Becoming disabled can be slow and insidious process, or it can come suddenly like a bolt out of the blue. But no matter what form your disability takes, it can be difficult to adjust to it, and just surviving it can seem like an insurmountable obstacle at times.
I know this first hand. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease two years ago, but I’ve been suffering the effects for over seven years now. I could only watch as the disease took my job, my hobbies, and even my ability to walk on really bad days.
It took a long time to come to terms with my disease, and my journey towards acceptance is far from over. But by stepping back and evaluating my life, I was able to come up with some strategies to cope with my disability.
Learn Everything You Can
They say that knowledge is power, and nowhere is this truer than with a disability. The first impulse of many people when they discover they’re disabled, is to go out and learn everything they can about it. And if you haven’t already done so, I can’t recommend this strongly enough.
No one is going to advocate more for you than yourself. And when you’re dealing with what seems like seems like an endless parade of doctors, it’s important to understand all your treatment options. While most doctors are highly skilled and care deeply about their patients, they may not always be up to speed on latest procedures, or they may not do a great job of explaining all of the possible side effects from medications.
And don’t limit yourself to just what you can find in books and online. I’ve spoken to numerous people who were able to reach out to some of the best researchers and top doctors in the country. It’s always worth trying to contact them through e-mail and you’d be surprised at how many are willing to respond to inquiries.
Even if you’re not going to use the information to advocate for your treatment, it’s still important to familiarize yourself with your disability. With any new disability comes fear, and one of the best ways to allay that fear is know what you’re facing. Even if it’s going to get worse in the future, it’s far better to know what to expect, then to walk blindly into the unknown.
And by demystifying your disability, you’d be amazed at how much it helps your mental wellbeing. Learning about your disability gives you power – something that many people feel like they’re sorely lacking in this situation.
Keep a Daily Routine
One of the hardest things to adapt to with a new disability, is the way that it changes it your life. One day you were most likely in a set routine, where you got up, went to work, and spent time with friends and family in the evening. And the next day your whole world was shattered by your disability.
While you may still be able to go out, or spend time with friends, there’s no question that your ability to do what you want, when you want has changed. There will be things that you can no longer do, and that can be difficult to accept.
One of the best ways to bring some normalcy back to life is to have a set routine. There are days where it’s almost impossible for me to get out of bed. The room is spinning, and my stomach feels like I just got off of the tilt-a-whirl. But even if I have to drag myself along the walls to get there, I always take a shower, clean myself up, and eat something for breakfast. It doesn’t seem like much, but keeping this routine is incredibly important to me.
If you don’t have a daily routine it’s easy to feel like you don’t have any control over your life. I’ve known far too many people who spiraled downward after their diagnosis, until they reached the point where they never even left their bedroom. Humans thrive on routine, and by doing the same things every day, no matter how bad your symptoms, it will help you to thrive over the long run.
Talk to Others
One of the best ways to deal with disability is by talking to others. This is even more important if you’ve only been recently diagnosed, and you’re probably facing a lot of fear and uncertainty in your life. While you may be thinking that you have a good network of friends and family to talk to, it’s generally best to discuss your disability as little as possible with them.
If someone is very close to you, they’re likely facing the same fears that you are. They’re probably worried about your future, and how you will cope. And many of them simply won’t be able to understand your disability.
This is why support groups and professionals are so important. These are people who have already gone through what you’re facing, or in the case of professionals, have a deep understanding of the emotional turmoil that is probably engulfing you.
If you haven’t at least sought out a local support group for your specific disability, or disabilities in general, I can’t recommend doing this enough. It’s one of the most important steps in dealing with any disability.
Focus on Yourself
It’s not wrong to be a little selfish when you become disabled. No, I’m not saying that you should make everything about you, or that you should complain to everyone who will lend you their ear. What I am saying is that you should do something for yourself.
Life can be difficult when you’re disabled. You may be facing pain or suffering on a daily basis that is impossible for most people to even begin to comprehend. And you may have to deal with discrimination in a world that sometimes seems very inaccessible.
Dealing with all of this can have a significant impact your mood. So you need to find things that make you happy. It might be as simple as setting aside a few nights a week for a hobby, or making sure you get out to do something fun like a movie, or dinner with friends.
The more time you spend focusing on yourself, the less time you will have to focus on your disability. So try to make sure you never forget your own needs, when you’re learning to cope with your disability.
Don’t Look Back
You’re never going back to the person you were before. It’s a hard truth to come to terms with, and I’ll admit I regularly struggle with this one. I used to have a full-time job I loved, and every day I would go for a long run. There was nothing better than lacing up my shoes in the morning, and setting off down a forest path, just letting the miles fall away behind me.
Now my disability has made it impossible for me to hold down a job, and it would be a miracle if I could walk in a straight line, never mind run in one. But I have to accept that was my old life. It’s a life I’ll never know again, but that doesn’t mean my life going forward can’t still be as fulfilling.
Slowly, but surely, I’ve been learning how to embrace my new life. I’ve taken up hobbies I can do, and I’ve been trying out new ways to make money from home. I’m starting to feel useful again, and some days I may be confined to bed, but on other days with the help of a walking stick I can get around and do things that I want to do.
Accepting your new life is a long process, and you may never fully accept it after experiencing a healthy life and losing it. But as long as you’re constantly working at it, you’ll be happier in the long run, and it’s one of the most important things you can do to move forward.
It’s easy to forgo exercise when you’re disabled. If you have a hard time doing even the most basic things in life, you might wonder what hope do you have of working out. And while many people simply give up on exercise, this is one of the worst decisions you can make.
Depending on your level of disability, you can quickly lose muscle mass and face a host of other problems if you’re totally inactive for long periods of time. And while it may not seem like much of a big deal right now, as you age, you could be facing far more severe consequences.
Obviously, if someone tells you to go out and exercise right now you might be overwhelmed. This is where a professional is incredibly helpful. I see a physiotherapist once a month who specializes in vestibular patients. She has helped me tailor a workout plan for someone who is almost incapable of standing for any length of time. I’m not going to look like pre-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger anytime soon, but it helps to keep me healthy.
And if you’re physical health isn’t enough to get you motivated, it can also have a major impact on your mental health. Many people with disability suffer from depression, and if you add physical inactivity to this, it can really spiral into serious depression. Exercise helps to alleviate that, so it’s something that everyone should be doing. Even if you can only do ten minutes a day, it can still make a difference
These are all things I’ve learned through reading and therapy to help cope with my disability. I’d like to hear from my readers on ways they’ve learned to cope with being disabled.