How we think of ourselves

One thing I have had to come to terms with in recent years is the fact that I am disabled.

Now, it probably shouldn’t have been such a strange concept. My attendance in high school was somewhere in the vicinity of 50%, after all. But I was in the top ten percent of my class. That’s not disable, right? Okay, so college was a series of accommodations for one reason or another, but that was just a difficult phase of life, really. Yes, I have chronic migraines. Yes, I have IBS. Yes, I have ADHD, depression, and anxiety. But I am able to hold a job. I don’t need physical aids to go about my life. I’m not disabled.

There’s two things at play here. One is this idea that disability is visible, that it is extreme, that it is quantifiable in some way. The other is that so many people have it so much worse than I do.

The truth is that my health complicates my life and imposes limits. I am always tired. I have to prioritize my daily responsibilities because they will not all get done. Keeping the schedule, feeding the family, doing dishes and laundry, paying attention to the kids, to my husband, tidying the house, cleaning the house, doing anything for myself so that I don’t go insane, staying up an extra hour so that my brain can calm down from the stimulation of the day. This list gets juggled and reorganized on a daily basis based on how many leftovers we have in the fridge and what got done yesterday, or, rather, how long it’s been since any one thing was done properly. And, oh yeah, hygiene.

That is disability.

Just after I ask whether we can afford a fun thing, but before I ask whether we have time as a family to do the fun thing, I have to ask whether I am physically able to do the fun thing.

That’s disability.

It has to reframe everything. It has to reframe the expectations I place on myself. I am not lazy. I am not less. I am less abled. If I set goals based ‘standard’ ‘reasonable’ expectations, I will always be disappointed. (What do you build your ‘reasonable’ expectations on? The home you grew up in? What you see on television? Your neighbors? I think we all, healthy or otherwise, need to examine our definition of ‘reasonable’ anyway.) I have to set goals based on my strength and limitations and intentionally manage expectations.

Learning where to place your focus is vital in mental health, but it’s also a discipline of the faith. If I’m focusing on all the ways I’m falling short, I’m not going to find the peace God wants me to have. If I learn to take my pain and fatigue and limitations to him and trust him to carry me through, I find it much easier to find that peace.

It isn’t that God made me this way. I have these challenges because my body is broken, because it does not work the way he intended, but he can use the life I have. It isn’t that I expect God to take the pain and heal this body, not until I die or this world is ended. It’s that he’s going to see me through. He’s never going to leave me alone. It’s that he still has a purpose for me.

He can use my experiences and my situation directly and he can use me despite them.

Instead of comparing myself to anyone else, instead of looking at all the things I can’t do or have failed once again to get done, all the ways I’m behind where I’d like to be or all the items left on the to do list, I have to focus on what I can get done, what I have achieved. I have to intentionally practice gratitude and choose to live in the moments with my family.

Instead of living in fear of failure, I need to trust God to open the doors he intends for me and guide me through them. I need to trust God to provide the strength and the support necessary for me to succeed. I need to do the work laid out for, take pleasure from it, and let the rest fall away.

Disabled. Healthy. We all have our challenges. We all have to make choices and practice intentional gratitude. We all have to discipline our focus and manage our expectations. The consequences are just a lot easier for me to see.

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