Someone recently asked me, At what point does living with disability get easier?
My answer surprised him. “Surely it takes time to accept disability – and at some point, most are able to accept it as a part of their life, and move forward with an emotional stability toward it. And, in that way, living with disability does get easier. However, on a larger scale, if you’re living with disability to any degree of success, life should never seem easier,” I said. “The moment that life seems easier, you’re truly losing the battle, both toward disability and overall.”
As I went on to explain to him, living with disability is life, itself, where the easier it is, typically the less we’re striving. See, we only grow when we’re rising to challenges, and when we’re not striving, pushing ourselves to our fullest potentials, beyond our comfort zones, we aren’t moving forward and bettering ourselves. Truly, in order to take our lives to increasingly higher levels of success, it requires constant effort and sacrifice – and that’s anything but easy.
I highly value exercise, not just for the health benefits, but because it’s a metaphor and model for empowered living. I have a wheelchair-accessible gym, and if I were to do the exact same exercise routine everyday for months, it would become strikingly easy, but it wouldn’t improve my strength or endurance. Rather, to constantly improve my physical fitness, I must increase the intensity of my exercise routine week by week, where as the workouts get harder, I get stronger – and as I get stronger, I must intentionally make the workouts harder. This same process is how we grow and succeed as individuals with disabilities – that is, the farther we evolve in disability experience, the harder we should strive, never resting but constantly propelling. We must maintain momentum to keep our lives on track and flourishing because the minute we stop, our lives effectively stop.
The evolving process for most of us with disabilities, no matter if our condition stemmed from birth or later in life, began in a notably universal way: We strove to adapt to the physical realities of our conditions, then moved on from there, addressing the emotional, social, and other aspects of living with disability as we “grew.” Now, surely some get frozen in the initial stages of evolving with a disability, where a seeming lack of personal accountability and motivation hold them back from ever living a healthy life, getting trapped in a woe-is-me state of mind. And, it’s easy to point a judgmental finger at such a 28-year-old with a disability who collects SSI, lives with his parents, and plays video games all day, and note such shortcomings.
However, complacency likewise reigns among far too many of us with disabilities who seem quite successful. In fact, in evolving through our disability experiences, many of us reach some level of personal accomplishment, and then hit the cruise-control button, noting, I developed my physical abilities, went to college, built a career, and I’m raising a family – what else can anyone expect of me as one who’s overcome disability?
The answer is, a lot. Just because we may think that we’ve “succeeded over disability,” doesn’t let us off of the hook to keep working at it – and life. See, here is the fundamental fact that everyone from those with disabilities to the mainstream overlook: We never truly “succeed over disability,” where just like every other aspect of our lives, there’s always room for exponential growth. Any success in living with disability isn’t an end, but should merely lead to our next levels of growth.
As individuals, we need to be far less impressed by what we’ve accomplished with disability, and far more concerned with what we can and must accomplish to keep our lives moving forward. This isn’t to say that we should dismiss previous accomplishments; to the contrary, we should use them as inspiring precedents that motivate us to move our lives even farther forward. But, we shouldn’t slap our disability experience on the page and declare, Done!; rather, we should look ourselves in the mirror each day and say, Great, I’ve gotten this far, but now the work really has to begin!
Interestingly, this principal of not being overly conceded about past accomplishments, but focusing on future ones, applies toward those living with progressive disabilities, as well. It’s so easy to say, I’ve already coped with so much loss of abilities, now I have to cope with this next stage – it isn’t fair! Again, the way we move forward is not by holding on to the past, but by rising to our present challenges, propelling ourselves into them with all of our might. And, with a progressive disability, one better buy into the truth that forging ahead is the only way to succeed – and to retain a sense of control over one’s life! – or life will become a disparaging mess. Keep sending adversity my way because I will rise to it, not be defeated by it, is a strikingly empowered way to live.
Where our will to move forward begins – or, hopefully, continues – is by asking ourselves, What areas of my life do I need to focus on right now to move forward in real time? And, Where am I dropping the ball or not raising the bar high enough for me to keep striving?
What’s especially interesting about such questions is that they’re easy to ask, but extremely challenging to live up to. And, that’s the point: We have to hold ourselves accountable toward constantly growing, or our lives stagnate. We have to constantly question how we can improve our lives – in both the bleakest and most successful of times – and consistently live up to pursuing the answer with all of our might. Neither the worst nor the best baseball players further their careers by sitting on the bench – they both have to consistently take to the plate and swing the bat.
Since an adolescent, I’ve been asking myself such self-critical questions about how I can continually improve my life, and I’m always striving to live up to the answers. What I’ve learned first-hand is that when striving to live up to our fullest potentials, we never “overcome disability” – life never gets easier, nor should it. After all, when it comes to living with disability, we can always improve at it, just like in living the entirety of life, itself. Sometimes in improving with disability, it’s physically, other times it’s emotionally, and yet other times it’s mentally – but we always have room to grow and improve even further. In the process, whenever we feel like giving up, or fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve succeeded, let us remember that when it comes to living with disability, we must be humble and wise, knowing that our work is never done, knowing that we mustn’t allow life to get easier, but to remain challenging as we improve further – for, as poet, Robert Frost, put it best:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.