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Writing to Cope with Disability

Disability Means
Changed Potentials

More than for any other sector of the population, turning to writing is a natural process for the disabled.

Science-fiction writers Theodore Sturgeon, L. Ron Hubbard, and Robert Heinlein turned to writing as a result of their disabilities. Today, their work is treasured by readers around the world.

My own adjustment to life-altering disability has been facilitated with writing. I was once an athletic professional mid-east dancer as well as a nutritionist in my own business. Arthritis of the spine and kidney disease cut my careers short and threatened to destroy my sense of self-worth. Writing extracted me from despair and depression brought on by chronic pain and physical limitations, and enabled me to create a very satisfying avocation that promises to be as financially rewarding as it is intellectually stimulating. Writing rescued me from feelings of worthlessness and alienation, helped me overcome fear and that horrible sense of loss, and allowed me to prosper in new-found potentials.

Though my physical problems continue, I now have something in my life that will allow me to work around my physical limitations: writing.

A Downward Spiral

Disability may make us see things in extremes. Our likes and dislikes become polarized—strongly oriented towards opposite poles. Disability can generate feelings of despair and hopelessness. It can make us feel that we are not only unable to care for and support ourselves—that we are a burden to others—it can make us feel that we have nothing to contribute. We may feel defeated, worthless. What’s the point in living?

It is natural that disability may bring about thoughts of suicide. This is something we all have to work through. We must be able to progress to the stage of accepting our limitations, and go beyond it to the realization that our potentials have been altered, not eliminated.

You are not your disability. It is also true that you are not your job, your appearance, your mobility. You are more than any of these things, though these things may be a part of how you perceive yourself.

Disability necessarily arouses a great sense of loss, and fear of change. You may feel that you’ve lost everything that defines who you are. Who are you without your career, your looks, your self-direction?

Loss engages us in a grieving process we must all endure. When we get past this stage, we often become fearful of what the future may hold. Disability often means we must live what we consider sub-standard existences, filled not only with the daily realization that we have lost our ability to earn our own way, but the fear that nothing will ever improve in our lives. This is it; we’re stuck. Negative internal dialog convinces us our lives are over, and limits our options. Friends and family may even be so insensitive as to confirm these feelings through thoughtless and offhanded remarks.

Others may avoid us. They do this not only because we aren’t who we used to be, but because we are a reminder of the unpredictability of the universe. “If this can happen to you, it can happen to me.” It’s too hard to face the reality of randomness. This is their problem—not yours. You still have you. People will come and go in our lives, but we will always have ourselves.

You are a person with skills, talents, and ideas that are uniquely yours. While it may be true that you may not be able to use your skills to earn a living or even care for yourself, it is not true that your skills and knowledge are worthless.

We must pass on our wisdom to others and succeeding generations. This is how human intelligence functions. Humanity does not progress without information exchange. This fact is at the root of human civilization.

The Importance of Self-Esteem

Who Are You? What is a Self?

Before birth a self does not exist. The evolution of the human being progresses from an undifferentiated part of mother in the womb, to individuation and autonomy as an adult. The self is the complete emergence and separation from another, the formation of an “I” through physical and psychological boundaries. The self is a continually evolving creation, an unfolding of potentials and possibilities that takes a lifetime and can never be considered “finished.”

Self-esteem is the foundation of the personality, a fundamental essence that supports everything about us. Self-esteem is a relationship with the “I,” an assertion to consciousness—a consciousness not only of the external world, but of the true inner self. Self-esteem is to think independently, living through our own perceptions and evaluations of how the world is, and how we fit in it. Self-esteem is acting from our own convictions, knowing what we know and feeling what we feel, with full acknowledgment of our needs and desires, and what causes us pain, fear, and anger.

Self-esteem is built on two principles: self-acceptance and self-concept. Self-acceptance is basic, primitive and shared by most other living things. It is unconditional and is required before self-esteem can develop. Self-acceptance is not a denial of a need for change, improvement, or evolution—it is simply a recognition that we are.

Our self-concept develops from self-acceptance. Self-concept encompasses our beliefs, convictions, concerns, everything we like about ourselves, everything we don’t like, our capabilities, skills, talents, as well as our limitations.

From self-concept grows self-esteem. Self-esteem means accepting ourselves in all of our many facets, without resorting to self-repudiation, self-oppression, or deception of ourselves or others.

Nothing is more important to our core of existence than what we think of ourselves. People will come and people will go, but we will always have a relationship with ourselves. To quote an often-heard truth: No matter where you go, there you are.

Everything we feel, think, and do is influenced by how we evaluate ourselves, and affects how we relate to others and with whom we have relationships.

Self-esteem is a fundamental sense of efficacy and worthiness, and is evidenced in competence, self-reliance, and self-assurance. It is trusting our minds to make correct decisions and life-affirming choices. It is an orientation towards the self, not only for self-preservation, but for self-furtherance—progress towards goals. People with low self-esteem do not progress: They stagnate. It takes self-esteem to change, progress towards goals. As a happy consequence, progression towards goals builds yet more self-esteem.

To have self-esteem is to be committed to our right to exist, to know that our bodies, our minds, and our feelings do not belong to others and that we are not here to live up to others’ expectations.

Self-esteem begins with psychological visibility. As infants and children, we need feedback—an adult mirroring us back to ourselves; we need to know that we exist, to know that we matter. As children, others must perceive our value so that we may continue to value ourselves as autonomous adults.

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