I’m in a memoir mood today–a bit of a snarky memoir mood at that. In the back of my brain, I’m kind of hoping that writing this post will get me on the road to writing my own full memoir. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile and something I think would be an act of obedience to God. So far though, I’ve just been too chicken (for a lot of reasons, but I may enumerate those later).
Let’s take off the gloves and the shoes and the makeup and be real here. Sometimes disability makes you want to quit. As in, throw up your hands, stay in your pajamas, climb in bed, and watch reruns the rest of your pathetic five-months-from-thirty-and-still-single-with-a-cat life. That kind of quit. Unfortunately, for most of us, disability is or will become a lifetime deal. We can’t fire it. It can’t fire us because it’s inanimate. And even though we’d like to, even though we scream, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”, we can’t really quit. The only way to quit disability is straight-up suicide. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been there, because I have. But I don’t advocate suicide, and I’m too chicken to do it. Frankly, I’m a chicken, period. I could’ve gone full-blown anorexic in college, but was too scared of being hauled off to the hospital and put on a feeding tube. I could’ve turned to self-injury and other mentally unhealthy coping mechanisms but was terrified of institutionalization. It took me months to put “Cell Block Tango” on my iPod because deep in my evangelically-influenced psyche, I was still kind of scared it might send me on the short road to hell, or at least purgatory. (Don’t ask). Most of the time, I’m even too chicken to say, “I quit” to my disability, because it feels like I’m quitting on God.
And that’s where this gets complicated. Because I’m not just a Christian, or a God-follower, or a woman with a disability, or five months from thirty and single with a cat. I am all these things and I can’t quit any of them. But sometimes I want to. I need to. I can’t keep going. I can’t keep attempting to juggle all these roles and rules and memories, and come out smelling like English ivy. And I wonder, how many other PWDs feel this way? How many of us are just over it and want to quit? Not in a suicidal way, but in a way that says, “I’m done with all my roles and rules. I can’t do this anymore and it’s unfair of God, or the universe, or whoever, to ask. Nobody else has to deal with living a hectic human life while being unable to do basic tasks, so why should I?”
And what do you do when it happens to you?
Let’s break this down into some practical do’s and don’ts, shall we? First off, some things I think you shouldn’t do, gleaned from my experience and observations.
When you want to quit, you DON’T:
-Surround yourself with clichés. These include but are not limited to the ever-popular:
-Don’t give up. That’s like saying, “Don’t cry” to a sobbing person. The intentions are good; I’ve even said it, a lot. But what that really says is, the speaker is uncomfortable with tears and isn’t ready to step back and let the emotions just “be.”
-It could be worse. Yes, I’m sure it could. You could be dead. You could have terminal cancer. You could have just miscarried a baby or finished a grueling divorce. And maybe you did, so things are worse and you don’t need to hear it. But even if you didn’t–a disability, no matter how mild or invisible, gets us all down sometimes. It should never be relegated to a “first-world problem.”
-Don’t whine, but shine. And its variants, like, “Focus on Christ and not your circumstances/praise despite circumstances/be grateful.” Christians, especially evangelicals, are famous for these. And I’m not saying they’re bad or wrong. Bringing God a sacrifice of praise is in fact biblically based (you’ll find a reference in Hebrews). But so, so often, these are used to discount real feelings and gloss over experiences. I cannot stand it. It drives me berserk. In fact, reading advice like this from an author I really respect–and who also happens to be blind–is part of what drove me to compose this post. Guys, especially Christians: you’ve got the right idea here. But please, oh please, be careful how you use it, especially with PWDs. (It occurs to me that, in all the encouraging books marketed to Christians, very few talk specifically about the disability experience. Instead, they talk about having a joyful life within disability’s context–needed and useful, but not always the best way to handle the experience).
You also don’t:
-Turn to self-injury, addictions, or suicidal thoughts and actions. These may happen, and if they do, that’s fine. You’re not a bad person; you’re not going to hell. But these choices may kill you before you had a chance to fully live a good life (and that’s what everyone needs, disability or not). So if you do find yourself in that kind of situation, seek help immediately.
-Hyper-focus. I know, that sounds weird considering what I just said about Christian clichés. But if you hyper-focus and get into a “woe is me, I have a disability” mode, you will not like who you become. Instead, try some of the stuff on the “Do” list below.
-Lie. This can mean stuffing down your emotions or pretending like everything’s fine. (Note that if somebody you don’t know well or don’t trust wants you to dish, you don’t have to. You probably shouldn’t). But, don’t lie to those closest to you, even if they’ve heard it a million times. (The fact that they’ve already heard it would, ideally, get those people to help you).
When disability makes you want to quit, you DO:
-Find at least one thing per day, or even per hour, to be thankful for. And no, “My disability isn’t worse” does not count! It has to be something that truly brings you joy. It could be as big as, “Somebody wants to publish my book” or as small as, “I got to have ice cream today.” Name it, enjoy it, praise God for it. You really will feel better. If you just can’t think of something, ask someone to help you find one.
-Do something physically, mentally, or emotionally healthy. For example, it’s recommended that people struggling with depression or an “I quit” phase get out there and exercise. Exercise is good, and I recommend it, too. But exercise can be hard and boring if you have a disability, so don’t go straight there. Similarly, don’t go straight to reading if you have dyslexia, even if you use audiobooks. Do things you enjoy, or that are purely silly or indulgent. For example: binge-watch a favorite show for a couple hours. Eat chocolate. Heck, turn on Sesame Street if you want. Nostalgia fixes a lot of things.
-Take the day off. Obviously, you can’t exactly take a day off from being a PWD. For example, I can’t turn cerebral palsy on and off. But I can choose to devote one day to not worrying about CP (which I should do more often, actually). You can reschedule a therapy appointment, or ask the people around you to discuss things other than “treatment.” This may help alleviate mental pressure.
-Have a good cry or even tantrum if you need one. If people call it a “meltdown” or “behavior”–well, ideally, you could tell them to screw it. But since some people are less understanding than others, this is best done in the safety of your own home or with trusted friends and family. It can be draining–there’s a reason they call it an “ugly cry.” But it will be cathartic.
Above all, when you tell your disability you quit, don’t quit on yourself. Best of luck and blessings to all. 🙂