After I saw the film, "The Sessions" on Saturday and I challenged myself to look at why I was so moved by this film, just as I was intensely moved by films such as "The King's Speech" and "The Intouchables". This wasn't going to be an easy thing to look at, as these films, in theiw own way, moved me to my core.
"The Sessions" left me a sobbing mess through the credits - though not through sadness.
It was more a recognition.
In watching these films I've identified a part of my old self - a part of me that was there for a number of decades. Thankfully, a part of me that isn't really there any more.
To start this story, I have to take you back to Adelaide in the early seventies. It's one of my first clear memories.
I am standing with my mother, holding her hand. We are outside the Adelaide Children's Hospital waiting for the traffic lights to change and let us across O'Connell Street. The morning has been spent being tidied and scrubbed and I'm in my better clothes. My hair is neat - a fringed bowl cut that most children had at the time. My pleated skirt and jumper are a bit warm for the day.
This place is familiar to me. I was born in the hospital across the road. I've been told this numerous times. My mother did her nursing training in the same hospital. Se was born there too, some thirty-two years ago, my pretty, slim, mother - a little older than a lot of the other mothers around the then outer suburb of Seaview Downs, but she was my mother nonetheless.
I walk slowly. It's all I can do. My feet are encased in brown leather boots. Attached to these are metal rods which are bandaged onto my legs. There is a morning ritual. I wake up. I'm taken out of my night nappy, I'm dressed and then my legs are bandaged into the calipers and boots. There is a daily fight about these. It appears I've won the battle over wearing them at night, but I have to wear them during the day. I wear these hideous brown monstrosities from the age of three to the age of four. The bandages are scratchy and the boots are tight at times.
My mother and I are off to see Miss Creswell in the Physiotherapy section. She's a formidable woman - looking back, she was probably only in her late thirties or early forties. A crisply ironed uniform and her hair tied back in a severe ponytail. The area smells like disinfectant and dust. The walls are painted grey, although they've tried to brighten up the area with a few cartoon pictures scattered around the walls.
Miss Creswell always refers to my mother as "Mummy", which I think is strange as that's what I call my mother.
The appointment is never for long. Check my legs in the calipers. Check my legs out of the calipers. Come back in three months.
This time, from memory, was going to be a regular appointment. Although, being an Adelaide summer day, I was well into my treatment. At least they could do something for knock knees and tippy toes. The hospital had lots of children who were very poorly. I wasn't sick. I just had crooked legs.
While waiting at these traffic lights, people went around their business. Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister. My dad didn't like this. A war in this place called Vietnam was ending. There were hippies - my folks weren't hippies. My parents like music from people like Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. The street was dappled in the shadows of the leaves of the ash trees that line Kermode Street where we had parked.
I hear behind me the shrill voice of a woman, talking to her child.
"Look at that little crippled girl over there."
I looked around to see the child. I couldn't find her.
It took a moment for me to twig that she was referring to me.
What was callous, throwaway comment by some passerby in the street defined me for thirty years.
Not that I was. Okay, I was limited by my body for a lot of primary school, in and out of hospital, in and out of plaster boots, not good at sports, nor encouraged to be active as I was in possession of weak ankles - or so I was told.
The fact that I was 'crippled' defined me for so long. It never occured to me that I could be good at exercise. Other than going for a walk, something I was good at, exercise was horrible. As much as I hated physical education all through school, I was given marks for at least giving things a go.
More insidious, apart from being denied a love of exercise, is the mental effects of being labelled somebody who wasn't quite right was telling. Not worthy, broken. Who would love a cripple? Why would anybody want to touch me? Why would anybody want to be with somebody who wasn't quite right. People could see it in the street. My family let me know that I couldn't be a part of things because I wasn't quite right.
Who would want to be friends with a cripple?
I was just wrong.
Thankfully, a lot of careful, considered, love filled therapy has helped to get the self-esteem issues caused by all this in check. I'm grateful for a fairly keen mind and an overactive imagination for letting me get somewhere in the world, even when I was keeping myself back as a self-perceived second-class citizen.
I'm not this person any more.
Crap - when I'm trained up I can run a 21 kilometre half marathon - and walk to the course, walk home from the course and not be hobbled the next day.
I'm not disabled in any way, shape or form.
It was all in my mind.
However, when I watch films about people with some form of physical impairment, like 'The Sessions', with Mark and his iron lung, never figuring that he could ever have a relationship, never even thinking that he could have somebody want to be with him, touch him, love him... I get the film at a primal level. It touches me. On screen, extrapolated and morphed, is who I was.
I'm thankful that my experiences have given me this insight.
I'm also so very thankful that I'm not limited by such thoughts any more.