Manu Rodríguez
October 2013

‘Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.’
Stephen Hawking

I was born in Sevilla in 1967, in a modest and traditional family. My mum was a primary school teacher and my dad a policeman. I was the first of four brothers and a sister. This might sound like a regular story but the peculiarity is that my father´s father, and my mother´s father, were brothers. According to my grandma (my maternal grandmother, who is still alive) they didn’t see anything wrong at all with the relationship or the later marriage of her daughter and the son of her brother in law. Then, my mum and dad got married very young and I was born about nine months later. Probably their first love… first son.
When I was two years old I got really sick. The doctors said I was not going to last very long. I’m forty six and I guess those doctors are probably dead by now. Sometimes fate plays such unpredictable games…
In spite of my sickness, and with the encouragement of my parents, I finished my High School days and went to University, I worked in broadcasting, I became a writer…
I’ve had to learn how to live and accept my life with health problems, physical limitations and a word society has labelled for people like me: ‘disabled’. I can’t say it’s easy because I’ve got used to it. In fact, some moments in late childhood and adolescence were the most difficult times regarding my relationship with this word, other people and the world that surrounded me. But looking back over the years I also can say that I’ve lived my life like a ‘non-disabled’ person, learning how to deal with others and myself, regulating my feelings and emotions, tolerating many sorts of frustrations and, maybe more importantly, accepting myself with my disabilities and abilities, weaknesses and strengths.
And so, some years ago, observing what apparently society considered as ‘non-disabled people’ (who appeared to me, paradoxically, to have more disempowering emotional and behavioural problems than many so called disabled people, causing them not to have a satisfactory life), I started asking myself: ‘What is disability? Who is disabled and who is non-disabled? Who is more disabled, someone who is unable to function properly in life, in his job, with his family and/or friends, or someone who, for example, is deaf or blind? Are people like David Blunkett or Stephen Hawking disabled? In which way are they?

Now I’d like you to take a minute and think about these five questions:
– Am I disabled? And if so, what are my disabilities (weakness/es)?
– Am I able? And if so, what are my abilities (strength/s)?
– How can I address my disabilities?
– How can I enhance my abilities?
– How can I work on and make the best use of my abilities?
Society seems to assume that these questions are good and beneficial for so called ‘disabled people’ to answer. Nevertheless, these questions are relevant not just for these so called ‘disabled people’. It can be said that everyone has a particular disability, call it weakness, dis-faculty, dis-capacity, inability or whatever, that sometimes impedes us from solving certain problems or regulating emotions to function optimally in our environment. On the other hand, it can be said that everyone has an ability or abilities, call it strength, faculty, skill or capacity,
Having said that, there are two main questions to follow:
– How could Therapeutic Writing be applied so that people can recognise their abilities and disabilities, work on them and address them in a positive and healthy way?
– Which activities and writing exercises could be used to assist them in this process?
The main aim of my work as a researcher and practitioner is to demonstrate that within a CWTP (Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes) approach, that so called ‘disabled people’ may accept and address their disabilities, realise their potentials and abilities, and discover how to develop them. We could say that a potential ability is not a strength until it is discovered, and the so called ‘non-disabled people’ could use a CWTP approach to recognise and accept their weaknesses, and to address them. This approach will also give them the opportunity to discover how well they are using their abilities and potentials for a better and more productive life.
I think I should briefly introduce you now what the concepts of ‘ability’ and ‘disability’ would mean to my life and to my actual research. To me, disability would be the non-ability to use one´s personal physical and physiological capacities to solve problems and to properly function in his/her cultural environment. For instance, and regarding Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, which you may probably have heard about, this would be the lack of a certain type of intelligence in an individual.
Therefore, ‘ability’ would be the capacity for using certain type of intelligence to solve certain kind of problems.
I’m proposing then to link the concepts of ability and intelligence, to bare in mind how the concept of intelligence has evolved since Aristotle’s time to date. And to think about how creativity and problem solving theories may be applied to Therapeutic Writing so that clients can recognise their physical and psychological abilities and disabilities for a better understanding of themselves, ultimately resulting in a better personal wellbeing and a greater ability and confidence to function productively in society.
I believe that if, through creative writing, an individual is able to understand her/himself, knowing her/his strengths and weaknesses and, by doing so, is able to look for a productive place, and is able to meet her/his needs in the society where s/he lives, then s/he may empower him/herself, having a more satisfying life.
In my opinion, self-knowledge (knowing yourself, your needs and your environment; your thoughts, feelings, emotions and the way it affects your behaviour) is the most powerful way of being in control of your own life. Certainly, ‘things don’t happen to you, you make things happen’, we could say.
I think Therapeutic Writing practitioners should train their clients to strengthen their creativity and solving problem abilities. This is:
– To develop a personal vision of the problem. This means understanding it and situating it within their own unique experience, within their environmental, cultural and personal circumstances.
– To originate their own personal (and perhaps original) solution/s for the problem, as well as looking always for self-motivation and self-determination.
I will also like to briefly tell you about the concept of what I call ‘PRPCW’, ‘Positive-Reflective Post-Cathartic Writing’.
This is the idea that focusing on negative thoughts, with the use of negative words and expressions, is the result of distress and other emotional and behavioural disorders that may affect physical health. Awareness of the construction of disempowering patterns of thinking and knowing how to change them positively are the keys to empowering individuals to have a better intrapersonal and interpersonal life.
I think that we all have ‘superpowers’ and ‘superdisempowers’. We do have a hero that lives within us, that can help us for a better living. We just need to discover which kind of powers and disempowers this hero have. And then, use them, learn how to use his/her abilities and address his/her disabilities in the society/culture/environment he/she is.