There is a series of feelings that a person goes through after acquiring a disability. Not everyone grieves the same and some might experience more feelings than others. I’ve already written about the stages of grief in terms of denial
and what my experience with each stage has been like.
Today I’ll be writing about the final grief stage – acceptance.
Typically, after years of adjustments, people with a disability come to a stage of acceptance. It can truly take many years to accept that a wheelchair is a permanent part of your reality. Reaching a stage of acceptance doesn't mean that you will not have dark periods of anger or depression in the future – those times will come and go throughout life and it’s okay to have those moments. But overall, acceptance means that you have found a way to live a meaningful and happy life despite your disability.
A New Reality
People that have accepted their disability have not necessarily given up hope of walking again. Rather, they have learned to accept their new reality and take steps towards learning to live their life fully with a disability.
It takes years to learn to care for your body, modify your home and decide the best means of transportation for your lifestyle and budget are. Many times, your occupation might need to change, and you might find yourself looking for a completely new career path. These areas of life need to be adapted to your new situation in order to find happiness again.
When your body no longer functions the way it did in the past, you might also have to strengthen other skills sets. For example, you may have to choose occupations and hobbies that use more brainpower. Or, you might need to rely more on your arm strength to get yourself around. Whatever the adjustment may be, the world that we live in is so advanced that there are lots of helpful solutions out there.
Technology is improving the lives of people with disabilities, especially the internet. The internet opens the doors to online support groups, online degrees and the ability to work, play and connect with other people. This outlet can really help a person feel fulfilled and come to terms with acceptance of their disability.
In the first years of using a wheelchair, I was continuously and painfully aware of my wheelchair. I was not comfortable in public places because all I could think about was the wheelchair and people staring at me. I was overly concerned about what other people thought about my disability.
Coming to a place of acceptance was a slow process – it came in bits and pieces. Between two and three years after being shot, I knew I was moving towards the stage of acceptance. I started to become more confident as I grew more independent and did more things for myself. Day by day, I got used to my new routines, and I found joy in these daily tasks. Tasks like bathing, dressing and car transfers became second nature. There were days that I was so busy with college, family events or my work that I forgot that I was even in a wheelchair. I also became less concerned about what people thought of me and realized that most people would accept me without the ability to walk.
My future kept looking brighter and brighter, and I thought less about the past. I realized that although there were many things I could no longer do, there were far more things that I could do.
In all honestly, you may lose people in your life after you become disabled. I had a few friends that would see me on campus and then start walking in the other direction, hoping I didn’t notice. It broke my heart and made it difficult for me to accept who I was.
Eventually, I understood that if a person did not want to be around me for whatever reason, it wasn’t someone I wanted in my life. The way I look at it, they did me a favor by leaving. I started to make many new friends that filled my life with meaning and joy. The bonds with my family became stronger than ever before.
The Disabled Community
One of the best ways of loving your new way of life is to join an organization where you can meet other people with disabilities. Personally, I waited too long to join organizations in the disabled community, but I had to let myself accept who I was before taking that step.
When I began my social work career, I started to interact more with others who had a disability. I enjoyed helping them find resources and learn about their disability rights. I ran support groups at local hospitals and realized how nice it was to talk to others who had the same struggles I had.
Eventually, I joined the board for the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Association of Louisiana
, which opened many avenues of advocacy. I signed up for the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation
newsletters and learned as much as I could about disability rights history. I joined the Louisiana United Spinal Chapter
and became Ms. Wheelchair, Louisiana, in 2018. I won Ms. Wheelchair America
2019, which is a competition wholly based on a woman's history of advocacy. I’m so proud to be a part of these organizations – advocacy is now one of my biggest passions.
I also participate in several online support groups on Facebook. The amount of support and advice that can be found on social media related to disability pride and the rights of people with disabilities is staggering. Today it is easier than ever to find answers to questions you have about living with a disability. A whole world of people with disabilities is a few clicks away on your phone or laptop. It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like without having my community of friends with disabilities.
The amount of time that takes to accept and love life again can be months or years. The process is slow and painful at times, but with the love and support of family and friends, you will find your way. My life is filled with purpose that I don't know I would have had if I never became paralyzed. I find that many people with disabilities find they live a more fulfilling life after their accident or diagnosis than they did before. Now go out and live your best life possible!