When I was a teenager, I remember watching longingly as my older brother and his friend played basketball. Being armless excluded me from such sports and I was left feeling jealous and angry. Deep down I knew my feelings were fruitless, after all my arms weren’t exactly going to start growing. I decided then that I wouldn’t allow myself to feel that way again. I promised myself to be happy with what I could do and not resent those that could do more.
This resolution didn’t mean I would sit on the sidelines while life passed me by, but rather if my attempts to adapt an activity failed, I would just let it go and adopt a positive attitude. Like the time I went spelunking with my family and the guide refused to let me step over a deep crevasse because he thought I would fall. I knew I would be OK, I probably had better balance than many in the group, but there was no changing his mind. Thankfully my mom stayed behind with me and I got to participate in 99 percent of the cave tour. Or the time my husband and I took our kids to Universal Studios and I was refused a ride on the Jurassic Park River Adventure citing I didn’t have any arms to hold on and would fling forward like a rag doll and hit my head. I saw the ride and it wasn’t really likely that would happen, I just wouldn’t bend that far forward with the safety bar. Yet they let my 4-year-old son, who was less in control of his body go on. I shrugged it off and took the free pop coupons with a half-hearted smile.
Despite these setbacks, I have had many adventures. I have zip-lined as a teenager, gone white water rafting down the Kicking Horse near Golden, BC, Canada and I have climbed a pyramid in Mexico–twice. But my adventures are always tempered by arbitrary rules. After my husband and I went white-water rafting, we tried to go the following year and weren’t allowed. For the most part I have been OK with these disappointments. After all, I have a lot to be thankful for and why be angry about something that is out of my control?
But recently I discovered I wasn’t so good at faking my apathetic attitude when my children started participating in activities that included my husband, but not me. As I wrote this article, my husband and kids were off skiing in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. A hobby I would love to take up again, but due to torn ligaments in my knees, I can’t risk pleasure for my independence.
I am happy for and proud of my children’s new found talents and independence, but unfortunately it has left me feeling a little sidelined. However unfair disability seems,it is more unfair to expect my loved ones to abstain from things they enjoy. So how do you deal with feeling left out, while staying connected to your loved ones? I suggest the following:
Strike a balance.
Over the holidays my family went skiing a few times. Yes, I enjoyed the time to myself, but realistically I would have preferred to ski with them. My husband and I agreed that not all our holiday time would be spent doing activities I couldn’t participate in. Gareth very openly declared to our children that they needed to spend time with mom as well. I suggest having a planned activity.
Don’t hold them back.
In the same breath, holding my loved ones back will only foster resentment. Just because I can’t do something, doesn’t mean everyone else needs to abstain. It is like going to a restaurant and asking everyone to only eat gluten free dishes because you can’t have wheat. I wouldn’t expect everyone to follow the same diet, nor would I expect my family to miss out on rich life experiences. I trust in the love we have for each other and their interests and pursuits don’t define who I am and what I mean to my family.
Don’t mope around or make others feel guilty.
Making my loved ones feel guilty for having fun only damages relationships. It is not anyone’s fault that I was born this way and despite our interest in different activities, we do lots of fun things together as a couple and a family. Even if I can’t personally participate, I can observe and be happy for them. As I wrote this article I was sitting in a ski lodge while my family skied. I didn’t once make them feel bad and I didn’t need to because I was perfectly content to take joy in my children’s accomplishments.
Try to find a way to participate.
Recently I went to a curling activity with my husband. I intended on just observing and socializing while my husband gave it a try. Well, it turned out I could sit on the edge of the rink and push a rock. I totally bombed at it except for one good throw, but I had a great time participating. And yes, not all activities are adaptable, but being present shows my loved ones that I care and am interested in their hobbies. If I hang out at a ski lodge while they ski and we meet up for lunch; I will make the point of asking how their activity has been.
Separate interests are healthy.
Even if I didn’t have a disability, we are all unique individuals with different interests. It is okay to have different hobbies and pursuits so long as you find other ways to connect with your loved ones. Having been married for almost 12 years, I am realizing some time apart is healthy – it makes our time together more precious and valuable.
Have an alternative activity planned.
Once while my family was off skiing I spent the day creating a photo book of the past year, which in the process I discovered a new hobby and realized we had done a lot of fun things during the past year. The worst thing I could have done was stayed home and felt sorry for myself. If your loved ones are going to do an activity that excludes you, then have something else fun planned for yourself.
You are not alone… lots of able bodied people don’t do everything.
I know plenty of able-bodied people that don’t ski or zip line or mountain bike – you are not alone. Although disability can be isolating, it is wrong to think we are the only ones that feel that way and it is fruitless to sit there wallowing in self-pity. When I keep this in perspective, it is a lot easier to see all the good in my life.
The point is, look for the best in a situation, compromise and learn to let go a little. Instead of focussing on the negatives, focus on the positives including how you are going to choose to feel about something. Happiness is a choice and that choice is up to you!
Follow me on Twitter @BareFootInYYC