Monday, 15 August 2011

Keeping up to...whomever...

What is the Social Clock?
I’ve read a couple of posts in the disabilities blogosphere this week about the difficulties that come from people with physical disabilities comparing ourselves to others. (This isn’t just the case for people with disabilities, by the way. It’s not generally a good practice for anyone.)

The "People Are Worse off Than Me" Trap

The blogs that I read talked about what happens when people with physical disabilities compare themselves to people worse off than themselves. The Smart-Ass Cripple (one of my favourite bloggers) talks about how his “Prayer of Self-Belittlement” helps him deal with the longing to be out of his room, up on a mountain-top in his chair, by shaming him into remembering that there are plenty of people who have it a lot worse than he does. Ruth Madison (a wonderful fiction writer, by the way) talked about the major pitfall in this way of thinking: when you start thinking, “At least I don’t have it as bad as that person”, you bring your awareness to the fact that there’s likely someone thinking that about *you*…and what do you do with that?

I sometimes tell people that I’m grateful that things turned out the way they did because lots of people have gone through the same surgery and come out a lot worse, but I don’t feel like it’s something that gets me stuck. Going the other way gets me stuck and has gotten me stuck since Day 1.

The "I'm Not Where Everyone Else Is" Trap

There’s a psychological concept called “social clock” – the idea that at a particular time in life, people are expected to have hit certain social milestones. The summer that I had the stroke, I went to a high school friend’s bridal shower. It seemed like everyone there was progressing nicely according to the social clock. They were done their undergrad degrees and either going into the workforce or starting advanced degrees. They were in serious relationships or married. Some of them already had kids. Their adult lives were beginning.

I’d dropped out of university after changing my major about six times, spent the summer goofing off in British Columbia with my best friend and a bunch of hippies, bled into my head during a job interview and was now relearning to tie my shoes. It’d be a couple of years before I tried independent living…working…dating…

I had a really difficult time letting go of the idea that I had to keep up with everybody else, and accepting that I couldn’t keep up everybody else because of my physical disabilities. I could only be where I was, and comparing myself to other people wasn’t going to change that. It was only going to make *me* feel bad about myself. I still struggle with this sometimes, even after God-knows-how-many hours of therapy since the stroke.

"Suck it Up, Buttercup"

But the bottom line of dealing with these “comparing” times is remarkably simple. I know now that they're one of those times where I have to make a choice: Am I going to let the fact that I’m not where I thought I was going to be when I was…in high school, say…dictate what my mood is today?  Or am I going to suck it up, choose to think about the fact that probably 80% of us aren’t where we thought we were going to be when we were in high school, and just…get on with things?

It’s not an easy choice to make some days.

But ultimately the choice is mine.

The cool thing (well, most days it’s cool) is that I – we – all of us – always have a choice.

Here are the links to the posts I mentioned:


  1. I so easily fall into the social clock problem too! Jealousy has always been my biggest detriment in life. I did expect to marry young and have four kids before I was thirty. I believed that with all my heart as a teenager.

    Now I am the only one of my girlfriends who is not married. I'm turning thirty next year and I'm single with no children. Facebook is killing me! There I can see all my failure in the sharp relief of other people's wedding pictures and baby pictures.

    This dwelling in jealousy is definitely not helping me! I am learning to love my life the way that it is :)

  2. Good to hear! That's the way it should be!

    If I'm not careful, the social clock saps the joy out of things for me. Bridal and baby showers become "events where I'm going to be the only single, childless person", etc.

    Thankfully, I have wonderful friends who help me to keep it in perspective. :)

    Thanks for stopping by!