Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
Frequently, people with disabilities are dealing with an even bigger obstacle like learned behavior and helplessness. Some people with disabilities are taught to let whatever happens in their lives be, to not take responsibility for the improvement of their own future, to be dependent on others for everything in every aspect of life.
This year, while your friends and family are making resolutions about meeting "The One," budgeting money better or losing weight -- although you could do those as well, resolve instead to stop being helpless and take ownership of your life. Some disabilities require more assistance than others, but no matter how much help you need to move through the day, you have at least some capacity to direct your future in thoughts, choices, words, eye movement, etc. Even if all you can do is blink or make a noise, blink or make a noise that let's people around you know you are aware, want an active say, and want to make some choices of your own. You want to be actively present in your own life.
The first thing you can do is make a list of all the things you would like to have more control over. It doesn't matter if someone has to write the list for you, you are the one making this list. They are simply transcribing your thoughts and words onto paper. The list doesn't have to be 1,000 things. Put about half a dozen items on it. Start small. Make the list of items manageable. Ask yourself if the items on the list are achievable. Are they realistic? Unless you know a genetic genius or Dr. Frankenstein, asking for wings might not be something you want to add to your list. Are the items on your list timely? Do you have a timeline for achieving them?
Guess what? You just complied a list of S.M.A.R.T. goals! S.M.A.R.T goals are ones that are small, manageable, achievable, realistic and timely (that spells SMART!) to set your mind on right now!
Now for the fun part! Choose a goal from your list and let's put it into action. Think about how you are going to achieve it and write those ideas down. For example, let's say you'd like to make new friends. If you want to meet this goal, answer this question: How do people meet each other? Write your ideas down. Maybe you only have one idea and that's okay. Soon you may have more ideas. If you have difficulty being able write or don't have someone to help you, consider recording on a recording device or speak into your computer using a speech recognition software like Dragon Speaking Naturally.
Having a disability does not entitle you to a life of isolation. You deserve friends and people to love and love you back like the next person. We make friends the same way other people do, right? To achieve this goal, you might want to check out a therapeutic recreation or adaptive sports program where people gather to play sports, or maybe you can shoot baskets at the gym from your wheelchair and can strike up a game with someone new without a disability. Join a Meetup.com group. Meetup.com is where you will find listings by interests and zip code, so you'll be able to find local computer game groups in your community or a theater group, or even a group of people who love movies, whatever interest you have. If you can't find an interest, start a group of your own and invite people.
As for being on the Internet, be sure you don't give out too personal information. People are strangers who may become friends, not the other way around. Be careful. Never invite a person you've never met before to your house and never give out too personal details about yourself. Most people are nice, but some people out there do mean you harm. Meet a new friend in a public place in a well-lit area with lots of people, never alone. Bring a neighbor or someone else you know along, too, until you are comfortable in your new social circle. You might also like going places where people with similar interests normally go, such as a paint your own ceramics shop where you paint, they fire it in a kiln and you get to take it home days later.
Check if your library or local community college is offering an art or writing class, or has a computer enthusiast group. What about your local center for independent living? Any seminars going on? Church? You might want to join a water aerobics class or karate class at the local Y or fitness club. Check around. Do you like comedy or theater? There are tons of improv and theater groups out there by age group to suit you. You don't have to be like a Robin Williams or a Burt Lancaster to join.
After you've put some effort into meeting your goal, don't feel badly if other people don't share your need to discover new things. This is especially true if these people are used to planning things out for you. Keep moving forward. Give them time and keep expressing your need to grow and reach beyond your comfort zone (and theirs) and let them know you will be careful and are entitled to seek out new interests. Ask for their support in giving you some ideas about your new goal. Involve them, but let them know this is about you and that you want to expand your realm of happiness. Whether you are an adult or a young adult with a disability, most caregivers and loved ones want to see you happy and flourish. Asserting yourself, without being hateful, might just give them the opportunity to take a step back, take a break and let you try that new thing. Once they see you can achieve this goal, you can try another goal, and another, then another. You will prove you can do more things until you feel more in control, heard, understood and respected as a more able individual. After all, you always were, but maybe you didn't realize just how much power and capacity to experience life you had before.
Happiest of Empowered New Years to you! Here's to a life beyond limits!