Disability? Rebuilding Your Life

Developing a permanent disability is one of the most dramatic life-changing events in the human experience. Disability of any description provides one of the most unwelcome intrusions of misfortune into the life of any individual. The onset of a disability can either be sudden and dramatic or more progressive. Some unfortunate individuals are born with a genetic abnormality that makes disability inevitable. Their personal cards are marked in advance. Commonly, disability occurs as a result of an injury or accident. Sadly, many of these cases are young people in the prime of life. Other folks develop disability as a result of a progressive illness. Regardless of the individual circumstances, all cases of disability are equally unfortunate. The experience of a disability is unique and highly personal. All is not lost. Confronted with this most dramatic and unfortunate type of adversity, there is room for hope and healing. Many individuals show extraordinary courage, resilience and creativity when disability intrudes into their lives. Rebuilding a rewarding, functional and happy life is a real possibility. You can feel confident, proud, achieve success, develop lasting relationships and remain independent. Millions have done it. You can too! Let's discuss how you might begin your personal journey of hope and healing.

Adjusting to a Disability

No one chooses to be disabled. Even the most courageous and resilient of individuals may have considerable difficulty adjusting to a disability. It is hard to be strong when the loss is so hard to bear. No two individuals react in exactly the same way when disability occurs. Reactions to disability are both variable and unpredictable. There is no absolutely right or wrong way to react. Everyone has his or her own hopes, dreams, expectations and coping skills. Most people experience some sense of painful personal loss. A significant number of people experience grief-like reactions. Although our reactions to disability are quite varied, there are several emotional experiences that are especially prevalent and worthy of comment. Some of these common reactions are listed below.

Adjusting to a disability normally takes time. It simply does not happen overnight. It may require months or even years. Many people require considerable support to negotiate the readjustment period. You don't have to take that journey alone. Share the load. You need not suffer in silence. Do not be too proud to ask for help or support if you feel you cannot cope. Many professionals now have considerable expertise in dealing with a wide range of difficult emotional and practical issues. Remember that family and friends may also need help and support.

Hang in there! After a while things usually start to get progressively easier. There is less preoccupation on the things which have been lost. A growing appreciation develops of the good things which are left. New dreams are made and new goals are set. Different skills are learned. Confidence starts to slowly return. Independence develops. You slowly learn to laugh again. Readjusting to life after a disability requires bravery, patience and a great deal of strength. It is however worth every second of the effort. Life can be precious again.

Disability or Ability?

The word 'disability' suggests a limited or restricted life. Is this true? Might there be a more constructive way to look at the impact of the situation on our lives. There is always an understandable reaction when people first become disabled to focus on the potential loss and incapacity. Many people fail to appreciate that so-called 'disabled' people can achieve a great many things. Most lead functional and rewarding lives. The possibility exists to participate in a broad range of activities, and to make significant contributions to the community. Life need not be limited. So-called 'disabled' people lead lives that are more normal than many people think. 'Disabled' individuals have succeeded in all the following areas of life.

It certainly is an impressive list. There are inspiring role models of so-called 'disabled' people who have succeeded in all of these areas of life. You name it, a disabled person has done it! For instance, disabled individuals take sports competition extremely seriously. Disabled athletes are sometimes able to compete in events against able-bodied people. In recent decades, the Paralympics has become a major international event and events are fiercely contested. Medals are worn with great pride. There are many uplifting stories of reward, achievement and happiness by disabled individuals. On the other hand there are large numbers of able-bodied people who have failed dismally in many of these aspects of life! Being able-bodied is no absolute guarantee of a happy and rewarding life. Able-bodied individuals often lead lives that are dysfunctional, unhappy or unsuccessful.

There are several keys to rebuilding life after developing a disability. One of the most important aspects of the road to recovery is to develop a focus on ability rather than loss. If we concentrate efforts on things like fulfilling our potential, solving practical problems and participation in activities then the sky is the limit. Life is filled with challenges but also provides opportunities. Why choose to be a victim when we can choose to be a survivor? Why be a spectator when we can be a player? We can love, laugh, lead and inspire. Rebuilding requires hard work, bravery, commitment and good organization but is worth every bit of effort. There are inevitable disappointments and setbacks. Often we struggle hard for no apparent reward however if our spirit is strong and our endeavor is maintained we can rebuild a happy and functional life. We can feel proud and fulfilled again.

The Road to Recovery

In the following section we will discuss some of the most important practical issues encountered by recently disabled people. It is worthwhile to learn more about issues that are relevant to your specific situation. Considerable information and support is frequently available. I hope this information is helpful and reinforces your dreams and hopes for a brighter future and the happiness that you deserve.

One of the significant concerns about disability is potential loss of independence. Many such fears are quite unfounded. After a short period of readjustment and learning there is usually opportunity to regain a considerable amount of independence. Practical problems can often be solved alone or with assistance. Many people are able to compensate for loss and inconvenience. Frequently things take longer or are more difficult. Often we need to use different approaches and think creatively. There needs to be emphasis on addressing the most critical practical issues.  Participation in social activities and work can usually be resumed. A strong will and commitment provides solutions to many problems. Learn from the experiences of other individuals who have faced the same challenges. Their insights can be invaluable.

With each passing year, the mobility of disabled people increases. Getting around on a day to day basis is an important practical issue for all types of disabilities. Irrespective of whether you are physically incapacitated or blind, there is a need to attend to routine activities and socialize with confidence. New inventions make travel faster, easier or can compensate for loss of function. There is a progressive increase in the awareness of the mobility needs of disabled people. An important consideration in the design of transport facilities and new buildings is access. Many journeys can be safely completed if planned in advance. You no longer need to be excluded from activities because of any disability. Mobility is critical because it affects the ability to work, socialize and function on a day to day basis.

Other people
Regrettably, we have little control over the thoughts and actions of other people. Those around us can be helpful or a hindrance. However annoying their actions might be, there needs to be a reasonable perspective upon the thoughts and actions of other people. Other individuals need to respect our rights and values. Positive aspects of relationships need to be strongly encouraged. Our needs must be clearly communicated and this often requires educating other people about our needs and responsibilities. Do not assume that other people are mind readers or fully understand the special needs of the disabled. Some people ignore the requirements of those with disabilities. Alternatively they may be overprotective and encroach on the expression of our independence. Retain a sense of humor and a patient attitude.

A common reaction to disability is to withdraw from activities. However understandable, the temptation to do so must be strongly resisted. Remaining active provides us with a number of significant benefits.

There will certainly be days when our spirits are low or when there are practical issues. That is life. It is the overall picture that matters. Remaining active allows us to use our talents and reach our full potential. What have you got to lose?

Overall health
Maintaining overall physical health is vital and often overlooked. We need to eat sensibly and avoid activities that are harmful to a healthy and independent life. A healthy life is more likely to be a happy and rewarding one. It is well worth the effort to have regular medical checkups so those potential problems can be clearly identified and nipped in the bud. Allowing additional health problems to occur makes little sense. Do not allow your overall health to decline.

During the readjustment period after a disability, there is a considerable readjustment of expectations. Many individuals have used the phrase "Disabled not dead" to highlight the fact that life with a disability can be rewarding and full. When the dust settles, new dreams almost invariably emerge and new goals are set. Individuals who have suffered a disability often discover new skills and talents that were previously masked. For example there are a significant number of sailors who are disabled. There are many talented artists, musicians, academics, entrepreneurs and writers who have only achieved success after their lives have been changed by disability. Life can remain challenging and enticing and filled with hope and promise.

The workplace
There have been profound changes in the workplace in recent decades. These changes have had impacts on all members of the workforce. Some of these recent trends in the world of work have been advantageous to individuals with disabilities. Many computer-based jobs are well suited to people with a disability. The increased availability of part-time or contract work might also have additional advantages for some people. A recent trend has been the increased usage of telecommuting which should reduce the problems associated with restriction of mobility.

More employers are comfortable with disabled employees on the payroll. Although there is still considerable discrimination and exploitation, conditions are improving. Your rights and responsibilities in the workplace must always be considered. An increasing number of employers are discovering that disabled workers are often highly motivated, loyal and enthusiastic. Frequently they make better employees than their able-bodied colleagues. Work is an important aspect of life and contributes to our sense of well being and independence. Even if you have experienced disability, do not be afraid to set lofty career goals!

Everyone has tough days. Disabled people are no different. Negotiating these difficult days requires the development of coping skills. These skills need to be nurtured at an individual level. A positive attitude is important. A sense of humor is also a powerful weapon when the going gets tough. Maintaining self-esteem and dignity is important. Anger needs to be managed and channeled in a productive way. The emphasis should be on solving problems rather than just becoming increasingly frustrated. Try to perceive difficulties as challenges rather than barriers. Develop a strong commitment to personal growth and learning.

Role models
There is a natural inclination to feel self-absorbed and alone. What many people fail to realize is that other individuals with similar incapacities have often overcome the exact same practical problems. Often they have experienced similar feelings. Such individuals often provide useful insight into coping with a disability. They can inspire and educate. Make it a priority to identify positive role models and learn important lessons from their successes and failures. What solutions have they found? What resources have they used?
A useful place to start your search for positive role models might be the 'In the News' section of this website which contains a selection of inspiring stories. Libraries and bookstores often hold copies of inspiring and uplifting biographies. Even better still, try to find a role model or mentor in the area in which you live.

Planning ahead
Disability is a long-term issue which requires long-term solutions. There are all types of practical issues that require consideration when the opportunity arises. Financial issues are especially important and it may be advisable to seek independent specialist advice. A longer-term perspective might help to minimize the impact of the disability and allow for a functional and independent life. The importance of preventing a deterioration in general physical health has been highlighted in a previous section. Learning new skills that might be useful in the future also has clear benefits.

Seeking Further Information and Assistance

Although your individual circumstances are unique, other people have encountered many of the problems that you will experience with your disability. There is no need to 'reinvent the wheel'. Learn about the different approaches that other people have used to solve the same problems. What works for you? Do not be afraid to experiment. Build a support network that includes both able-bodied and disabled people. A supportive and broadly based support group provides more than just a sharing of the load. It also offers opportunity, challenges, advice, problem solving potential and social contacts. There are a large number of people who will be happy to help you if given the opportunity. Always respect their needs and never forget to express your appreciation for their goods deeds. Nobody likes to taken for granted!

There is a considerable amount of help and contact for disabled people available on the internet. In our links section you will find several sites that will guide you towards further information and resources. Look in the links category on 'Physical trauma and Disability'. It is important to identify useful resources, support and assistance at a local level. Ask you local doctor, look in the phone book or at your local library close to where you live. Is there a support or social group for similar individuals in your area?

Adjusting to your new circumstances takes time and patience. It also needs strength and commitment. There is a learning curve. New skills must be acquired and mastered. The reward is the gradual return to a confident and independent life. We wish you well.

Hope that you achieve your personal dreams, from all at rediscoverhope.com!

By Erika Hogg (Disability Services Coordinator)
3rd August 2004

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