Nightmare for Me, Reality for Many Others

The nightmare (and yes, I actually had it last night):

I lost or left a job and frantically looked for a new one. I was hired as a CNA in a nursing home. I walked the hallways looking in at residents and other CNAs. It suddenly occurred to me that I was not being asked to do anything. I was roaming the halls shift after shift and other staff were just walking around me, smiling, striking up small talk… But never asking me to do anything. I felt confused and angry as I questioned in my mind why I was getting away ¬†with not doing anything. I started to walk out because I started to feel guilty and stupid just standing around. Before I got in my car to escape, I decided I better go back and talk to a supervisor. Maybe this was all just a big mistake? Maybe they just hadn’t yet decided who I’d be working with yet? I talked to the supervisor and she stared at me blankly. She smiled and walked away. Everything stayed the same. Staff continued to walk around me. The confusion, anger, and horror boiled inside me, ultimately waking me.

The most horrify aspect of this dream is the fact that I actually have experienced such a scenario. I have never applied for a job I physically could not perform, but I have been in workplace or volunteer scenarios where other people would just walk around me. I guess they somehow thought just having me be there made it inclusive. It was not. It was humiliating, insulting, and just plain absurd. I would never apply for a job or volunteer for a task I could not do. It is truly amazing though, just how many people make assumptions about what I can or cannot do anyway, as if I would purposely humiliate myself. Obviously, I would not.

Like I said, the particular events occurring in my nightmare have not happened, but the feelings I had most certainly have. As a professional with disabilities, assumptions are made about my limitations all the time. Most often, people assume I am much more incapable than I am in reality. I am usually pretty good at shaking it off, but my nightmare demonstrates the horror exists and does sometimes haunt me.

Resilience Required

Living with disabilities takes a tremendous level of resilience. The simple acting of being alive is traumatic, from the societal oppression and marginalization to the internal conflict between self respect and limitations. I have thought a lot about what it truly means to experience the life span as an individual with disabilities and I have come to the point where I can finally admit to myself that living with disabilities is traumatic. Some people might argue using the word ‘traumatic’ is too extreme (and I can only speak for myself), but I have a feeling that a significant number of other people with disabilities would concur with me.

I recognize the topic of this post lacks positivity, but the realities of even successful professionals living with disabilities needs to be acknowledged. I posses a competitiveness, a drive, and a need to prove to myself I am equally human. The battle is both internal and external, resulting in a constant reliance on my resilience. However, my resilience never has the opportunity to rest and that is what makes living with disabilities traumatic. Society labels me one of two extremes, either special or dependent, so society presently allows no middle ground, no average, no normalcy. I am constantly fighting to prove a middle ground exists for people with disabilities while society refuses to acknowledge it. Especially during times of high competition due to the economy, the belittling and oppression of people with disabilities becomes a convenient way to push some people out of the race. Having a disability morphs into a relevant argument against inclusion without any contest because it is convenient. That is right, it is easy, and the only people who get hurt are people who cannot do things anyway. After all, that is why we are called dis-abled.

Society makes discrimination, humiliation, and oppression of people with disabilities so easy. It is traumatic. Only a limitless supply of resilience can handle the relentless trauma of living in a society where having a disability means being a pioneer or incapacitated.

If you are aiming for normal, you are not wrong. Society is wrong about you. Keep up the good work, pal.

Building Strength to Maintain Positivity

Building anything takes time. If you are seeing a project completed in a short amount of time then that project most likely has a big support system. I do not consider myself someone with a big support system, so I recognize figuring things out on my own is going to take time, patience, and persistence.

Building strength refers specifically to your ability to endure, remain patient, and persist with yourself, others, and the situation. Having a disability makes it all too easy to play the disability card or to give up completely when things feel like they are not happening quickly enough. To play the disability card is to give up your independence, something I personally aim to avoid as much as possible (mostly because I hate being told what to do). Furthermore, to give up is as impulsive a decision as throwing a tantrum or those doughnuts I ate after dinner last night.

Building strength is a necessary first step toward maintaining an inner positivity. The second step is narrowing in on one piece of the pie at a time. Do not try to accomplish everything at once, lest you are putting yourself at risk of finishing nothing. This is particularly true if you tend to struggle with finishing tasks on a regular basis. Avoid the temptation to leave something unfinished, even if something else feels more important. The ability to finish a task before moving on to the next one is going to keep building you up by adding a sense of accomplishment, pride, and self-confidence.

Now comes the step that brings it all together: be your own cheerleader. Especially in the world of the disabled, it seems as though more people are trying to prove how much people with disabilities cannot do as opposed to accepting the longer list of things they do, and do well, everyday. We are all caught up in our own sob story, and some people are going to be able to listen, care, and provide support despite what they themselves might be facing in their personal lives. More often then not, however, you would be sharing your story with people who are not listening, but rather thinking about how your story is not as bad as their story, or their friend of a friend’s story, or their great uncle’s story. You get my point. Most people are going to search their mind for a one-upper to demonstrate to you or to prove to themselves their sob story is worse. The individuals who are capable of providing quality listening, caring, and support despite their own issues are few and far between. Thus, you are going to need to develop the ability of carrying yourself through the “between” periods. When you cheer on yourself you provide yourself encouragement, you give yourself rewards when you score points, and you do a little dance for yourself at half time just because it is fun. Your half time dance can be anything you want it to be such as a half gallon of ice cream, painting, writing, junk TV, whatever. Keep the pep up, even if you have to fake it, because you are going to need to be able to be your own support figure at times. That is just a fact.

In reality, the ability to build strength and maintain posivity are  inner skills no one can develop within you. If you feel like you struggle with these skills then it is worth taking time to work on them, practice them, and master them. Your ability to endure, persist, and have patience with yourself others, and situations is absolutely vital to long term posivity.