Dealing With What Life Sends Us
Challenges abound; acceptance is often difficult.
I remember riding the bus to school, in first or possibly second grade. This was in the mid to late ‘60’s, and because I lived in a mostly rural school district, the ride could be long and dull, with many chances to observe my surroundings. I loved watching the red wing blackbirds and seeing the muskrat lodges in the spring along Cusick Lake, or observing the farmers plow their fields along 32 Mile Road.
In the country, the bus would travel some distance between stops. At one house, located on a sparsely populated gravel road, children about my age would be waiting to board. I recall that one little girl boarding the bus was always unsteady, walking slowly, and holding on to the sides and seat backs of the bus, as she found her seat. Somewhat later (a year, two maybe?) I recall seeing her at school, then in a wheelchair. I never knew what was wrong with her, being too shy, or fearful, to ask.
I don’t think I saw that little girl much after elementary school, and can’t say I thought about her at all. It becomes tough enough to remember schoolmates we knew fairly well, let alone those that only touched our lives briefly. Lately, though, as I steady myself by holding on to walls, pieces of furniture, or the side of my vehicle, the picture of that little girl struggling to board a school bus is vividly etched in my mind.
It seems I’ve developed a neurological condition that steadily and progressively affects both balance and mobility. Initially, it caused a slight hitch in my walk. That progressed to a definite limp, and impaired balance. It has now reached the point of requiring me to use trekking poles for almost any activity that requires me walking more than a few steps. Where will it end? Hard to say, except that a walker, or possibly a wheelchair (though I plan to fight that one for awhile) could be in the future.
I’ve learned a lot about neurological disorders over the past few years. Mostly, I’ve learned that the medical profession has few answers for many of these conditions. Some wait years to even get a diagnosis, and even with a diagnosis, treatments are limited.
Becoming disabled is a life-changing event, whether it happens abruptly with an injury or accident, or slowly, over time, such as I’ve experienced. I don’t remember if there was a particular event, or day, when I first used the term “disabled” to describe myself. It is a term I use regularly, and unapologetically now. And it is not shocking to describe myself in such a way; I guess having it occur over time allowed me to get used to the idea of being a person with a disability.
Not that it is easy to always accept being disabled, however. Actually, when dealing with a disability, nothing seems easy. All of the things once taken for granted now become a challenge; getting up from a chair, getting dressed, going up or down stairs, playing with the dogs. The things you can still do easily are few, yet so important. Driving, for instance, presents no problems, and is a joy to perform, as it allows me to feel normal for a little while.
You certainly learn patience when dealing with a disability. Everything happens at a slower pace, whether it involves taking a shower, going to the store, making dinner, or doing simple chores. Being someone who always had an impatient streak, this has proven a hard, though important lesson to learn.
Being appreciative; when dealing with a disability, this becomes so crystal clear. The smallest kindnesses are magnified to those of us facing this adversity. A simple holding open a door, the carrying of an item to my vehicle for me, an encouraging word, a positive post on Facebook, hearing “I’ll pray for you.” All of these kindnesses mean so much more now.
Living one day at a time is good advice for all; and with a disability, it becomes paramount. You want to plan for the future, yet having this impediment makes planning nearly impossible. “What will I be able to do a year from now?” “Or six months, or even six weeks?” You just can’t be sure, but then you realize that none of us can really know, can we?
One thing I do know is the fact that I can be thankful I was not in that little girl’s shoes. I had a lifetime of full physical ability before this set in; she had none. No running on the playground with the other kids, no adventures hiking in the mountains, no long bike rides in the evening, no endless walks on a beach. I’m not sure what happened to her, though I believe I heard she passed away some time ago. If so, I hope she knows that she is still remembered, and is inspiring at least one person that briefly crossed her path so many years ago.