Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015: Is It Time To Retrain… As A Fish?

This post is part of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015 (#BADD2015) [External Link]. If you liked this or want to see more posts on this subject, please follow the link!


Previous year’s posts can be found here:

This year’s post has more in common with my Grand Unified Theory of Life and Success and Mediocrity posts than previous BADD posts but, in keeping with the confusing title, it uses a totally different analogy for life.

Are You A Duck Or A Swan?

You may be familiar with the quote:

Be like a duck. All calm and serene on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath.

It’s been attributed to Helen Keller and to Michael Caine (in various versions). To me, the implication of the quote is more about how you need to work hard to succeed – but it might not be good form to show it. It doesn’t matter how hard you try or how you feel, as long as you appear to be gliding along in life. There’s a post from Heather Head / Curiosity Cat here ([External Link]) that examines the apparent expression of success and serenity.

However, the first time I heard something similar that I remember was when I heard something more like:

We are all swans to someone else.

While the first quote focuses more on encouraging you to put in the leg work, the second points out that most people aren’t going to actually notice that bit because it’s below the water line – basically the inverse of the earlier quote. Not to put to fine a point on it, we’re all so involved in our own lives and issues (i.e. paddling like hell) that we don’t have time to spot that the waterfowl to our left is a goose rather than a swan and is struggling to stay afloat in a fast moving part of the river. All we see is that they have a nice outline and appear to be floating rather well. Or not.

Messing About On The River

We may not all be swans on a river. There’s room on the world’s waters for many species of waterfowl and seabird, from noisy old coots in marsh ponds to ponderous pelicans on the open ocean. What we have in common, regardless of our differences, is the fact that when we move through life we have the part of us that everyone sees and the part that does all the carrying – that other people very often don’t want to see.

The other swans (or fellow waterfowl) sometimes get a bit put off by those who can’t visually keep up with the Joneses. If your neck doesn’t curve as sinuously, if you don’t display your wings at quite the right angle, that sort of thing. Obviously, not being able to keep up with your localised current and getting swept away is going to cause some major discomfort. Visible difference or difficulties can cause problems – and the invisible version below the water line can store them up for later.

What’s Below The Water Line?

Basically, the water you’re swimming on is the life you’re living while trying to attain the life you want – or being in the air.

For instance, me. (Did I mention I was self-absorbed?) I have a day job, I have three dogs, I study historical fencing and I write. Only one of those pays me enough to make a living, so that’s part of my stretch of the river. So are all the bills I pay, the responsibilities part of looking after three hellhounds, one of whom is an escape artist, the driving around and financial costs of wanting to wave blunt weaponry at other people or talk their ear off trying to sell just one more copy of my book. (Did I mention I had a book or two out…?) The life I want, the success I’m trying to be serene about, is the having a roof over my head, food on the table, clothes to wear, pleasant walks with the dogs, actually winning when I wave the blunt weaponry and looking like Established Author (TM) when I’m out at events.

In other words, the thing with this analogy is that disabilities are not the only difference or difficulty above or below the water line. The water line is that thing that happens when you’re making other plans, the necessary but not so fun stuff, the system we’re all allowing ourselves to be stuck in. It’s hard to paddle if there’s not a lot of money, it’s hard to get anywhere if the flock are all paddling in different directions, and it’s hard to want to do anything when you’re in deep water with no chance of escape.

So having a disability, whether it’s visible or invisible, makes the paddling that little bit harder on top of these other issues. Because you don’t understand the currents of communication quite the same way, or you physically can’t paddle as efficiently as some of the other swans, or you can’t float in the first place as you can’t get a job.

So, Is It Time To Retrain As A Fish?

If actual life is that thing that happens when you’re making other plans, if everything seems to be conspiring against you, maybe it’s time to retrain as something that lives in the water full-time. Do you want to breath air (or walk the dogs, or study that martial art, or read that book, or watch that movie, or have that dream job)? I’m lucky. I manage to keep things together enough that I continue to do the things that I want to do a lot if not most of the time. I haven’t had to “settle”, as such, but sometimes it feels like I’m drowning in all the the water-y bits more often than I’m enjoying that air-y bits.

If I avoid the things I find difficult (dealing with individuals whom I find difficult to read, the monotonous parts of work that never seem to get me anywhere because the exact same task is back on my desk with the next week or month, organising my travel plans, the housework that I never manage to get on top of, the garden that grows faster than I can breathe), is it the same thing as finding shallower, slower water to paddle in? Or is giving up on the deeper waters really just giving up all together?

If any of I talk about how hard I sometimes find things – given that everyone feels like they’re paddling as hard as they can and often feels threatened if they think someone is telling them otherwise – am I destined to be seen as a noisy old coot? Will the response always be the dismissive “but we all feel like that!” or “I get that!”, rather than the more supportive “I know how you feel, because I also feel like that!” If I stay quiet, or accept that my few difficulties are not supposed to be visible by retraining to be a fish, am I damning anyone who follows – at least in the sense of knowing the same people I do and their likely treatment by the same?

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2 Responses to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015: Is It Time To Retrain… As A Fish?

  1. NTE says:

    I think you make some great points here, and I’m constantly reminded how many pieces of “great wisdom” are inherently abelist. “No pain, no gain” is all fine and dandy for an abled person trying to push through their next exercise goal, but, for those of us in chronic pain, there’s all pain and very little gain to be found. Same goes with that paddling underneath quote: It’s nice if you’ve got the spoons, or if you’re paddling actually gets you somewhere, but too often, chronically ill/disabled people’s experiences are overlooked, are expected to be smoothed over for everyone else’s comfort levels. I think you might be on to something, with your fish idea. Another great BADD post!

    • Journeymouse says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed (is that the right word?) the post. It’s (obviously) something I think about – given that I’m basically barely on the Autism Spectrum and am basically in a position of privilege with these things. However, I that I have problems and that plenty of neurotypical people are having mental health problems due to how hard it is to keep up or have the appearance of keeping up – so it’s hardly surprising that people who do not match the ideal society desires or the average that it plans for are having difficulty. But, you know, just keep swimming… It winds me up something rotten if I think about it too much. Grrrr!

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