sure it happens to everyone in some form or fashion a number of times, but with me it always felt…different.  Maybe that speaks to my own insecurity, maybe I have to be big enough to admit that.  After all, an employer might know he needs physical work and think you can’t do it, and that’s perfectly reasonable.  You might just not be ‘the right fit’ for the job.  But the thing I always took away was that I found my disability a barrier to some.  Maybe it was neuroses, or maybe it was true.  Assuming it was true, no amount of anti-discrimination laws, no amount of guaranteed interview schemes, and no amount of ‘empowerment’ of the disabled can fix what’s inside someone’s mind. 

That’s not intended to sound like some people’s minds are warped – in almost all cases, I generally don’t see any malice in people thinking that way, because when push comes to shove, I’ve always been an idealist.  I grew up with people saying things like ‘don’t trust anyone’, but I always felt I could be different to that.  In all my travels and stories I’ve detailed, that’s hopefully come across. I didn’t walk out of the door thinking that people are wonderful and will always help, care, or be nice, but ultimately, I reacted to what I found out there in the world. Most people are basically good. They might have viewed me as different or in need of help, and I might not have liked that at the time, but they just did what they thought they needed to do.  From reading the stories alone, you’d see how many times people helped me when I needed it.  So yeah, people are good.  So when someone didn’t want me for a job, or didn’t want to date me, or told me I couldn’t do something, I didn’t resent any of that, no matter how much it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

But ‘do you wish you were normal?’ – that’s a tough question.  First of all, you’d have to tell me what normality is, because I don’t know.  If it means approach to life, set of morals, sense of humour, then think even if I was able-bodied, I wouldn’t be ‘normal’.  So then, when someone asks me that, does normal mean ‘able-bodied’?  If it does…I don’t think I wish for that. I mean, I wish for all the things I just said, but not all of them are impossible.  Most things, I just have to find a way to do them.  Some things, I can’t do, and I had to learn to be OK with that.  For the most part, I am.

I’ve always thought that what people mean by ‘normal’ is something like ‘do I wish I’d been able bodied from the start?’ – and I’ve given that one a lot of thought.  Honestly? No, I don’t.  Being disabled has given me things that, had I been ablebodied, I don’t honestly know if I would’ve had, at least in the same way.  If I’d been able to live the same life most people have, would I have become the person I now, through all my experiences, know myself to be?  The one who understands struggles, can relate to people’s frustrations, who shows empathy and compassion?  Maybe I would’ve.  I certainly got raised well enough

I feel like I’ve always looked for new challenges.  The thing I wanted the most wasn’t to be ‘normal’ in a narrow sense, but to live something approaching a normal life.  But life tends to make you forget simple things like that.  When I was 18, I would’ve killed to be 31, with my own place, in a city I wanted to live in, living independently.  When I started writing this, that’s exactly who I was.  Somehow, that still doesn’t feel like enough.  Maybe it’s the pace of life – you’re rarely afforded any opportunities to

Would I like to be normal? I think in most ways, I probably am. Now I just need to work out how to be content with that.

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