When I last saw Lee Pearson he told me this:
A disabled person looks at the world differently; sees different ways of doing things. If I want the tin of beans off a high shelf l put a cushion on the floor and knock it off the shelf with my crutch so it lands on the cushion; I have to work out ways of getting the result. I take that way of looking at things to horse riding. With each particular horse I look for how I can get the results I want quickly.
It is this skill that makes his clinics so valuable – he will look at your horse with its unique strengths and weaknesses and see a way to make it go better. He is a better teacher because he has a disability.
This got me thinking about the term “differently abled.” It might be a mealy-mouthed PC-ism but it holds a truth that the average person who got lucky in the body lottery might miss. When you’re a part of the herd there’s no reason to learn to think differently. When the world makes things easy for you, what incentive is there to look for new ways of doing things?
So I had all this floating around in my brain for a while. And then I went back to work.
It seems like I’ve changed. While I was at home l didn’t see it; only when I tried to fit back into the slot l left behind and it seemed subtly different from the way l remembered it.
The most tangible changes can be summed up in two contradictory statements: l care more. I care less.
l care more about the people. I was so glad to see everyone, even the ones who used to drive me up the wall and the ones who I’ve never had a conversation with, who I just know by sight when we pass in the corridor. For the first time ever in my working life I’m having to make an effort to stop talking and work – l used to find even an interesting conversation felt like time was being stolen from my productive time but now work robs my time from socialising with colleagues.
l care less about impressing. So I’m not volunteering for that extra responsibility? Who cares if that’s a missed opportunity to shine. So I’m not leaping to my feet to unjam the photocopier? You managed without me doing it for months – you’ll probably work it out. So I’m not as productive as I’ve been in the past? I’m still settling back in and trying not to overdo it.
Those are the changes anyone could spot. What they can’t see is the change in my thinking. Firstly l assess more before l act. This is often in terms of guaging effort versus reward and looking for lower energy ways of doing things. I am a lover of routine, but parts of my day that felt like sacred cows before are not as essential as I thought. I’m better at saying ‘no.’ I’m better at spotting the little things that drain energy needlessly and correcting them or avoiding them, better at paring things down to the essentials.
But the biggest change, the one I most hope is a permanent change, seems to be a newfound ability to take each day as it comes; to take each hour of the day as it comes. To know that tomorrow looks challenging but not let that drag me down today. That is massive. In the past if I knew Friday would be challenging I’d already be cowering away from it from Monday morning, if not on Sunday night, afraid to do anything all week for fear that it would drain me so I couldn’t manage Friday. That fear itself was draining me massively without me realising it. In a month with a few extra commitments l’d dread the whole month. But now I don’t think ahead like that. I think about what I’m doing, not about how much is left to do or how far I want to get. I used to say, “l can only do what I can do,” as an admission of failure to do everything. Now I see the wisdom and satisfaction of the phrase and the completeness of doing what I can do. I feel the simple beauty of knowing I can’t do all the things.
I have been through illness, through another section of my life that I wasn’t expecting and I truly feel that I have come out the other side differently abled. l am not as fit, as fast or as strong, but I have new strengths that I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed healthy.
I’m grateful to Lee Pearson that I already had the thoughts about him floating around in my head which helped me recognise how my own thought patterns have been changed for the better as a result of physical challenges.