Thank-you for responding to my question: what’s it like to feel belittled?
The idea for this question came from seeing your recent video work at The Big Anxiety Festival where you read out pages of tweets received by people with achondroplasia dwarfism, including you. The tweets were demeaning and clearly the desire was to belittle. I know from our One Plus One interview in 2017 that, sadly, you are subjected to name-calling and taunts and that you face this abuse randomly and routinely.
Most of us have been belittled at some stage of our lives.
One of the readers of this series, Trish, noted that “some people say no-one can make you feel belittled or humiliated unless you let them.” Here's another comment I've seen on the subject: “choosing to feel belittled is your choice…how you choose to internalise everything is up to you.”
But the tables are turned when a demeaning comment is directed with frequency at people who look different, as you do Debra. You are the target of daily ‘micro-aggressions’, defined as subtle blows delivered incessantly. I don’t think many of us experience that belittling on that scale.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you are often told that people find you ‘inspiring’ just for being you. Some people can’t imagine what it's like to live with achondroplasia dwarfism.
Your letter says “I’ve shed countless tears in private and cried myself to sleep too many times.” But you never allow yourself to cry in public because you are fiercely determined that your "personhood must always be what is carried through and communicated."
Debra, I promise not to call you inspiring, but I do admire how you educate and invite people to engage in difficult conversations about interacting with people who look different.
Some of us might think we have the gift of empathy, but perhaps that is just something we tell ourselves. Do we want to experience how it feels to be Debra or just feel sympathy for you? Perhaps this is a topic for another day.
In the meantime, what you do teach us is that we must endeavour to apply humanity equally and not selectively.
I have also decided to publish your letter in full, so that people can gain the full measure of you.
Thank-you so much for your response and for a lesson in compassionate assertiveness.
Thank-you for your response to my question: what’s the regret you’ve learned to live with?
You stopped me in my tracks when you said that your greatest regret was having children.
At 63 I look back and saw what an awful mother I was sometimes. I never actually wanted to have children, but I did. I was too young and I didn’t even know who I was myself, let alone know how to raise a child.
I wonder whether you were ever able to have a discussion about parenthood back then with your husband? Many of us just think having children is something we are supposed to do.
I remember what it was like becoming a mother, which I never thought would happen. I was so late coming to motherhood that my husband and I thought about it deeply, knowing it was something that would profoundly change us, but that we both wanted that transformation.
Motherhood suddenly dumps a load on your shoulders, or at least, that’s how it felt to me. Then there are the expectations. A new mother is always expected to have the answers and to know instinctively what to do. It’s the one area where ‘fake it till you make it’ doesn’t work.
Ellen, I sense that you have thought long and hard about this regret.
I didn’t know how to love them unconditionally and allow them to be children. My mother once told my sister that she had to teach me how to love my baby. When my sister told me, I was hurt and angry and my first thought was, if that’s true then what does it say about MY mother?
You have shot an arrow through the key question of life Ellen. What is love?
I see love as very much a verb. It’s persistence and showing up when you don’t feel like it. It’s trying to soothe and explain when you are tired. It’s holding and comforting when you feel angry or hurt. It’s discomfort. It’s trying, failing and trying again. And it’s saying you are sorry many times over.
Love is nothing like the adrenaline-fuelled passion that I used to think it was.
Ellen, though you regret what you went through you don’t regret the individuals you brought into the world:
I took the responsibility of parenthood seriously and I aways put them (the children) first, always had food on the table and I sent them to a church school as it was all I could afford.
Looking around at our society I can see many - including me - who struggle with parenthood. It’s one of the hardest roles in the world. And yet your boys, now adults, are making their own way in the world.
They have turned into lovely men and I am happy for them both.
It sounds like you have accepted those difficult, earlier years and realised that though a tough lesson, your regret helped you to grow as a human.
Thank-you so much Ellen, for helping us and sharing your thoughts.
Thank-you for your colourful and heartfelt responses to the question I posed: what little-known thing would you like to be remembered for?
What is fascinating to me is that most of us singled out ordinary things that matter to us; what we are passionate about and our deep desire to learn and to love.
I realise the things I’m most proud of are often completely unpaid and not on my CV. I don’t talk about them either.
MaryAnne speaks of being remembered for unselfishness and generosity when she was in need of these things herself.
And Joseph speaks of the people whose lives he helped put back together after they had life-changing injuries. That is enough, he says.
Joseph is right. That is enough. It is more than enough.
We should just get on purposefully with our lives or as the notebook cover says ‘Do Good Everyday’, because for many people, life itself can be a struggle. I know it is for me. Writing this series gives me the opportunity to imagine how I’d like Jane to be. But Jane isn’t like this all of the time. She can be petty and mean and small and demeaning.
As for my answer to the question about the little-known thing I’d like to be remembered for, I haven’t yet achieved it. What I would like to say is that I was good at saying sorry.
The younger Jane, regarded apologising as a weakness. I saw it as giving in. My apologies were shallow and full of excuses.
Even now, it takes time to arrive at a point where I can make a wholehearted apology, which is one where I accept full responsibility. I am a work in progress.
Most of us will never reach the heights of David Suchet with a glittering career forged by wonderful acting skills. But I’m with him on remembering the smaller roles we play in our lives. By searching deeply we might find something richer and possibly more exciting than our familiar, favourite Belgian detective.