The Circle of Life (With a Disability)

Forget Area 51. Don’t worry about crop circles or anal probes. You need not look for UFO’s or any other-worldly phenomenon. The aliens are already among your population. You just haven’t recognized them.

What do they look like? Well, pretty much any person who has a disability is an alien. Anyone who cares for the disabled is maybe an alien, maybe human but definitely controlled by the alien for whom they care.

And I’m not completely joking when I say this. People who are disabled will get what I’m talking about instantly. Those who are fully able will not have a true understanding simply because they cannot begin to fathom a life lived within the confines of disability.

We’ve talked several times here in this blog about how life revolves around our individual disabilities. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, has to be passed through the disability filter before it can be acted upon or allowed. Some things seem obvious: a blind person cannot drive; a paraplegic cannot be a ballerina; an amputee cannot do the usual things a person with all their limbs are able to do. Medical science and technology have come a long way with a variety of devices or treatments that allow a semblance of “normal” to many obviously disabled people.

However. There is a hidden population of people with less obvious, maybe even invisible disabilities. My dear readers, you probably know pretty well what I am talking about. Diseases like lupus, fibromyalgia — and yes, it IS a disease, don’t let some ignorant person tell you differently, not even your own healthcare provider — diabetes, narcolepsy, the list goes on. And on. Far too long, far too many diseases that are disabling the people they affect.

And it’s this hidden group that has the hardest time trying to fit into “normal” society because the rest of the community fails to see the disability. They cannot accept it, cannot understand how it is just as debilitating as losing a limb, eyesight, or any other of the visible disabilities. These hidden folk also have the added burden of trying to continue to function in society as if they were not sick–and frequently paying a dear price for that masquerade.

We grow up thinking that we will always be able to do the things we want to, the things we must do, without any thought about how a myriad of daily activities can be accomplished when the body fails us. Pretty much everyone I know that has any disability goes through the stages of grief as described by Dr. Kubler-Ross: anger, depression, denial, bargaining and acceptance. She originally used these stages to describe the mental processes of someone dealing with death but they are just as applicable to those with disabilities. The catch is, someone with a disability will go through these stages more or less continuously their entire life. They can begin on any step, miss one (or more) to the next step…and just when they think they’ve found the final acceptance, something changes and the cycle begins again.

Anger. Depression. Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance.
Anger at just having this disability, or the group of symptoms that adds up to disability. Anger at your body failing you, anger at not being able to do the things you used to and by association, anger at not being able to make the most casual of social plans (let alone maintain a work schedule) without careful planning and fall back plans. Anger at the cost of disability: doctor visits, medications, peripheral assistance devices (like a scooter or a cane), time missed from work — if you’re even holding down a job. Anger, pure black blind rage, destructive and yet wholly justified. It will eat you alive if you don’t learn how to let go of it and not let it rule you.

Depression. Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance. Anger.
Wow. Depression is a BIG one. First, anger (see above) turned inwards, towards yourself, leads directly to depression. And depression is not the same as sadness. Or feeling blue. It’s not a monkey on your back…it’s more like a 300 pound gorilla. (Which is the average weight of a wild male gorilla–not some random number.) It’s a different shade of black than anger. It’s black like a tar pit, or the utter bleakness of lonely place on a cloudy night. It’s drowning in molasses: slow, messy but inevitably leading to death. It’s being totally ostracized from all society except those who are also disabled with depression. Yes, it is one of the invisible disabilities just by itself–but it frequently hitchhikes on the back of another disability.

Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance. Anger. Depression.
Denial…oh no, not me, uh-uh, no way no how. Can’t be about me, can’t be me. There’s the all too obvious denial of the disability, of the disease/s straight out. But there’s other, more subtle denials. One of my favorites is not accepting how truly limited I am, trying to do something and paying for it in pain the next day. There is always a price to denial and it’s usually a fairly expensive price. Denial is also the failure to explain to the people around you just what life with your disability is like, to help them understand the reality of your disability and to be compassionate when you cannot be who you used to be, B.D. (Before Disability)

Bargaining. Acceptance. Anger. Depression. Denial.
Bargaining is never a good choice when your collateral is…well, negligible. And bargaining directly with your disability is a sure way to lose it all. Bargaining can mean setting a limit on the restrictions…”Okay, I’ll take it easy, not lift and move all those boxes today…then I will go shopping with my friends tomorrow.” I have news for you, Sunshine. You can take it easy, rest up, trying to bank energy against a future activity…and still be too disabled to attend the function, do the task, whatever you were resting up for.

Acceptance.
It is a tremendous blessing to be in a place where you have truly accepted this life of being disabled. It’s a place where you do what your body permits, without pushing the limits. It’s the gentle refusal of an invitation to anything that would smash the limits of your disability and leave you in a state of panic, depression…or just so damned worn out that you must leave and you’ve only been there 30 minutes. Acceptance is the graceful (and grateful) allowing others to do for you things that you cannot do. And knowing that you will (always) be the one who receives and not the giver. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”, we’ve been taught. Well, someone has to do the receiving or there’s no way to give. Acceptance is a balanced, spiritual, sacred–and even happy–state of mind. It only shows up minute by minute, so it’s worth watching for, to be in the state of acceptance whenever you can identify it.

Because…

Anger. Depression. Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance.

It’s a cycle, never-ending but always changing so that you can, perhaps, find ways to skip the first four, acknowledging them but not letting them take charge of your life, to be in the state of acceptance for as often as is possible for you.

Disabilities affect us at pretty much every level of our lives, from being able to dress ourselves through unimpaired functioning at work, through attending gatherings (which strengthen the tribal bonds). Like everyone else, we have lots of choices throughout our day…but ours generally are of a particularly mundane level. Can I take a shower? Can I go out? What do I want to eat, or what can I eat? Am I able to concentrate and focus enough to do a craft, read a book, surf the Interwebs? Can I load the dishwasher, sweep the floor, wipe the counters? We the disabled have to consciously make choices that most people make without a single thought of whether they will be able to do it…or not. Everything we do requires some amount of conscious thought, a directed choice process, always and always weighed against the limitations our disability has bestowed upon us, a cursed blessing that is part and parcel, sometimes an entirety, of the disease/s we suffer from. We do suffer…but we don’t have to stop living–even though some do make that choice, based on all that we have discussed above.

Making it personal now, I will tell you that it has been a bad week for me, state of mind-wise. I have been very depressed (not directly suicidal, but feeling hopeless and without any way out). It hasn’t helped that my body has been particularly achy…or right out painful. I am at the edges of where I can be with my Vicodin…but there’s been no word from the pain management team in San Francisco (our main medical center and not where I receive care) about my getting a Fentanyl (Duragesic) pain relief patch–3 days of level pain reduction and not the roller coaster I ride now. You know, take a pill, wait for it to work, it works then begins to fade out, take another pill, wait for it to work…ad infinitum.  So I am essentially not properly medicated for pain–which technically is against the law, a law I am so thankful for every day of my life.

The weather has been nice, which sort of helped. Beloved made it his mission to help me get a bit out of myself by taking me out to eat. You know, the requirement to dress, get out of the house, be around other people (which is not always a good idea for me, with my social anxiety problems). I can tell you that we’ve had some interesting things happen. Just yesterday, there was a horse, eating the dandelions from my lawn. I don’t live out in the country. I don’t own a horse. I was not aware of any stables nearby. But there it was, big as life (well, of course it would be) and nibbling my lawn. I got to pet Cooper and talk to his rider–and forgot to get a picture. Only in Eureka can you find a man walking his turkey, a horse eating your lawn, “Captain America” doing the walk of shame after a costume party the night before. It’s never boring, that’s for sure. At least, not outside of my own personal funk.

I would definitely describe myself as “at step 2: Depression”, thank you very much, Dr. Kubler-Ross. I am wallowing in the inescapable truth that I am even more limited than I admit to being. I resent the fact that I have to push every decision, every choice or possibility through the triple damned “disability filter” before I can do anything. I am grateful that breathing is NOT one of those choices and I hope that remains true.

Things are being accomplished. I had my intake appointment with my back-up, urgent or acute care doctor–my husband’s care provider and not part of the VA system. We’ve both got referrals out in the medical ether–me for cardiology and acupuncture, him for dermatology. He’s gotten his appointment with same, but not me. Yet. I am in the process of getting the medical notes from the independent evaluation back in March–the office will not, cannot issue those records directly to me. Seems the contract the doctor signed from my insurance company specifically forbids it. BUT they can be released either to my lawyer or my doctor. Guess what? Both of them are requesting the records. I want them in my records because they are part of the history of my disability. My lawyer wants them for further evidence as we move through the SSDI application maze. And either my lawyer or the VA will give me a copy because I want to know what the doctor found and wrote about–especially since it made the insurance company give me a “total disability” status.

I have also been the very grateful and very gleeful recipient of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (tablet). My father loves me a lot! It’s really good for watching movies or Kindle. I’m still getting used to the touch screen, but I must be successful because when I come back onto my laptop, I try to touchscreen things…and then get mad that they don’t move…duh. Uses a mouse, it does! I’m looking forward to a day that we feel up to it, and go to the coffee shop to spend some hours there. My Surface will go with me and I can cruise the Interwebs from there.

I’ve even been doing some cooking–got a recipe for Turmeric chicken that will be a more or less steady item on the menu. Same goes for a recipe of a Szechuan peppercorn marinade, really nommy on pork ribs (country style, no bones). Figured out how to make pumpkin-cranberry bread in my breadmaker. And that will also be repeated–as soon as I can clean out the pan for the breadmaker. We’ve gotten a replacement for the rice cooker we lost in the move and are cranking out rice pretty often–at least once a week, sometimes two.

So I’m blue at about the azure stage–not navy blue. But definitely more blue than pastel blue. And I know that eventually this will pass. I truly suspect a lot of it is based more on the anxiety of pain unrelieved and the “normal” anxiety of income and making the bills. I think that if I can get my pain better controlled, a lot of the side symptoms may leave. I hope.

So thank you for reading this, and I hope that you’re in a good place, a good state of mind.

Namaste!

 

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One thought on “The Circle of Life (With a Disability)

  1. Sandra Busey

    I think the hardest thing for me being totally disabled, is not being able to walk far and therefore not attending my grandchildren’s graduations. I’ve always been a homebody and long ago when my osteoarthritis began, and was the most painful,, was flat out deciding that no matter what pain I had I would ALWAYS walk up two flights of stairs to my bedroom and bathtub! My doctors don’t know how I do it but sometimes you just make up your mind to walk through the pain to get what you want. I love my bedroom, my bed and my bathtub and they are on the third floor.. I have arthritis in my back, neck, hands and both knees. Luckily, not in my ankles or feet. I feel as I drug myself with codeine every night (3 through the night) that if I get my 7 or 8 hours, it renews my legs and I can go down the stairs and on with my life. My house is arranged so that if I walk with one crutch I can hold on to walls and furniture for balance. Going to my kids homes though it’s hard when the railings are on a different side than I’m used to. I do it though. I have found how wonderful people are in stores…opening doors, helping me load the car, smiling at me and wishing me well, always asking me if I need help. I think that surprised me the most….the kindness of people. I don’t think I ever went through depression. I got mad and figured out a different way to survive. A stool in the kitchen, a comfortable recliner that is only mine at the dining room table, crutches that are made to stop the harsh movements of rigid crutches. I wear braces on my wrists at night so my arms don’t go to sleep, wear flat, lightweight shoes, wear skirts that don’t put any pressure on my knees, and it is beyond helpful that my husband and son are here to help which they do LOTS. Being personally terrified of death, I am grateful every day to be alive and able to figure out how to live disabled in an able world. It helps to say my daily “thank you’s” to the universe/goddess/whatever for all the good things little or large that happened to me each day. Blessings to you and your husband as you navigate your way around your new/normal way of living. I know you are strong and will figure it all out and will soon get used to living a different but good, full and happy life. If I can do it, you most certainly can!

    Reply

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