I was thinking about things that disturb me and I realized that I often avoid watching films about mental illness or physical disability. Schizophrenia or Cerebral Palsy or any other mental/physical disability have been the central themes of many films and I have watched some of the films but their remains a fear deep down. I suppress this fear because madness is something that has always had a negative connotation. It is very common for people to say things like, “Are you mad?” and the one who is at the receiving end is expected to be embarrassed. I have to admit that I have also used madness as an insult and yes, I’m a hypocrite. I have often spoken about how some people use ‘pity’ as a weapon to feel superior to mentally/ physically disabled people and the truth is that somewhere, I too do the same. I feel relieved that I’m not mad or disabled because somewhere deep down, I feel ashamed of these things. I know that I am coming across as a mean and insensitive person but that part of me that wants to respect is “who I want to be.” Who I am is what I just wrote. If you are someone who is suffering from the things that I mentioned above or parent/spouse/friend/relative/employer of such a person, I would request you to explore the reasons why a person thinks like this. Many people think this way so maybe it’s not a bad idea to understand their psychology. You must have noticed that I have written ‘disability’ instead of ‘differently abled’ because I want to be honest about how I feel. At the moment, I’m a mean person who pretends that there’s nothing abnormal about these people but this is a mask that I wear to hide my belief that I’m superior to these people.
I feel that human beings are more disturbed by visible than the invisible. We are more likely to sympathize with a physically disabled person than someone who is suffering from depression. The reason is that we cannot ‘see’ depression. We feel outraged or disturbed by things that makes the invisible things in us, visible. For example: We feel disturbed by beggars. We often use the word ‘beggar’ as an insult. But here’s the truth that might offend you: We all are beggars in our own way. We often enter relationships because we are needy. When someone physically represents our mental being, we get disturbed. The reason why I (and maybe others who are like me) get disturbed by those who are physically/mentally disable is that they represent a truth: we ALL are disabled. It’s just that most people’s disabilities are not visible or clearly recognizable. Like I wrote in the past, society is biased. We don’t worry about those who are corrupt but we stigmatize those who suffer from something that they have no control over. This brings me to the next reason: control and power. Osho once said that when we have a cold or fever, we don’t feel embarrassed but when we have a mental problem, we feel ashamed. Is it because of an assumption that we can control our minds? Physical/mental disability is something that are not completely in your control. And human beings always want to control everything. When we see the physical representation of destiny, we get disturbed. We are control freaks. Loss of control could lead to pain and as we have already seen, pain is something that we all suppress. But the truth is we cannot really control much. The irony here is that those who are supposedly in ‘control’ of their lives are the ones who gossip, complain about things. When you complain, you are basically saying that you don’t have control or power!
According to me, one of the biggest reasons why we are afraid of madness or disability is dependency. I often get disturbed when my grandmother holds my hand while walking because I’m afraid: someday, I would have to do the same! I want to visit old age homes but I’m afraid because the sickness and weakness scares me. Being dependent scares me. But here’s the truth that might shock you: You are NEVER independent. Being independent is an illusion. The core pillar of society is dependence. Children and old people are not the only dependents. Your boss can fire you. Your consumers’ demand may fall. A psychopath can murder your wife or throw acid on your daughter’s face. A terrorist can bomb the train you are traveling in. Your neighbor might forget to switch off her gas. What if we all became independent? There would be no need for society. You make a living i.e. you are financially independent because someone out there is dependent on your service. And someone else is making a living because YOU are dependent on him or her. There is NOTHING shameful about dependence. We are alive because of dependence! All relationships are possible because of dependence. Old age/physical or mental disability are once again just a physical representation of this dependence and that’s why we run away from them.
I realized that I haven’t been able to move beyond the disabilities. There is SO MUCH more to disabled people than their disability. Even they have a lot of gifts to share. Old age is not just about taking. It is scary but the on the brighter side, there is also wisdom (ok, not all old people are wise). There is a joy in nurturing young people and old ones have the chance to be mentors. Madness might be scary but there is a lot of richness in that chaotic inner world.
The next time I watch movies like ‘A Beautiful Mind’ or ’15 Park Avenue’ I will remember that I’m not afraid of the characters. I’m afraid of something that exists inside me. When I feel superior to people who I think are flawed, I will remember that I’m merely projecting my own shadow self onto them. If you are one of those people who have been hurt by society’s insensitivity, remember that the ridicule or the shame has got nothing to do with YOU.