Living with disability, or any long-term illness for that matter, would affect anyone’s valuation of their self-worth: in most cases, not for the better. For many years this was true for me, and even today I still question aspects of my self-worth on a daily basis. I am definitely in a very good place with regards to what I think of the person I see in the mirror; far better than I used to be, but this has only been the case for a few years and is still a work in progress. The main difference now is, I know how I got here, and how to keep going in the direction of loving and respecting myself more every day.
One of the most important things I wish I had learned much earlier in my journey living with disability, is to let go of the negatives that life throws our way. I didn’t believe I had the strength to do so. Being in any negative situation, it can be difficult to envision positivity while in the moment let alone believe we have the strength to achieve said positivity. In fact, it is very easy, and sometimes seductively comfortable to hold onto the negativity of the situation. There’s a warmth in holding on tightly to “the knowledge” that the present situation is unpleasant because all around us is pain and that “knowledge” is the strongest reminder that things can be different. So we shut our eyes, cuddle up into a ball and repeatedly tell ourselves how things could be better without truly doing much to make them better. Because that would mean opening our eyes to see the pain, then standing up and engaging that pain in order to defeat it. But facing that pain means feeling the pain, and acknowledging the parts of it we can control, or in other words, admitting some of that pain is our responsibility; and we don’t want that. Ironically, we end up going through life surrounded by a wall of pain that follows us everywhere while refusing to acknowledge we are holding onto the very thing that wall is built around. So when that wall comes between us and any relief, remedy or positivity, we blame it on something or someone else so we don’t have to acknowledge the pain exists because we don’t believe we have the strength to tear down that wall let alone let go of the pain. Meanwhile, the wall grows thicker. But the pain is always there, and will always leave a mark on our lives, and if we continue pretending it isn’t, we will eventually end up blaming the world for all our problems. It is a slippery slope that is all too common today. But none of it would even exist if we face our problems head-on.
Now, this is not to say we let go and “forget” the negatives ever existed. On the contrary, we are acknowledging that the negatives did happen and will forever remain a part of us BUT we will not hold on and remain in the past with them. We will move forward from them, even using them as a springboard to better things. The only effect they should still have on us are the lessons they taught us and how to avoid/overcome them in future. In essence, the existence of the experiences that cause the pain means we have the lessons those experiences brought with them. That in itself is a source of some of our strength, we just have to identify and understand those lessons.
Of course, this is easier said than done in most situations. In my case, for example, the pain was because overnight my life had been irreversibly turned upside down through no fault of my own. I was now forced to forget my future as I had seen it so clearly only the day before, and now somehow accept a new future in which all I could see was the absolute impossibility of ever again enjoying many of the things I had come to understand as necessary for a good life. If anyone back then had told me the things I’m telling you right now about not dwelling on negativity, they would have probably received a punch to the face and the end of whatever relationship we had. But that only proves what I’m saying was true. I was holding onto “the knowledge” that my then present situation was unpleasant because all around me was pain and that “knowledge” was the strongest reminder of how things could have been different. It was the only warmth in a cold dark room.
But I was lucky: I had help and thankfully I eventually stopped turning it away. The thing is, the solution to a problem hardly ever just walks up to us and presents itself. Sometimes it presents itself in a way we never would have ever considered. It could be from a place, person or experience we least expect, and are maybe even yet to come across. But regardless of what the solution is, we can only attain it when we are prepared for it to work. I could have waited for someone to invent a cure for spinal injury while feeling sorry for myself. But the solution for me only became clearer when I began to accept I couldn’t change what had happened but I could decide how to move forward from it. The moment I began to accept the fact that my life was never going to be the same again, I started to realise I wasn’t in pain because I had acquired a disability; I was in pain because I had lost almost everything that made up my self-worth. And that was definitely a problem with a very realistic and attainable solution so that. So what was the solution? Well, turns out I’d been looking in the wrong place all along. I’ve been trying to get back what I had lost because that’s what gave me value in the past. But it wasn’t those things I needed but the value they gave me. The solution was to find other things that could give me that value. And then I started to see them. All the things around me that had just waiting for me to realise they were there. The lives I could touch, the activities could enjoy, the places I could go, all the things I haven’t given a chance because I was still dwelling on things I no longer had a chance with. And because I had remembered the lessons from the initial pain and experiences, I knew, this time around to value myself with things that couldn’t easily be taken away by any person, experience or problem. My solutions had been all around me for years after my injury before I was in the right position to implement them. But I would never have been in that right position if I wasn’t prepared for them to work. And how was I prepared? By letting go of the negativity of the initial problem, facing the pain, and finally acknowledging what parts of it I could control. And soon enough, I gained enough control over the pain for it not to control me any more and finally let the wall around me come down.
But that was my story. Your own individual problems, solutions, and journeys from one to the other will be very different. It could go a lot quicker or take a lot longer. It could be far easier or more difficult. But regardless, you will still need to learn to let go of the negativity, holding on only to the lessons to eventually prepare yourself to grab onto your solutions when you come across them. And you can do it. No matter how hard things get, what anyone else says or how dark the room might be, you have the strength to find the way out. Don’t doubt the worth of the person staring back at you in the mirror