View From My Wheelchair: Weighing Your Words

 

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Seeing an aquaintance, I smile.  We have both been busy and have not had the opportunity to hug.  I am glad to see her.  She looks great.

“I like your haircut,” I say.  “It looks cute on you.”

“You need to stop losing weight,” she replies and touches my cheek.  “You don’t want to lose too much weight.  Your face will get too thin.”

“Is that a compliment?  Because I feel great.”

“Well, just stop losing weight because you don’t want to lose more.”

For most of my life, I was thin.  In fact, when I was 16 years old, I went on a weight-gaining regime.  With the research available at the time, I tried a 3,000 calorie/day diet.  It was crazy – peanut butter sandwiches and strawberry sundaes prevailed.  The result: a rash from too many strawberries and no significant weight gain.

After the failed experiment in trying to gain weight, I resigned myself to being angular, lanky, and thin.  As I matured, my metabolism slowed down, and I filled out.  Eventually, in my middle years, my weight was within a healthy range.

Muscular dystrophy changed everything, and the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Even with a 1,300 calorie/day diet and regular exercise, I gained more than 20 pounds in two years.  I knew that my disease was making mush out of my muscles.  So, I resigned myself to the weight gain while I still adhered to counting calories.

Noticing the toll on my energy and mobility with each pound gained, I struggled to lift myself and walk short distances.  A new cycle was formed: less mobility – weight gain – fewer calories burned – weight gain – less energy – weight gain.

Then, one day, I decided to seek the advice of my friend, Beth, who adheres to an anti-inflammatory, gluten-free diet.  My motivation had nothing to do with weight.  Even though I was already adhering to a healthier food approach, I was interested in the gluten-free aspects of her lifestyle.  Armed with experience and knowledge, she filled me with delicious bites of information.  Venturing into the world of glycemic indices, food additives, and alternatives to refined sugar, I discovered new food combinations that are beneficial and nutritional.  I am glad that I decided to ask her for help.  My friend has been instrumental in guiding me on my personal journey to a new lifestyle and has been my recipe guru.

Quite the opposite of my failed experiments with calorie counting, the switch in my approach to my food intake has had positive results.  I feel better.  Just recently, I painted for two hours.  May not sound like much to you, but I was down to painting for 30 minutes at a time.  Even though my energy is still low, I do not feel fatigued all day long.

Another gain from the change in my diet is that I have lost 23 pounds in seven months.  Along with the nutritional benefits to my body, I am convinced that my weight loss is contributing to my increased energy levels.

I am happy.  More energy, less weight to lift, and feeling productive have all given me a boost.  The quality of my life has improved.


The encounter, I described at the beginning, with my acquaintance is not an isolated event.  Startingly, people feel free to make negative comments on my weight loss.  What gives?  According to my doctor, I am within the ideal weight range for my age, height, and gender.  Nevertheless, rather than complimenting me on losing weight, some people feel the compulsion to complain about it.  Funny, they don’t tell me I have lost too much weight; they tell me I might lose too much.  How do they know?  Do they realize that what they say hurts me?

As a disAbled person, I am forced to live in a world of neurotypical patterns and ableist attitudes.  Every day is a struggle.  Speaking for everyone who is facing tribulations: We are wounded warriors.  Please restrain from offering unsolicited advice on what we need to do or do not need to do.  The old adage: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all should be your mantra when engaging with a disAbled person.  Positive words are welcome.  Negative words are damaging.  Be an encourager.

Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
Proverbs 16:24

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Which Came First? Expectations or Beliefs

Seed of Change Cropped
“Seed of Change” oil painting by Rose Wolfe

Several years ago, I came to the stunning realization that I was wasting my life.  My pre-judgments were determining my perception of events.  I should have figured this out long ago, but I was too busy reacting.

You’ve done it, too.  Someone looks at you.  You interpret the look, and, boom, off you go with your emotions riding high.

We have a predilection to interpret events based on our assumptions.  In fact, we will often lie to ourselves.  “I am right.”  We tell ourselves. No reason to test the veracity of what we think.  Humbleness is a lost art – if it ever was an art.

I wonder, do we have the capacity to be less reactionary?  Why do we jump from perception to conclusion?  What dusty rooms in our collective minds need cleaning out and rearranging?

Every time we agree or disagree with someone, we are reinforcing a belief – the unspoken adherence to a system of truths.  Most often, we do not bother to test out our theories before we adopt them as truth.  It is this factor alone that bothers me the most.  I know I am guilty as charged.  Yes, I have a trailer truck of conviction debris that I am pulling along behind me.

Acknowledgment is good, but how do we unshackle ourselves from our burden of labeling others (and ourselves, also)?

Let’s start at the beginning.  How would we describe our childhood, our adulthood?  What did we expect to happen along the way?  What do we believe to be the reasons behind the events of our story?  Come on, we all have a story.  We have written it and are now living it.  It is our reality.

The next part gets tricky.  Our reality feels very real to us, but it is not reality.  Huh?

I don’t know which came first, expectations or beliefs.  What I do know is that they are circular.  Our expectations and beliefs drive each other.  The end result is our reality.  Nevertheless, we can change it.  How?  By changing them.  Challenge our expectations, beliefs, and interpretations.  It may feel as if our landscape is quicksand, but we are not stuck.  The way out is through the pathway of self-examination.

The journey to a new reality begins with a reinterpretation of our story and, by default, a redefinition of our personal reality.  Start telling yourself new stories.  Not only who and what you are, but tell yourself new stories about the guy you pass every day.  You know, the guy begging for money.

How would you describe him?  Have you written him off as an alcoholic, a druggie, a bum?  What if you are right?  Does it matter?  Does it relieve you of compassion?

One time, I was sitting in my wheelchair waiting for my husband to pick me up after a doctor’s appointment.  It was a beautiful summer day, and I rolled over to a nearby park.  Across the street was an elitist residence tower for the rich and wannabe famous.  My book was tucked behind me in a bag just out of reach.  As the noble walked by, staring straight ahead, I attempted to get their attention.

“Excuse me.”

“Wait, I don’t want any money.  I just need . . .”

“Please, could you . . .”

Over and over again, I tried.  Not one person even turned their head.

Finally, a little woman pushing a shopping cart piled high with plastic bags, shuffled over.  “Do you need help?” she asked.

“Yes, would you reach into my bag and get my book out?”

She reached in, handed me my book, and smiled at me.

I smiled back.

 

 

The Social Construct of dis.a.bil.i.ty

Disability.  Dis-ability.  disAbility.  Dis.a.bil.i.ty.

Reclining Man
Charcoal sketch by Rose Wolfe

 
I have a label.  It is dis.a.bil.i.ty: an impairment of function.  You might think that it doesn’t matter.  After all, there is nothing tragic about wheeling around in a wheelchair.  You’re right.  Until I try to become part of the world around me.

Making the decision to participate in the public arena takes courage.  Frequently, people react to my presence with patronization, irritation, intrusive gazes or disregard.  In effect, I am marginalized.  Garnering the strength to face the pity, hostility, and condescension requires planning and determination on my part.  The effort is physically and emotionally
draining.  Sometimes, I do not have the fortitude to face another day wherein not only am I struggling with my impairment, but I am also wrestling with a myriad of social barriers. Even with ADA requirements, society functions with the assumption that everyone is healthy and non-disabled.  Although, the most egregious barriers are the unacknowledged prejudices that are prevalent in society.

Recently, I went out to lunch with a friend.  The bathroom (which had the compliant ADA handicap symbol) was not large enough to accommodate my wheelchair.  I had to use the facility with the door to the stall left open.  This humiliation is not an uncommon experience.  Many times, public facilities lay claim to being compliant, but in reality they are not.  Checkout counters are blocked by display cases, napkin holders are out of reach, doors are without an activation control button, and stairs are without ramps.  Physical barriers prick my energy, but the subtle hostility of people lance me and drain me of all tolerance.  I am constantly confronted with the stranger who is prejudiced against anyone who needs special treatment.  There is an unspoken expectation that my needs should not be greater than theirs.  They are jealous that I get a special parking spot, that I need chairs moved out of my way, or any number of other disruptions to society’s organization of how things should work.  I am stigmatized.

These struggles are not mine alone to bear.  They are borne by all who have a dis.a.bil.i.ty.   Bearing this socially construed label brings harm to the psycho-emotional well-being of all of us who have been, are, and will continue to be stigmatized.  We are battered by the demand to be un-disabled.  However, the struggle against an affliction (which limits our ability to function) is light in comparison with the feelings of being worthless, a failure, burdensome, and crazy.  If we are not careful, we will be brainwashed and internalize the oppression that we face every day.

How often do we try to pass as being able?  How often do we excuse rude behavior?  Are we allowing our self-esteem to be damaged?  We know that our caretakers get drained and that the public does not understand our daily battles.  Therefore, we feel pressured to accommodate the abled individual.  The result?  A loss of our value.  The hidden emotional toll of anxiety and loss of community burrows into our heart.  Another energy drain.

Rather than being disabled, we need to disabuse the public of their labeling system.  As another blogger (Tony Single) stated, “Labels are not for people. ..We’ve lost touch with our hearts.  Our identities are rubber stamped.  Society dictates our self worth.”  (unbolt.wordpress.com.)

Not only do we need to change society’s understanding of who we are, we need to stop our own madness.  We are not our disease.  All of us are functionally limited.  Working together, we can empower the individual to become part of the whole.  For we are a socially-conscious unit, and what we do to each individual has an effect on the whole.  There is a Bible passage that states this concept eloquently:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we consider less honorable, we treat with greater honor. And our unpresentable parts are treated with special modesty, whereas our presentable parts have no such need.

But God has composed the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (I Cor. 12:21-26.)

The Truth is relevant.

 

 

The rePurposed Life

The rePurposed Life

When I started writing this blog in February, I wanted to engage the topic of living outside of our disAbilities. After all, everyone struggles with a disability and not all struggles can be neatly categorized (nor acknowledged by the afflicted).

My disAbility is obvious. Your eyes rivet to my rolling chair as I enter the room. The first seconds of meeting, we negotiate a social awkwardness.  Eventually, I come up with a  lighthearted quip, hoping to put everyone at ease. With children, it is different. They stare at me until their parent becomes uncomfortable. I don’t mind their straightforwardness. They are real and honest with curiosity.  As our eyes meet, I smile and try to elicit a response. It allows me to engage with them about their unanswered questions.

Anyway, because I have failed and succeeded in my new role as a physically disabled person, I thought my focus would be on encouraging anyone who is struggling. My mistake was focusing on “disabilities.”

My life is not about my physical and mental limitations. It is about finding a rePurposed Life. Moving forward from a scared child to a petulant youth. . .until, finally, an earnest adult. But my disease changed me further.  It was another twist in the narrative of my life’s story – a page turner.

Because of (and in spite of) muscular dystrophy, I reexamined my life again. I found it wanting – lacking vision.  What did I desire?  Over and over, I asked myself to define my purpose. The answer exploded in my heart as I watched one, two, three, four, five people die. What legacy did they leave?  What legacy did I want to leave? To love others (family, friends, neighbors, enemies) and to encourage them.

Yes. It was time to take the focus off of me, the petulant youth who never grew up. I want a life that has meaning – with God centered.

No preaching. No condemnation here. Just honest conversations about how we think and what we do.

So, I am thinking about renaming my blog from Living Free with Disabilities to The reRepurposed Life. (The url will remain http://livingfreewithdisAbilities.com.) What do you think?