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Would a disability make you better or bitter?

Posted on Monday, August 2, 2010 in Advice, Divorce, Happiness, Honesty, Kat, Relationships, Self image

I’d gone into uber-Kat mode this weekend; Roxy and I took a long hike, I did a yoga class, I’d danced like crazy, and then Sara and I hopped on our bikes for a long ride out to West Marin.

That’s when something went wrong. My legs got all freaky on me.

“Ow, my legs are cramping up,” I said as I pedaled fast to catch up with Sara.

“Let’s stop so you can stretch them.”

So we did, and after resting, splitting a Luna bar and ogling some awfully — or wonderfully — fit and attractive cyclists as they sped by, we got back on our bikes.

Two minutes later, and my legs were a mess.

“I’ve never had a pain like this before,” I moaned. “What if it’s something serious?”

“Maybe you have MS or something.”

“What the hell, Sara?!”

“OK, OK. I was just being stupid. You probably just pushed yourself. You’re not that young anymore, you know.”

That was supposed to make me feel better?

Not that I’m obsessive or anything, but for the rest of the painful ride home, I thought, what if?

What if I had MS?

What if I was no longer able to do the things I love?

What would I do?

Would I still have the strong will to live and thrive? Or, would I feel trapped in a body and a world that didn’t understand me?

On the plus side, there’s lots I love to do. Much of it is cerebral; I’m a daydreamer, a yapper and a reader. But, what I love the most is moving my body in big ways — hiking, biking, dancing, walking, swimming, kayaking — and small ways — cooking, gardening, goofing around on guitar —  and perhaps the best way: sex.

What if all that was gone?         

For a while, it was. There
was a period in my life when
I was in a wheelchair. I learned a lot about myself and the world from that experience; even though I wouldn’t go out of my way to be back there again, it
helped me see the world from a different perspective.

Of course, the world viewed me differently, too — I got more smiles and kindness,
as well as pity, than I
probably deserved. And what the hell was that about?

Probably because most
of us feel awkward in the presence of someone who’s not “normal” like us, although we don’t often know if someone’s disabled if it isn’t clearly visible.

It made me think — who’s the real disabled one here, me or others with their closed minds?

Thankfully, it wasn’t permanent, so I didn’t care — anyone can endure anything if it’s temporary.

But, what if?

I’d like to think that I wouldn’t let my disability define me, that I would use it to make me better, stronger, more focused on what matters, like Stephen Hawking, Helen Keller, Beethoven and hundreds of others.

That’s how we kinda want disabled people to be; somewhat heroic.

But maybe I’d just be pissed off and bitter, and on top of it feeling guilty and ashamed about that attitude because so many others haven’t been pissed off and bitter — they accepted it, embraced it, rose above it.

Maybe I’d just be a disabled mess.

Of course, I think back to the time right before and after my divorce — a pretty messy time emotionally. It’s easy to become a physical mess, too — you’re either eating too much or not enough, you can use booze as a crutch, you can stay immobile in bed all day, you can put yourself in all sorts of “who cares, anyway?” risky behavior.

I’m so thankful I came out of my divorce intact and healthy. Not everyone does; some people live with the scars of their divorce as much as anyone who’s permanently disabled.

It’s silly to imagine what you would or wouldn’t do if you were suddenly disabled; we really have no idea what it’s like (even if we have close friends/family who are), and we often think we’d handle things better/worse than we actually do.

I sure hope I don’t have to face that challenge. Ever.

But as Sara so indelicately pointed out to me, I’m not that young anymore. Aging naturally takes away or reduces many of our abilities; eyesight, memory and lately, the collagen in my skin! And, my friends, aging is permanent.

So when people ask me why I seem so happy all time (which I’m not, really), all I can say is, I’m still able to do all the things I love.

What a blessing that is!

  • If you’re living with an illness/disability, has it given you a new perspective?
  • Do you wonder, “What if?”
  • Do you think you’d thrive or crumble?

You also might want to read:

Dating with cancer

Able and willing, but is everyone else?

Photo © Csati –

Bring on the comments

  1. PH says:

    There were several times I couldn’t use my arm. Other times I couldn’t walk for a month. Many times I sprained my legs/feet running. And after we had a son, my wife lost interest in sex.

    I’m like you Kat. I have a lot of energy, and sometimes I hurt myself doing something that I love. To be constrained from releasing my energy is torture (sex is the most painful one).

    But I learnt that there was always, always, always something to make up for the loss. And somehow it benefited me. When I couldn’t use my right arm, I forced my left to do the chores (I was born righthanded; now I’m an ambidextrous). When I couldn’t walk, I read (OK, this is different, but still I read a lot of good literatures). When I can’t have sex, I hop on a treadmill and beat the hell out of myself (that way I am healthy AND keep myself faithful to my missus, because when I’m beat up, I don’t think about sex =).

    So don’t worry too much. Life’s too short. Our body will degenerate, that’s a fact. But there are things to replace what we lose. Instead of worrying “what if”, why don’t we think how to compensate the loss. I’m sure you’ll be happy all the time for real.

  2. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    I wonder if you needed some electrolytes! I’ve been reading more about that because it’s really hot here (108 today) and yet we still wanna get out and exercise.

    Anyway, I’m with you. I’d like to think that I’d eventually want to overcome a physical disability as I’ve overcome emotional issues. I’m sure I would have my bitter moments but eventually? Maybe?

  3. Dan says:

    I’d like to think that I could overcome/deal with a physical disability, as I am very much a creature of the intellect. The pursuits of the body–(chuckles darkly) with certain exceptions, ‘natch–just do nothing for me, never have.

    If my mind was negatively affected however, then I would hope to retain enough capacity to end my existence. I couldn’t live with that, knowing that I’d lost–if I may say so myself–the best and strongest part of me.

  4. BigLittleWolf
    Twitter: BigLittleWolf

    I watched my mother disappear into a black hole of bitterness and self pity – when she was young and relatively healthy. It’s an ugly place. It’s ugly for those around you.

    As she grew older, it grew worse. Time (and obesity) took their toll, increasingly restricting her life. More bitterness.

    Over the past few years, a car accident and some other things have (including poor medical care) have reduced my physical capacities. Considerably. I hate it, but it is what it is, and I offset my reality with the fact that I know it could be much worse. I also know there is joy in the world, and bitterness vs joy is – to me – a choice. At least partly.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days. There are. But you tuck them away and keep them in perspective. Feel what you feel, and remember that you’re part of a human community in which it’s natural to age, and accidents and illness are part of the equation. A little perspective allows for enjoying what you can still do, rather than focusing on what you can’t.

  5. Kat Wilder says:

    PH — This is so true, there are things to replace what we lose. We are a lot more adaptable that we think. Still, if it came to sex …

    T — 108?!? We have … fog, fog and more fog. Yeah, I’d overcome it probably; still would wanna have a pity party first!

    Dan — Yeah, if my mind was not OK, I’d have a lot of trouble with that. And, damn, that’s the longest blog name I’ve ever seen! 😉

    BLW — Sorry that was your mom’s experience. Seeing someone like that does help one’s own perspective. The “bad” days make the “good” ones so much better; how boring life would be if everything were “good” 24/7.

  6. Dan says:

    It’s actually a “quick-note:” Kinda a Twitter-ish thing that Multiply can do when you don’t want to make a full blog-post.

    I hadn’t any idea it would copy the whole damned thing (and screw up the punctuation and em-dash breaks)!

    It would be rather long for a “Tweet,” though, too.

  7. The Observer says:

    Kat, I’m fairly sure that if faced with a debilitation you’d soldier on. Seems to be in your nature. If I’m any judge of character, that is.

    Having had a scare with cancer that altered my physical being in a most unpleasant way: prostate cancer and loss of the “juicy bits” — as the Brits would call them, I was forced to decide if I was going to persevere or go dark. I elected to find some gold in the shadow. Not easy. I’m no hero, either.

    A neighbor is in process of wasteing away with ALS. Hard for the family to deal with and certainly puts my little difficulty in perspective. Like your “aging is permanent” statement, ALS has zero recovery. I hate the fact that none of my life’s ups and downs are in bed, like poster “LH” similarly reports, and that’s not likely to change, either, for me anyway.

    Loss of limb, sight, mobility, mental capability, a child, or a relationship, all test us to the core. We discover a higher tolerance for pain, invent ways to pave over our discomfort (excercise certainly has a side benefit) and find ways to connect more with others–perhaps we become kinder and more tolerant of others along the lines of “don’t sweat the small stuff”.

    Pitty parties don’t require a special invitation and I’ve fought my way out of all of them even when they resembled a knife fight in a phone booth–non-visible scars. The most important part is to own your anger, shame, and fear and not project it onto other people. My ALS afflicted neighbor has shut themself away from friends and all but immediate family and medical providers. Its not for me to say that is a good or necessary step. Each of us chooses how to maintain our dignity.

    ps. I voted for you in your poll–but I’m really a great admirer of you–not a stalker 🙂 Cheers! T.O.