Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Yes, you read that title correctly and if you were socialized like I was to see disability as negative, calling it a “gift” just might give you pause. Let me explain, for many years of my life I saw my disability through the lens of limitation. I internalized having a neuromuscular disease as something burdensome only seeing the ways it had restricted my mobility and been a hindrance. It made me fatigue easily which often left me feeling sidelined and dictated daily plans.
It wasn’t until many years later when my disability actually progressed that I began to broaden the scope and consider how my biology had in fact, impacted my biography in so many beneficial ways.
So, in the season of gratitude and gift-giving, I’ve compiled a list of some of the blessings bestowed upon me through my congenital benefactor. I’d be remiss not acknowledging so let me count the ways. *jingle bells*
1. Enhanced parenting skills
As I’ve shared in a previous post, my parenting skills have been enhanced since I was forced to make a work and lifestyle change. I had to consider my new normal and how I would respond to challenge especially with little eyes watching. And man did the internal cleansing began and so did the questions like what I wanted to do next, what I was passionate about, and what kind of legacy I wanted to leave my daughter. I also self-invested a lot more and concentrated on building my self-esteem which was shot and a stronger bond with my daughter. My choices were contemplated with more care. I had been running on empty for so long and in a haze of routine on auto-pilot. Slowing down helped me to refocus and assess priorities.
2. Increased analytical skills
Disability will have you surveying lands and plans and going over every facet of logistics. I inquire about many aspects of planning my day to ensure accessibility and making sure I have the energy required to carry me to completion. I go over scenarios and have back up plans just in case I need to apply another strategy. Since my disability affects mobility and live in the Northeastern part of the country where the weather can be a big factor, I can usually assess if the day will be a win or a no-go. Many of us keep running checklists in our minds, developed customized systems of survival, have adaptability not often seen in mainstream.Trust me you want disabled folks on your team/planning committee/classroom/employment.
3. Meeting some fab folks
I have met so many fierce advocates with cross disabilities who hail from diverse backgrounds and skill sets. Had I not had a disability I might never have had the opportunity to meet such wonderful folks while working in collaborative effort toward beneficial change. I’ve been privileged to be part of projects, and participate in great learning exchanges with folks many whom I now call friends. Also, as a disabled woman of color to meet other disabled women especially of color is critically validating since there is such a scarcity in the mainstream. Finding community in commonality is refreshing.
4. Working for a cause
As a disability advocate, I love that I am able to channel my lived experience to help inform public policy. In my experience, I’ve found that sometimes success is immediate and more often than not it’s the consistent effort coupled with a multilateral approach that leads to long term gains. It feels pretty good being a part of something that is bigger than yourself and has a radius of impact. It almost never feels like drudgery and when it does that’s my cue for a break but mostly it feels like meaningful hobby because I’m invested in what I’m doing. My advocacy is better informed from living with a disability.
5. Getting free valuable research
Back to those fab folks I meet and still do especially online in social media groups. I’ve participated in some great discussion threads where lots of insight, info, and tips are shared from many disabled folks, academics and allies. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about many different disabilities from so many perspectives with intersectionality. I can however assure you the disability community is not monolithic, pretty diverse across the board and many live at or below the poverty line on the lower socioeconomic status. These stories are beyond the binary of “pity” and “pedestal” narratives often seen in the mainstream.
6. Learning how to adapt skills
I’ve learned how to adapt and adjust my environment and put to use my independent living skills. I’ve had structural changes and upgrades to make my living space more accessible which gives an added peace of mind knowing I don’t have to expend more energy and can apply it elsewhere should I need it. Honing your advocacy skills comes in handy; you may need them for yourself!
7. Increased self-awareness
When I think about the evolution of my self-awareness, I realized the rate of expansion sits in direct proportion to progression of my disability and the exposure to others in the active disability community. Transformation began when I evolved from seeing disability through limited scope to a more comprehensive view and that’s when the road to self-acceptance became a lot smoother. I can assure you this did not happen overnight and self-compassion reminders are still needed; I gained a greater appreciation for living with a disability since it permeates all aspects of one’s lived experience and factored in some major decision making regarding housing, education, employment, parenting, social, etc. It’s an important detail. I learned to be more complimentary and less critical. Turns out I didn’t get this far by grace alone, some good decision-making got me here. *winks*
8. Increased compassion and listening skills
This is a big one and I can honestly say that taking the time to listen, and I mean really listening to stories you begin to develop more compassion and patience. You become less dismissive of complaints and begin to realize that sometimes they are really just a cry for help and admission of feeling powerless. Bearing this in mind has been another aspect of sharpening my advocacy skills and learning lessons in building character. I may not always be able to relate to another’s individual experience but as a whole I have developed a deeper appreciation for the body, adaptability, and neurodiversity. The disability community is an assorted showcase; there is no single story.
So that’s my quick list of benefits that come to mind, this is not an exhaustive list however. I find new insight and wisdom almost daily. Now to be clear this doesn’t mean that my life is sans frustration, oh quite the contrary and I confess to cursing a little, OK a lot. This is a demonstration that disability has shaped my experience and helped empower me in ways I’d never dreamed. I’m not really sure who I’d be without it nor how my creativity might be chronicled since my personal mantra and blog site just so happens to be “slow walkers see more.”
I guess the biggest gift of all is embracing a comprehensive me that includes disability in all the glorious forms it manifests in throughout this journey..hmm, I’ll take it. And I think I just heard the herald angels sing.