Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
Living your life with a disability isn't easy, but not everything in life is easy, is it? Some of us with disabilities were born with challenges. Others acquired their disabilities through injuries, particular veterans coming back from combat. Still others are finding the disability experience through the symptoms of an illness, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and others.
Is it all right to want to walk or see or hear or not live with the challenge of a disability? Of course it is, and it's perfectly normal, but it's still more healthy to come to the realization that the situation you are in right now is how it is and you must make the best of what you have. I'm not asking that those of us who are religious and believe in healing to stop praying for it, but I also think that our Creator wouldn't throw anything at us that we can't handle and we must use our beliefs to guide how we draw strength in times of challenge.
I was born with spina bifida. I've never known anything else. Some would say that's easier than having lost a limb, my hearing or the ability to see. Still there have been adjustments as I've gotten older. I've transitioned from being on crutches and braces to using a wheelchair full-time. Due to circulation issues and infections in my left leg, I may be facing amputation of me left leg up to the knee. I don't know. I'm afraid, but I know I can handle it. I have to if I want to survive and live the best life I know how to live. I'll see support groups in the amputee community if I need to once time draws closer to that event.
I've always been supported to think the best of myself by friends and family. That helps when you are uncertain about your body image or abilities. Surround yourself in people who think positively. Get involved in activities that honor your abilities and talents to keep your self esteem and activity level going strong. You'll spend a lot less time feeling sorry for yourself if you find activities and friends you love spending time with that celebrate the "can's" rather than the "can't's".
It's important, too, to have role models. Find people like Christopher Reeve, Mark Zupan, John Hockenberry, Helen Keller, Marlee Matlin and others who have disabilities and are making life a fulfilling success regardless of challenges due to a disability. What keeps them positive? What makes them successful? I think it has to do with their desire to focus on their talents and be a positive role model to others. Who could you be a role model to? I like encouraging other children growing up with spina bifida to be the best they can be. And they like knowing that I'm an adult example of what they could grow up to be. When I talk to kids with disabilities, I encourage them with questions about who and what they want to be when they grow up.
What do you want to do with the rest of your life? The world really IS your oyster. You may have to go about it a little differently if a disability is new to you, but a disability does not have to be the end of your road. It can be the opener to a different beginning, a way to start over fresh and really focus on the things that matter most to you.
My mother has fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome both, but she still loves going shopping and spending time with her dear friends. As she is able, she makes time to get out of bed and dress up for lunch with girl friends, go to church where she is a Sunday school teacher and volunteer for her area literacy council to teach others to read.
She enjoys volunteering in her community and she knows she can tailor her volunteer work and time with friends around how she's feeling. When she's having a flare up, she can keep in touch with folks online from her computer and maybe even do her lessons over the phone until the next time she's feeling better.
Find out ways you can work around your challenges and symptoms to not only work or go to school out in the community but take on opportunities from home. Still, going out in the community as you are able is the optimal choice to keep you active, social and healthy. You don't feel quite so alone when you aren't cooped up at home. Many of the activities you used to do before an injury or illness do have adaptive versions such as hunting, archery, shooting, bowling and more. Looking into these adapted activities at a rehab or veteran's clinic nearby. Plug into your condition-specific support groups and make new friends who are going through the same things you are and make new bonds to support each other.
Having a disability doesn't mean you can't be positive and confident. It's all a matter of refocusing your mind on the positives rather than the negatives. Surround yourself in books, images and people who accentuate the positive in your life who won't let you get down. You'll be so glad you did and be surprised at new activities and abilities you find yourself tapping into!