Why is it so difficult to become willing to accept or be with our disability? And how can we navigate through the impact of not acknowledging that? The less we are willing to be with our disability, the more likely it will lead us to a host of undesirable outcomes and disappointment. What does the pathway from resistance to acceptance look like, and where do we begin?
We start life as vulnerable, free and joyful – think of a smiling, content baby. So where does it all go wrong? When do we start to repress and hide what’s going on for us and how we feel?
When we're young, we have all kinds of hopes and dreams for our life. Our experience of the world is one where things are all about us. As we become part of the community, we start to look and compare and see how we fit in. If there's anything out of place, like disability, it can tend to make us think that maybe there's something wrong or we're different.
This begins our introduction to hiding things that we don't like about ourselves so we can fit in and belong. Let’s call this our shadow. Our shadow represents the parts of ourselves that we keep in the dark, the secrets and lies, blame and shame. They are the parts that take over when we’re triggered, sometimes causing harmful unintended results. That in itself becomes something we don’t like about ourselves, and so our shadow is perpetuated. Ashkan Tashvir describes the shadow well in his book BEING:
‘First articulated by Carl Jung, the “shadow” describes the troubled portions of who we are deep down, the parts of ourselves many of us are either genuinely oblivious of or choose to reject and repress. Jung referred to those aspects of us as “our shadow self”.’
Naturally, we are all unique and have our own perspective on life. And so we begin to create a world view from that perspective and our experiences of life as we develop. This world view includes conversations about self-image and how we fit in and belong.
Disability in the world
One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Persons with disabilities, on average as a group, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities (World Bank, 2021). We don’t know how each of those people relates to themselves and integrates that disability into their world and their life experience. However, I believe that, like me, many are challenged, not just by their disability but also by their relationship with their disability.
An estimated 80% of those billion people have a disability that is hidden, not seen or invisible. Can you relate to this? Growing up, it was not obvious to me or anyone else that I had a disability ‘lying in wait’. But by my early 20s, things became more serious. My disability affected areas of my life in ways that left me feeling out of place and as though I didn’t belong.
So why is it so difficult to be with this? To accept that disability, to own it? Can we be vulnerable enough to bring our defences down, and authentic enough to share openly, be with other people, and ask for help and support? I know this struggle first hand.
Are you willing to let go?
I'm reminded now of the discernment required to let things go or give things up. It is essential to let go of opinions or beliefs or stories that no longer serve or empower you. They may have served you as a defence mechanism in the past, but now they’ve become a barrier to moving forward, and they’re keeping you stuck. So how do we bring unhelpful opinions, beliefs and self-image out into the open? How do we let go of all these thoughts and feelings? How do we even find them? Where do we look?
The magic of awareness is that once you become aware that perhaps you're not as aware as you thought, that's when the journey of discovery begins. So begins the discovery of what's there, what's real, what's true – without the stories, the interpretations, the things we make up and the lies we tell ourselves.
How do we go about forgiving ourselves and others, looking back at all the things we may still be holding on to? Things like resentment, regrets, grudges, opinions and beliefs. What lessons will you learn when you let go of this shadow side of yourself, surrender to it and own and integrate it into who you are and how you are being with yourself and the world?
Each day is new, with discomfort and experiences we never imagined. And yet here we are. So now what? When you can be with yourself, all of yourself – the good, the bad, the ugly, the light and the dark – you will begin to experience peace, acceptance and the opportunity to act in areas you care about. This is the pathway to being a whole, complete, integrated human being.
Anything is possible, but not everything
As human beings, we can accomplish anything we are committed to, but we cannot accomplish everything that there is to be accomplished. It is possible to integrate being disabled with having an extraordinary life and fulfilling all the things that are important to you. But it takes more than just trying to manage your disability; it also takes working on who and how you are being.
For a long time, I have been looking into and studying who and how we need to be in order to be with ourselves. I have explored things like how forgiveness plays a role in acknowledging what you're dealing with, how responsibility plays a role in managing yourself, how it is essential to take ownership for how you impact others, and how you must be vulnerable and authentic in relation to what's really going on. If what I have written resonates with you, I invite you to read more of my articles or reach out if you want to learn more.