I had the opportunity day before yesterday to teach a kind of 'train the trainer' session which focused on the abuse prevention curriculum that I developed, and then refined later, years ago. Several people with intellectual disabilities came along, volunteering to be taught in front of an audience of staff, and, to a one, they were willing to participate and allow me to demonstrate how the class runs.
This is always tricky and my anxiety is always high. I've done this a fair bit and there are times where those who volunteer to be part of the group who are taking the class become intimidated by those who are there to learn how to teach the class. That makes things really difficult, of course, and it's worthy of a worry or two. But, the group who gathered here in Newcastle were ready to participate, and eager to help out.
The class was going swimmingly and we were having fun doing role plays and playing games. Then, near the middle, the class slows down a bit so that we can talk about feelings. The basic feelings, glad, sad, mad and scared, are introduced and then people are asked what things make them feel in these four different ways. We always start with happy as it's the easiest of the emotions to talk about.
When teaching a class within a class, at this point I break the wall between the two and include the support professionals there to learn. It's a nice way to include everyone and to make the point we all have feelings and, often, share with each other the causes for those feelings. So I asked, "What makes you happy?" and a woman with a disability put her hand up. I went to her.
I've done this a long time. I am used to answers like, sunny days, going out dancing, being with family, going on holiday, pay day, watching movies ... the usual things that people mention when talking about things or activities that make them happy, that give them a good time.
She said none of those things.
In a small, gentle and quiet voice, she said, "Feeling loved."
I felt sucker punched. I wasn't expecting that answer. I've not had one like it before. It was profound, it was true and it was intensely human. I agreed with her, thanked her for the answer and continued the class, I had no other option.
As a service provider, I sit at tables where needs are discussed and where goals are set and where dreams are talked about, even if distractedly. Seldom do we talk about someone's need to feel loved. Seldom to we talk about what it is to be human, what it is to be lonely, what it is to live without love. Love isn't a big part of our vocabulary. Love is messy. Love is confusing. Love is cause for reports, for meetings and for consultation.
"Feeling loved," she said in answer to the question, "What makes you happy?"
On Friday I will give my last lecture here in the UK and it's about love, relationships and sexuality. I hope that I do it justice ... no, I hope I do her justice.
Happiness, love, belonging ... and again I learn, never ask a person with an intellectual disability a question unless you are prepared to hear the answer.