Wheelchair Exercise in Optimism

In a recent article “Disability’s Truth,” my intent was to defuse the seeming tension and uncertainty for the able-bodied person in being around a disabled individual; then I wondered, “Are we, the disabled, fostering the discomfort?”

It sounds trite to say that we are more alike than we are different, but it’s true. We are all living life with the cards we have been dealt, often shuffling and reshuffling—seeking better.

My introduction to the world of disability was my own rehabilitation. I was always optimistic, but in rehab I met some really negative, sour sojourners. Their negative energy was too heavy for me. After awhile, I began avoiding their space. They were still angry and blaming the world for their situation, expecting others to do everything for them. (I lingered a little long in the denial stage myself. Catch the five stages of grief in my “Wheelchair Derailment” article.) They completely missed the point of rehab; we were learning a new way of life in order to become as independent as possible.

Yes, it was hard. After struggling an-hour-and-a-half to dress each morning, I wanted to rest, but I was too hungry to miss breakfast. Creeping down the hall to the cafeteria took me another fifteen minutes. After breakfast, our OT and PT classes began. I took full advantage of our rest period after lunch; I took a recuperative nap! I am so thankful that I learned how to wheel a wheelchair (without ever breaking a toe from running into walls, furniture, and other people), dress and feed myself, and put on my own make-up. I wouldn’t be living independently and triumphantly now if I hadn’t.

So today, I am speaking to us: the disabled. Do we greet the world (and our loved ones) with a frown, assuming that “they” should make things easier for us, or with an optimistic smile believing that we can improve our lives? These facial muscles determine how we are perceived?”

Think about it: Our body also responds to our frame of mind. No one is responsible for our well-being but oneself. Making excuses for our bad health and habits, low energy level, being disliked and avoided by family and estranged friends, or for a poor prognosis from our doctors, is not an option. Only we can change the stigma of “poor, pitiful, paralytic.” We must let go of the illusion of normalcy. (There is no such thing anyway; and forget convention.)

I understand pain and discomfort, and the precariousness of each outing. But, I don’t expect my friends, family, and community to change just because I experienced change. I bought a portable, extendable ramp for inaccessible terrain, call ahead to verify accessibility, plan outings and appointments around the weather, humbly request help prior to doctor and dentist appointments, wear earrings and dress stylishly when I go out, and greet others with a smile.

If I feel down, I call someone that might need encouragement or may just need to hear a friendly voice; BUT NOT TO COMPLAIN. That doesn’t mean that I don’t experience occasional insecurity; I just nip the doubt into do!

Let’s go for it—our potential, our purpose, our passion. We’re worth it! Optimism is contagious.

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