Body Image

I remember reading an article when I was a senior in high school about taller people being more successful than shorter people in the workplace; thus began a huge hurdle in my body image. I cannot remember where I read this or whether it was even a legitimate claim. Nevertheless, the memory of shame and disappointment in the irreversible reality of my stature stuck with me through undergrad, through grad school, and every interpersonal encounter I’ve had since. To be fair, I think it would be realistic to factor in pre-existing issues I may have had due to my disabilities being so visible, but reading an article about it certainly felt like hammering a nail into the coffin of any positive body image I may have scrounged up over my teenage years.

Fast forward to the present and I am working full time, but the shadow of doubt in my abilities still follows me. As a professional with disabilities, I am no stranger to putting 200% effort into my work just so I can be sure everyone around me is taking me seriously. Why then, do I still worry constantly that people are not taking me seriously? The answer is simple: Society continues to tell children they have to be perfect inside and out in order to be successful. This means I was imperfect from the get go and therefore assumed to be a failure (or incapable of true success) all along. Sounds to me like the game is rigged, big time! Employers are really getting a good deal out of me, because I am working hard, performing higher than average – since, you know, I’m disabled so I’ve got to make sure I’m doing better than average in order to be viewed as an equal – and not expecting commensurate compensation as I have been taught society views me as inherently inferior to my colleagues.

Remember the post about resilience? Body image is difficult to manage even for people who do not have disabilities. Throw a disability in the mix and you got yourself quite a hurdle. I have definitely come a long way in redefining my body image to allow for the realities of my disabilities, including my stature, but I still find myself worrying or feeling defensive at times. It’s one of those inner battles that people with disabilities sort of feel like they have to fight in silence, particularly at work.

Hopefully, there will come a time when having a disability does not mean a person is either completely dependent or Stevie Wonder. Again, society needs to expand on the definition of the disabled to include a wide spectrum of abilities consistent with the reality that humans are diverse, even the disabled ones. Normalization of not having preconceived notions of ability would level the playing field tremendously.

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Financial Planning

Now this is a conversation unique to individuals with disabilities who are also working professional jobs and are confronted with the task of financial planning. I am in no way trying to give financial advice with this topic. Rather, I want to uncover a reality I am facing that makes financial planning stressful and feel somewhat impossible.

First, I am planning for a future I am not at all entirely sure I will have the benefit of living. From day one, yes – birth, I have been living with medical issues more significant than a majority of others my age. If the trajectory remains the same, I suppose it is fair to assume I am either going to require a significantly higher degree of medical care or I will not live long enough to worry about it. Regardless, I need to acknowledge the reality I may not make it to retirement. Thus, the primary stressor of financial planning is the unreliability of my body. I have no clue when it is going to quit on me and I have no way of predicting how my unique medical issues will evolve. Time will often tell, but that does not help when I am trying to plan ahead.

The second aspect of financial planning is largely affected by the first. I do not know how much time I have to live, so I find myself not really sure what is most important to me to invest my time and money. I know my job is a source of satisfaction and enjoyment in my life, as is my husband, but what about experiences, entertainment, or hobbies? Of course, living for today is useful for today, but what if I do live into retirement and I have not saved enough money to afford the medical care I would need? The “what if’s” are endless, but they are mostly legitimate concerns. This makes determining my priorities now versus preparing for the future all the more stressful.

Third, I enjoy relaxing and having time alone to, you know, think pensively about, well, everything. Nevertheless, I have brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and friends… oh yeah, and that husband… who all want a piece of the action. I somehow have to find time to maintain meaningful relationships and carve out time to myself for pensive thinking. Did I mention I might not make it until retirement?

Ok, so I am supposed to plan for a tomorrow that may never come. If I do make it that far, I will likely have more medical needs than my peers, which will translate into higher bills. I also have to create a today worth living. I suppose the answer to this dilemma is the same as investment in general Рdiversify, diversify, diversify. Do it all as much as possible to minimize the risk of regrets.