Accepting Us All As We Are
As we have been talking about and looking at the inclusion and lifting up of people with disabilities and how we can support them, Lori and I have had some interesting conversations. In one of these, we talked at length about the reasons people have for being uncomfortable around people with disabilities, why we tell our children not to stare instead of talking to them about someone in a wheelchair or missing an arm and discussing how beautiful they are just as they are. One of the reasons we discussed is the fear that can be brought to all of us when faced by the fact that we are all fallible and none of us is perfect.
Where does this underlying fear start? Small children don’t seem to have it. They see people as people, not as color or disability or gender. Although they may be curious about someone with a disability, they are seldom afraid of them. So, when does this come into our lives, and why?
We wonder if some of this is happening because of our society’s incredible obsession with appearance and youth. Models and television actors and movie stars are mostly younger people with seemingly perfect bodies and beautiful faces. We are bombarded with ads for products to make us look younger, better, more attractive, more fit, the list goes on. No wonder we have this need to show no weakness, to hide our age, to keep the not perfect hidden.
In my own life, I have had to face this learned behavior in a very real way. When I was in my early 30’s, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Although my disease is mostly well controlled with medication, and I don’t have any clear outward signs of the disease, it took me many years to fully come to grips with accepting my limitations created by it. Sometimes, I have very few limits, but other days, that is not the case. I spent years after diagnosis denying this, not even letting my spouse or family members know when I really needed help with something. I saw it as a weakness that I wasn’t ready to accept. I felt like it made me less of a person, less useful, less valuable, so I continued to do things on my own, sometimes to my own detriment and causing myself unnecessary pain.
What I have learned and slowly accepted in the years since then is that it is okay for me to ask for help. When my hands are bad and I can’t open a jar or button my shirt, it is okay for me to have my husband do it for me. When my shoulders or elbows are flaring and I can’t quite comb my long hair, it is okay for me to ask someone else to comb it for me. When I just can’t some days, it is okay for me to say I just can’t. It does not make me any less of a person or any less valuable.
In fact, in some ways, for some people that I have met, it has made me more valuable because I have been able to help them through their own beginning journey after being diagnosed with this confusing, unsympathetic, sometimes frustrating disease. It has made me a much better, braver, accepting person, and the people who help me usually get as much out of me asking for the help as I do from asking for it. My disease does not define who I am, anymore than my gray hairs and my wrinkles do, and accepting the limitations that I sometimes have allows me to really see that and makes life so much fuller and richer in the process. As I write this I am realizing that in many ways, it has taught me how to be happy with myself, just as I am, and live my own best life.
That is what I wish for all of us, whether we are physically fit and well or we have some disability due to disease or old age or something we were born with. If we can believe that we are valuable, and see the value in those around us, wouldn’t this be a much more caring, loving world? If we can let go of the idea of physical perfection and youth and grab onto the idea of being the best version of ourselves that we can be and lifting up others to do the same, wouldn’t we all be more content and less stressed? Then, maybe, just maybe, we could lose this fear of disability that can keep us apart and talk openly about the beauty and value in each and every one of us.