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1.8. Adjusting to a Disability is a Journey
"Adjusting to a Disability is a Journey" was written by Phil Pangrazio, CEO and president of Arizona Bridge to Independent Living. Mr. Pangrazio has lived with spinal cord injury for over 30 years. Read his encouraging words below or click on the download for a printable copy.
Adjusting to Disability is a Journey by Phil Pangrazio
If you recently experienced a significant physical disability, then you are about to embark on a journey that has been well traveled. In the early stages of disability, the majority of your thoughts and energy are dedicated to survival. Where will I live? How will I get around? Who will help me get showered and dressed? Who will prepare my meals? Will I have enough money? These and many more questions will leave you feeling very alone and isolated. What you have to remember, however, is that you are not alone!
This road has been traveled by millions of people before you. These people are your peers and they can help show you the way. Being open minded and willing to accept their guidance is critical. I am confident that if you listen and accept the knowledge of your peers you will be on your way to becoming truly independent. Maybe not in a physical sense, but on an emotional level, you will direct your life. You will be in charge. Only then can you live with dignity. But, it's up to you!
At first, the onset of a disability is much like being a newborn. There are lots of new things, unknowns, and much learning required to survive. For an infant, survival is dependent on a great deal of assistance from mom and dad. Reality to a newborn is based on dependency and feelings of helplessness. The early stage of disability is much like the experience of the newborn. Remember the time when you were left in the crib longer than you could tolerate? Mom wasn't far away, but it seemed like an eternity before she came to your rescue. You wanted to get out, but you couldn't. You wanted your independence, but the railings were too high. The more you fought, the more frustrated you got.
Having a disability is a lot like this experience. There are railings seemingly everywhere. The railings are the barriers. You will need to learn to eliminate them, or at least manage and adapt to them. Only then can you become as independent as your abilities and talents will allow. Importantly though, you have a choice in this process. You can be passive or active. I strongly suggest you choose the latter approach. Taking an active role or "taking charge" in choosing your destiny will reward you with the riches of self-esteem and the respect of others. But it does not happen over night! It takes time and persistence. Just like the newborn, a person with a disability must grow and mature.
Sometimes you must re-learn to do something that only months before you took totally for granted, like signing your name. You may have to adapt to a new and different body. But most important, you just need to gain experience in your new environment before you can effectively live within it.
Now you may be thinking, that may be true for some people, but I'm different. And it's true, you are. Each individual's experience with disability is unique. Some are born with a disability. Some acquire a disability during childhood. Some are injured as teenagers. Some experience an illness at middle age during their prime working years. Some become disabled in the midst of retirement. But I guarantee you there are others that have traveled on your road. I suggest you embrace them, as they will make your journey a much more pleasant one.
Reprinted, and distributed, by permission from The Bridge (July 2001), a free publication of Arizona Bridge to Independent Living. Phil Pangrazio is Executive Director; he can be contacted at (800) 280-2245 or (602) 256-2245 or email: email@example.com Published: 2007-09-05