“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” – Scott Hamilton
These are indeed excellent words to live by. A poor attitude will disable you and isolate you from life. Adapting a positive attitude is essential, but not always easy when learning to live with disability. Having a positive attitude can be acquired, but it is not necessarily something you wake up with one morning. The process of accepting your physical limitations and living with a disability involves a change in your mindset.
The definition of mindset: A fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations. The mindset you need when dealing with physical limitations is to embrace your circumstances (disability). Accepting you are disabled doesn’t mean you are not capable. It is an understanding and acceptance that you have to make changes in the way you do things. Without the acceptance of the reality of your situation, you won’t achieve the attitude necessary to have a fulfilled life.
Over the past five years, I have had my bones in my left ankle sliced, diced and screwed together six times. These surgeries all involved massive pain, leg casts, and many months of full dependence on crutches. I was left with debilitating pain and a permanent disability. I could no longer do the active things I had enjoyed and no longer continue a career I was passionate about. The one thing that allowed me to get through all of this was my choice to maintain the right mindset, my mental attitude towards each situation along my journey.
From the start, having the right attitude was how I viewed needing to be dependent on crutches. I went from being an active person, who did mostly everything standing, to needing a pair of crutches just to get to the bathroom. This was a daunting experience and in the beginning there were times I didn’t think I could tolerate needing crutches another day. The crutches were not easy to acclimate to, but it was my mindset that kept me going. I quickly adapted the mindset that the crutches were not the enemy, but were rather what made it possible to ambulate and remain a productive person. It was the change in my perception of crutches as miserable torture devices to being helpful tools that made the difference and kept my attitude positive.
Later, after going through six surgeries and years of pain to have no resolve, I was left lost and feeling helpless. Maintaining a positive attitude seemed unattainable. I would have never got through six surgeries, years of constant pain, using crutches and losing my career if I hadn’t retained a good attitude. It also took an immense amount of positive attitude to keep going and do the things I had continued to do. At that point getting out of bed each day, taking care of myself and being a parent required a positive attitude. However, this was not enough; my mindset was one of denial of my disability and feeling sorry for myself.
My wife would say, “You need to start thinking like a disabled person.” At the time I didn’t understand what she meant. To me thinking like a disabled person would be giving in and having a negative attitude. I thought the way to maintain a good attitude was to continue to live as if nothing had changed. The problem was that my physical capabilities had changed and they were preventing me from living the way I once did. I was at a road block and unable to move forward with my life. I acted as if I was not disabled, and in the process I was frustrating myself trying to do things that were simply impossible, such as walking without the assistance of crutches. I had the wrong mindset about being disabled; I thought that without the full use of my leg I would live a sedentary life and I wanted the active life I once had back. I was in search of someone to help me, give me a break or make my life better. This mindset was preventing me from healing emotionally and achieving the life I wanted.
Revisiting the many stories of people with much greater disabilities then mine, I realized that accepting my disability didn’t mean I was incapable. I changed my mindset from being an able-bodied person to one with limitations, just as an alcoholic has to realize that they have a drinking problem before they can become sober. I had spent four years living from surgery to surgery in search of a cure. There was no cure; my leg was shot, and at that point there was nothing a surgeon could do for me. So I made the choice to embrace my disability (I prefer the politically incorrect term of “my handicap”) and adapt my life around it. I mourned the way I once had done things and began finding new ways of accomplishing tasks. I readapted my perception of the crutches being helpful tools as opposed to entrapments, and most importantly I was able to take back control of my life. It was then that I began to view life positively and life shined back at me.
I now live happily and maintain a positive attitude towards my circumstances. This is because my mindset is one of accepting my disability and its limitations. Instead of being angry about what I cannot do, I focus on what I can do, and I’m always open to trying new things. My crutches enable me to participate in an active life, I returned to skiing using outriggers, and I found a new career. These things would not have been attainable without the mindset of accepting my disability; therefore I needed to regroup and reassess how I accomplish things. I have accepted that I can no longer achieve in the way I once did, but I challenge myself in different ways, still succeeding in great things. The more I accomplish, the more I strive for and the more success I enjoy. Thanks to my SideStix and the snowshoe attachments for them I am looking forward to trying some snowshoeing this winter. Who would have ever though that someone could snowshoe on crutches! Just as with skiing last winter, I won’t necessarily be trekking the glaciers, but I will embrace the challenge and enjoy being out on the snow.
When you cannot change your physical limitations or circumstances, embrace your disability. This new mindset will open a world of new possibilities.
“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” – Kahlil Gibran
Read 8 Steps to Accepting Your Disability for more details on how I achieved the correct mindset.