After nearly 20 years of having a chronic, debilitating autoimmune disease which attacks my muscles, I have finally admitted it. I am disabled. There are things I cannot do. There are things I can do. There are times my body gives out and times it exceeds my expectations. I resisted calling myself disabled, for many years, because I believe in the power of positive thinking and I feared that labeling myself disabled would change everything. What I never considered is that it would change everything, for the better.
Before I started calling myself “disabled” I was in denial about my limitations. I pushed myself too hard and caused myself physical and emotional harm in the process. I tried to do things I shouldn’t do and often “failed;” and in an effort to prove myself, to myself, I did things far past the time and effort that I should have. Since admitting that I am “disabled,” I listen to my body more closely and treat it more gently. When it is tired, I am more likely to honor that. When it is weak, I heed its warnings. When it hurts, I pamper it.
About a year ago, I took a big gulp of my pride and asked my doctor for a disabled parking placard. You see...I was having trouble grocery shopping. I could walk into the store, I could shop (at least half of it), but getting back out of the store was miserable, unloading the groceries into the car was nearly impossible, and by the time I returned home - carrying the bags into the house was insurmountable. I don’t use it all the time, only when I really need it. Most of the time, I use it when I must lift or carry something as this added stress seems to affect my ability to walk. Some other benefits of parking in the disabled parking are: the safety of having fewer cars to walk behind in case you are prone to falling like I am and more room to open the car door fully giving you the space to stabilize yourself when climbing in and out of the car.
Over the past month I’ve done a lot of travelling both for my work and for my daughter’s figure skating trip. We made a stop in NYC and spent a long day walking around – a ten-hour day to be exact – and I was able to handle it, and enjoy it, with very few negative effects! I did take breaks, and all in all it was a successful day. But the week before I couldn’t stand in a stationary position for thirty minutes in the airport security line without my whole body crumbling into fits of shaking tremors. Does that mean I was stronger the second week? Not really, it means that the muscles it takes to stand in one place are more damaged than the muscles it takes to walk. In hindsight, had I known the line would take so long, I would have asked for assistance.
I have also noticed something that seems limiting has become freeing. I have gradually begun saying “I am disabled” in more situations, either to myself, or to airport personnel, store clerks, and other people as I have asked for assistance, time allowances, understanding, etc. in my recent travels. What I have found is that in declaring it I haven’t lost my power, I have reclaimed some of my humanness. Instead of being scared of what I can’t do, being ashamed when I stumble, waiting for something to go wrong, I am empowering myself to say I am a human with needs, I have limitations, and I am okay with admitting it, because in admitting it, I steal back my internal power, my emotional strength. I am no longer a prisoner to my physical weakness. I have enabled myself to experience the kindness of the strangers I encounter, as most people are very willing to offer assistance. I can hold my head high, even if it is with weakened neck muscles, because I am not afraid of the truth.
One of the ideas in positive thinking is that if you speak a negative thought you might manifest it, so we can get caught up in worrying about saying the “wrong” thing. Well-meaning friends get caught up in this. “Don’t say can’t, think in terms of, ‘I Can!’” is something I have heard often. Admitting I’m disabled isn’t admitting defeat, it is empowering myself to accept and love myself as I am. It is not defeatist to say, “I can’t run a mile” when clearly I am physically unable to walk a block. It is being a realist and honoring the truth of my experience, and loving myself unconditionally through that experience. Saying “I can’t run a mile” is also not the same as saying that I will not ever “run a mile.” I hope to someday be strong enough to run again. I hope to someday be able to do a full hour of yoga, park at the back of the parking lot, stand in line at the airport without strain, carry my groceries in without struggle, and live a life free of pain and weakness.
...but until then, I will accept, honor, embrace, and love who I am in this moment. I am disabled and that is okay.
Originally printed on EmilyFilmore.com (2015). All Rights Reserved.