For the Days When You Feel Disabled

Hi readers,

Apologies for the lapse in posts. My computer decided to curl up and die, so I’m using a loaner until the hard drive can be replaced.

In the ’90s, Almond Joy and Mounds had an ad campaign that went, “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.” (While I like both varieties, I much prefer Mounds bars. In fact, I ate 320 calories worth of the miniature things one time, in one sitting, while doing a summer stint as a graduate school tutor). Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion life with a disability is sometimes the same way.

In other words, I think it’s a good thing when we refer to ourselves as persons with disabilities. We are people first, and I think keeping that in mind can, in a lot of cases, help maintain a positive outlook on life and what we can do. But…

Even though a person with a disability is a person first, sometimes they don’t feel it. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but sometimes I feel really disabled.

What do I mean by that, or more to the point, what’s the difference? I think “feeling disabled” occurs when you are overwhelmed because of your disability. It happens when you and/or others around you focus too much on what you can’t do or may never be able to do. (Side note: we all have those things, disability or not). Feeling disabled occurs when you don’t feel empowered, or you don’t have a support system, or you’re just over the whole gig.

While it’s natural to feel like this, I don’t recommend staying there for long. It may make you feel better initially, but you’ll probably end up feeling like a Debbie Downer (or Danny Downer if you’re a guy). So, having felt disabled fairly recently, here are a few tips I’ve found may help.

  1. Acknowledge it. Say to yourself and to others, “I feel bad about having this disability right now.” Routine tasks like therapy or doctor’s appointments may make the feeling worse, so reschedule if you can. If not, be honest with the professionals who are helping you. And if they don’t allow you to be honest, then I say it’s time to find a new team (more on that in the future).
  2. Pinpoint the things that are contributing to how you feel. Maybe you’re bummed because you haven’t met a certain goal you set for yourself, or because you can’t do certain things TAB people can. For example, I feel bummed sometimes because I can’t travel where I want when I want. I’ve felt frustrated and angry because I couldn’t get in and out of my bathtub or in and out of a camper trailer. Sometimes I feel especially disabled because I know certain opportunities don’t exist where I live. Once you pinpoint what’s making you feel this way, you can move on to number three, which is:
  3. Do what you can to change what you can. I got an accessibility bar for my bathroom, and whenever I feel stuck inside the house I tell somebody, “Hey, I need to get out of here ASAP.” As for the opportunities thing–well, some may not exist where you live. But you can raise awareness of this. For example, maybe you’re interested in theater like me. Talk to your place of worship about starting a drama team. If they aren’t interested, go to your community theater. If, as happened to me, they refuse to give you parts, look into theater or singing opportunities in nearby cities, and be vocal (though not obnoxious) about your desire to get there and participate.
  4. Remember that some things you cannot change (the Serenity Prayer comes to mind here). Prayer, meditation, and counseling may help you come to terms with those things; don’t be afraid to seek help. Also, never assume “there’s nothing that can be done” unless you’ve tried all avenues. If you have, don’t be down on yourself. *Everybody* has things they can’t change, which brings me to:
  5. Remind yourself of the things you can do that other people can’t. This isn’t an effort to tear down the temporarily able-bodied; the goal is to level the playing field. Too often, PWDs are taught, “People without disabilities can do everything they want, and I can’t do anything without modifications/permission/goals.”

Wrong. It may feel that way, and again, you have the right to feel how you feel. However, there are plenty of things TAB people can’t do that you can. For example, I write for a living, both on the fictional and technical front. I am continually amazed at the number of adults, with no physical or cognitive issues, who have no clue what a comma is or where it goes. I consistently thank God that He saw fit to give me a taste of what it means to create something, through fiction, because not everybody gets that gift. Other people get other gifts, and sometimes I feel envious of those. But I do my best to love and enjoy my own.

 

To go along with number five, you should also be careful of certain myths. You know, like the one that goes, “You can do anything you want as long as you set your mind to it.” That’s a beautiful thought and in some cases, it’s true. But as one of my pastors once told me, it’s never true all the time. If you hold too tightly to this axiom, you’ll end up believing you’re a failure. Why? Because no matter how much effort they put into it, there are things everyone just can’t do. For example, only a certain percentage of us truly have what it takes to go into the military. Only a small number of us can professionally skydive. Anyone can sing, but some of us just sound awful. Disability or not, some of us can’t play sports worth a hoot. Again, this is not an attempt to make anybody feel bad; it’s an attempt to focus on reality. As in, stop sending the message that PWDs should basically go around with I CAN’T tattooed on their foreheads. Why? Because despite what they can’t do, nobody else has to put up with that crap.

Finally, a brief message to loved ones of PWDs: be careful that you don’t send the “I can’t” message or make PWDs in your life feel too disabled. Of course, sometimes this happens no matter how careful and loving you are. That’s life. But don’t do it on purpose. For example, don’t insist that a PWD be independent only on your terms (i.e., “Yes, you will go to therapy in a town 30 miles away because I tell you to, but no, you cannot be dropped off to go to the movies with your friends–I don’t care if you’re 16.”) Look for modifications–don’t insist they get into that tub or shower without support if it feels unsafe. And most important of all, nurture their strengths. Ask what their dreams are and encourage those dreams. Help the dreams grow and come to fruition.

Signing off now, leaving you with a recommendation to enjoy an Almond Joy and/or Mounds today. Why? No reason–just because we all need a lift now and then, and to indulge our inner chocolate nuts.

 

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