I am often told, by both strangers and friends, that others cannot imagine living the life I live, and that my ability to do so demonstrates a level of strength and resilience that is somehow remarkable.
I am often told that I am brave.
It’s funny to me, to think of the word ‘brave’ being associated with my mere existence. After all, that’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? I’m brave for continuing to live despite my illness – for daring to exist on this earth as a cripple (especially a ~crazy~ cripple, like, whoa *gasps*). I’m brave for waking up every morning, because unlike you, my waking up means continuing what you can only assume is a tortured existence, right?
Now, before you throw your hands up, letting loose your exasperated claims of, “but it’s a compliment!”, let me stop you, friends, because here’s the thing – and listen closely here:
It is not a compliment for a disabled and/or chronically ill person to be referred to as ‘brave’ for simply existing. It is not a compliment to have our lives looked at as such tragedies that we are considered brave to continue living them. It is not a compliment because we hear the pity in your voice, creeping off the tip of your tongue, lingering on the palms of your hands as you place one on our shoulder and tell us how proud you are of us for being so brave.
Now, don’t get me wrong – we know you mean well! But try and see it from our perspective. How would you feel if someone looked at you, and at your life, and they thought it was so awful that it took guts, and courage, and bravery to even continue to exist on this Earth? How would you feel if the people around you felt so comfortable infantilizing you that they felt the need to give you a pat on the back just for being alive whilst also being ill? How would you feel if all someone saw when they looked at you was a sick person who clearly needed an ‘extra boost’ just to find the will to live?
It doesn’t feel good, and it sure as hell doesn’t feel like a compliment.
Sure, we may smile and say thank-you, but only because we’ve been conditioned to do so. We’ve been taught – by your actions, no less – that to tell you this kind of thing is insulting, demeaning, infantilizing, etc., is to speak out of turn. We’ve been taught that the underlying tone of your words matters less than your intention, and if your intention was to compliment us, it must be all good, right?
I am not brave for staying alive. I am not brave for existing – no more brave than you are, anyway.
So next time you want to ‘compliment’ someone who is disabled, or chronically ill, or otherwise ‘sick’, think about what you really mean, okay? Take a minute to examine whether or not you’re saying it because you pity us, or because you’re viewing us (subconsciously, in most cases) as ‘less than’. Hell, think about whether or not you would give an abled person the same compliment! Would you tell your next-door neighbour – you know, the one who is not physically, mentally, or otherwise disabled in any way (because this is a hypothetical scenario and therefore such ~magical~ beings are allowed to exist) – that they are brave, for no other reason than they exist?
I doubt it. So don’t tell me I am, either! Instead, if you really want to compliment me, talk about my hair, or my writing, or my general badassery, ya feel me?
Thanks in advance, y’all.
– Stephanie, ECC
P.S. – A huge thanks to my friend Elizabeth for inspiring this post with her own words of wisdom yesterday. You are loved and appreciated and I have mad respect for your ability to tell it like it is. You rock xo