There are some people in my life I only see once or twice a year. They are friends who have known me for a long time. Some I used to see a lot, but not anymore.
Some are family members who know a lot about my life as a child and still hold ableist views about disabilities. They tend to pity me.
Other family members are very supportive of my goals but don’t necessarily follow all I do.
Yet others know everything I do, are very supportive but we never meet. They see my pictures and read my articles and poems.
I am also meeting friends of friends, from around the world, who have seen pictures of me for the past ten years. Some of them have read my articles.
There is one thing all of them say every time they see me or see a new picture of me: “you look great!”
They don’t say that because I have had a makeover. I still have the same hairstyle. Some of them, being true to the (silly) view that one looks good only when one looks thin, follow up with: “did you lose weight?”
They often talk to my friend, but this is another story.
I have not lost weight. Actually, I have added a few pounds to my waistline.
Seizures still torture my brain and sometimes I feel tired and useless.
But apparently, I look great, better every time they see me.
Why is that?
The answer is simple: I am presumed to be competent. It is not by everyone and I still have to deal with pity, ignorance, disdain and the usual skepticism. But every day, and with a consistency I am happily getting used to, I am seen like a whole person, a complex human being, someone who has worth. And all I am doing is typing my thoughts, showing up and being an activist.
When I had to struggle to be seen as a sentient being, as a thinking person, my self-esteem could not find room to manifest itself. I was constantly looking down at myself because that’s how I was looked at. There were no expectations for me to fulfill because I was “nothing”.
Today, despite many obstacles and doubters, I have a tribe of friends who value me, who help me when I need, who have my back. I am reminded that many want to hear from me and that my words and my life matter. My self-esteem can grow now and this makes me “look good”.
When my friends, the ones I only see once a year, see me and think there was a big exterior transformation, they are actually seeing a confident me. It is not a miracle and it is not magic. I simply know that I can always believe in myself, that other people do believe in me, even on my bad seizure days, when it seems I will never be able to do anything ever again.
The presumption of my competence has spread from a few people to many more. When the world is so unprepared for how we do things, we do need friends and allies to help us navigate the obstacles. That’s when presuming competence becomes practical. Instead of moving alone, living in silence, we want to keep reaching out because we know we are seen as equal by a growing number of people. Instead of being pitied, we experience understanding and high expectations. We do our best to fulfill these expectations and we feel energized by the feeling of accomplishment and the support from friends. We don’t want to hide anymore. And we feel better.
It shows externally. I think I do look good, better every year.
Presumption of competence is better than any makeover!