I was paralyzed from the waist down for several years in my thirties. The ten tips below came from my own hard, slow work to regain my mobility, and the common experiences of many disabled clients in similar situations. They will help you understand what might be happening in your mind, body and social life, moving you along the road to living normally with your disability as soon as possible.
When a person is newly disabled by accident, illness or genetics, a host of physical, emotional and social changes present themselves. Most of these changes are things no one can truly prepare for. There are suddenly no usual routines, no guidelines in how to proceed with success.
Newly disabled people can feel frightened, abandoned and without direction as pain and loss often dominate their recovery. These feelings can derail further growth and progress into a new, functional and successful life.
It is my hope that the following tips will help you see your justifiable feelings, new experiences and the situations that can arise from sudden disability don’t have to be the end of the world. From unable to do all the things you could before your disability, see yourself Differently Able to do whatever you can Dream.
Anger, frustration and resentment are common feelings when abilities are taken away. Use the energy of these emotions to transform the negative to positive and get active in powering forward your recovery effort. If you find you can’t get past the worst of the negative emotions, don’t hesitate to avail yourself of counseling, stress reduction methods or other help. Most hospitals and social service agencies provide groups to help the newly disabled.
2. Expect others to react differently to you than they did before the onset of your disability.
Most of the time people want to say and do the right thing, but our society does not prepare us adequately to handle the trauma of another’s disability. Reach out to your family, friends and acquaintances and encourage them to treat you as normally as they did before the onset of your disability.
3. Expect changes in your energy level and the way your body and mind work together.
Things that have been easy suddenly become difficult to impossible to accomplish. Give yourself lots of time to readjust to the new status quo and don’t do anything before you are ready. Despite how you might feel, this is no time to hermit up. Avail yourself of all the support you can get. What creative ways can you think of to accomplish the same goals differently and if possible, independently?
4. Expect governmental and organizational indifference and delays, sometimes from the very medical personnel, agencies and individuals meant to help you.
Aid your success in dealing with bureaucracy by keeping meticulous records of each contact with the agency or individual and reminding them of your needs and their agency’s commitment to you. Remember: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Make a firm but polite pest of yourself and you will be served correctly, more of the time.
5. Expect co-workers to potentially feel uncomfortable with you.
Some newly disabled people lose their jobs. If you are still able to do the work for which you were hired, it is illegal for your employer to fire you. You have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – get to know what they are and use them. Take this opportunity to educate your workplace on the subject of disabilities, and yours in particular.
6. SSI (the governmental Social Security disability benefit) is not a free ride.
Most disabled people find SSI and pension checks little enough to pay their bills and rent. You will have to generate secondary sources of income and be creative about doing it. What skills or talents do you have that can be used in new ways? Coaching or career counseling can often help broaden the range of options available to you.
7. As a newly disabled person, you may find yourself inundated with offers for work-at-home schemes which may or may not deal with you honestly.
Some of these schemes can be lucrative for the dedicated worker, while others are directly dishonest and usurious. Protect yourself by checking out any potential employer for longevity in the workplace and worker satisfaction. Talk to others who have worked there six months or more about their experience with that particular employer.
8. Depending on the severity of your disability, you may need a care team.
This team should ideally consist of people who are favorably disposed towards you to begin with, such as family members and willing friends. If you must hire someone to care for you, check into their background as thoroughly as possible. Often the disabled are taken advantage of by unscrupulous care staff.
9. When you are given the gift of a disability, it does not diminish you as much as you might initially think.
When one door closes, many others are opened. A blind man’s sense of hearing sharpens to hear a pin drop 100 meters away; a quadriplegic develops extraordinary sensitivity in her facial skin that enables her to “feel” colors. See the opportunities that are available to you now that you could never see as a more able person. The world is waiting and the possibilities are limitless. What future will you choose?
10. Nothing is impossible.
Well, almost nothing. While you may never have a new pair of kidneys or be able to re-grow a limb you have lost, almost everything you dreamed of doing before your disability can still be possible. You just may have to modify quite a bit to achieve it. Don?t let anything stand in your way and don’t fall prey to blaming and self-pity. You are the only person who can get you from the depths of despair to all the success you want in life. Go for it!