There are a variety of amputees-turned-empowered these days. I mean, great if the public supports that but really, there is not as much heroism as there is stubbornness and patience required to stick it out.
Personally, the heroic approach is not the type of attitude I have. I don't feel this disability empowers me. Life does, generally, always did and always may somehow empower me - but not this shit. Don't get me wrong here. I always had stuff going on. Sports and other activities are not new to me, I always liked them. But I find that the loss of a hand is a nuisance, a negative vector as such, and not more to say about it. Yeah, one gets used to dealing with it, to the point where one can attempt to reduce the negative effects a bit. But getting used to it still doesn't take away some worrying aspects. And dealing with them is something I find relevant and important.
Based on the report by Georg Bakalim about the deaths of 4738 Finnish war amputees [PDF], suicide rates can be calculated based on the numbers of deaths given, for each amputee subgroup. Suicides are 20% of the deaths in the below elbow amputee group (14/69), whereas suicides represent less than 10% in the other groups. More concisely they are 8% (below knee, 26/323), 7% (above knee, 13/196) and 5% (above elbow, 5/99), respectively.
And so, maybe hanging in there is indeed about survival after all.
Below the elbow amputation is distinct from other amputations as issues that arise are very peculiar. They are not the same as other amputees. There are overlaps but differences may be marked. At least I will say it feels that way.
Indeed, after I had lost my hand some people thought I was going to kill myself. I wasn't going to do that though. Over the years and from the many reactions of other people I must say that depressive episodes, depression and suicide risk are real issues. And so from everyday experience these suicide rate figures (see above) make sense to me. They are plausible.
Now, it is a fact that missing an arm below the elbow amounts to a real tangible disfigurement, similar to a facial disfigurement. And it is a real fact that no prosthetic arm really fixes that - if anything, a prosthetic temporarily might relieve some asymmetry related symptoms. But for real life issues such as looks, body image, et cetera, a prosthetic will not achieve a lot. I can choose to be a guy with a disfigurement, or, a guy with a disfigurement and a plastic to try to cover it. - So with a below elbow amputation, you may feel similar to a person with a disfigured face. Not the same, obviously - but similar. That particular disability, visually, resides deep down in the U of the uncanny valley.
We are - in terms of social identity - what we look like, and so that is what one has to deal with.
Thing is that since a few weeks I am not wearing the prosthetic at all due to serious congestion eczema that the Ossur liner was causing me. Since January I am in the process of getting a new custom liner and socket setup with really new cool features. Due to sports events and absence of prosthetic news, I did not blog that much lately - but all new prosthetic features will become documented here in due time. Since insurance application, review, and prosthetic test socket and liner building always take a really long time, I have spent a considerable time not wearing the prosthetic arm at all and doing loads of sports. It is an interesting experience as I had not spent that much time without the prosthetic previously.
And so I was able to spend a few interesting weeks exploring and reflecting on the identity question. So I went about things exactly as I'd do before - as if everything was normal.
To answer that straight away - nothing happened inasmuch as my "identity" was concerned. Nothing at all. That was was came out of it. So here we go. There you have it. The most important aspect of post amputation soul suffering - body image - seems mostly uninfluenced by (not) wearing a prosthetic. Something to let go, obviously.
- I got a few less stares than usual, not more for sure.
- It was relatively unpractical. I miss gripping with the right arm though.
- I got used to that, however.
Glenn Lignon stated: "I do not always feel colored and I was a [censored] for twenty-three years. I gave that shit up. No Room for advancement."
(C) Copyright by Glenn Lignon
The question is whether one identifies, and, keeps identifying, with the social role that others attach to one's visual appearance and that one then starts to embody rather than consciously making that choice. I am not sure I find that identifying with the disability as such is what I want to do. Sure, there are some aspects that cannot really be negotiated but otherwise? Diving in and out of the disabled and not disabled world's perceptron, I find that my hosed arm is just that - it's a hosed arm.
It causes me to find various coping mechanisms, explore new views, evaluate and try solutions to problems (hence this blog). End of story. It does not empower me, and it does not even help others identify me - recently I got confused a number of times with other people and yet they all don't lack a hand. So that problem by all means isn't even that apparent to others.
If you need empowerment, don't wait for me to tell you that you should take your fingers out. Amputee empowerment speakers always say that you can do whatever you set your mind to. That's just not true. We're all missing body parts as amputees. We all have limitations because of that and there are specific things one simply cannot do. But I can start by not letting a stereotype, a bracket, a set term, a discriminating pejorative, the cripple word, restrict me. And I can start do be active in many directions.
With that I am not alone. There are others that fight with social discrimination based on complex interactions between self discrimination and whatnot. At the end of the day, many others do not discriminate amputees at all. They just don't care - and why would they. There may be a lot less to worry about than it may appear.
And while that doesn't solve all problems, it feels good.