Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we’re sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself.  I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

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Not A Unicorn

Advice to Young Poets
Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head
from The Republic of Poetry by Martin Espada

When I started writing this blog and was confronted with creating an “About” page for the blog and for myself, the idea was more than I wanted to consider. I played it lazy and kept it short. In fact, when I read them now, I sound silly to myself.

I’m like anyone else, I suppose; I can talk about myself all day long. If we’re honest, we can admit that we–or something about our life–are own favorite subject. Both of my “About” pages are as vague as can be. Now I give you Mr. Espada’s poem as an adjunct to getting to know me and as advice to follow. Truly.

I’m sincere by writing that in my blog I hope to share my journey in finding joy and contentment with Jesus Christ. I also hope to sometimes encourage, comfort, offer consolation, teach, break through spiritual obstacles or propel someone toward God’s purpose for them.

If a post brings someone closer in intimacy with God, that’s great too. I’d be humbled by that for sure.

But I haven’t been totally honest yet. I’ve been wearing a plunger on my head, so to speak. Unknown to some of you, I’ve been trying to be something I’m not and it’s time to reveal my secret. I have manic-depressive illness and it’s not totally controlled even though I take my medications as directed and also try to do all the things my doctor prescribes.

I know this revelation sets me up for criticism immediately. It’s okay. I don’t like being criticized for something I can’t help; but I think I can take it. Criticism coming from one of you, or a “follower” of this blog deciding to stop following will be fine. You certainly can’t call me anything worse than I’ve called myself.*

Life with manic-depressive illness, also called bi-polar disorder, can be devastating to the one diagnosed with it. Depending on the severity of our individual diagnoses–and there are many–it can also make life hard for the families of those with it. We don’t always act like we ‘should.’ We don’t respond the same way as people who have what I call “respectable” illnesses like asthma or heart disease or diabetes. People with those illnesses have some physical manifestations if things get out of synch. But with a mental illness the manifestations are behavioral. Always behavioral.

Maybe you’ve witnessed those manifestations. We just don’t act right. We can’t control our conversations (there’s no filter and we talk really fast). We get truly depressed, not just ‘having a bad day.’ We yell, have panic attacks and make you wonder what on earth you did to make it happen.

I’m not writing today to go into my story from the day I was diagnosed (and before) until now. This also isn’t a pity-party. Most of all, I can’t educate you in a short blog post. I decided to write for a couple of reasons.

  • If you decide you want to continue reading my blog, it should be based on my honesty. You don’t have to be honest, but I need to take the plunger off my head. Then you’ll see me as I really am.
  • Honesty about who I am in this regard will also help us both see how blessed I’ve been so far in my journey. God has been holding my hand through so many difficult times. Inpatient and outpatient.

And that’s something people who walk past me in the hallways at church aren’t even aware of. **

The Church–and our culture–as a whole is becoming more aware of its role in meeting the needs of those in their communities who are mentally ill. It’s encouraging to see this. Some of the awareness has come as a result of family tragedies that hit the news and our very own senses like tsunamis.

Yet, there it is. I don’t pretend to know God’s ways, but I do know he invaded my life like never before through manic-depressive illness. His voice has never been heard so sweetly to me as when he whispers, “I love you” when I’m crawling the walls or sobbing like a lost child.

It’s his voice that crowds out all the others. The lies, the taunts, the ones telling me to put that plunger back on my head.

Almighty Father, thank you that when we realize our identity in you we no longer need to pretend to be something we’re not. Grant us the ability to love one another no matter what physical, spiritual, emotional or mental affliction is with us now. Heal us and sustain us as you see fit. Extend grace to us in our weaknesses for your glory and in the name of Jesus. Amen.

*Although I have yet to call myself a unicorn.
**Until now.

For more information about Mental Illness awareness and diagnosis (your own or that of someone you love), contact National Alliance on Mental Illness or Mental Health America .