By Barbara Polan
Everyone has challenges and they span a wide spectrum: medical, physical, psychological, circumstance. And everyone responds differently – from resigned acceptance to fighting mad. I have a physical challenge: I am disabled – half-paralyzed by a stroke two-and-a-half years ago. I have struggled to recover as much function as I can, while the medical community says that I have finished improving, that no stroke survivor does after two years post-stroke. Although others might define my situation differently, I find that my challenge is working hard toward an unknown endpoint.
People often believe that “everything happens for a reason.” By that, they are not referring to the physiology or mechanics of what happened, but rather, the underlying philosophical reason, which makes me look for beneficial results of my disability, positive things that have come out of this nightmare: gratitude, how to be encouraging, appreciation for miniscule improvements, acknowledgement that before the stroke I had the best life ever.
I have a friend who got a brain injury during a carjacking. Although I did not know her before her injury, she is convinced that the reason it happened to her was because she was an irritable person – nearly mean – and that she was misguided enough to fight the carjackers, which is what led to her broken skull. Now she is a sweet, mild-mannered woman I call when I need encouragement. She believes her transformation came about because she needed to learn that material possessions have no importance and that her role is to be kind and to care about others. And she learned it.
After the injury, Bernadette was told that she would never walk unaided again. You know what? She walks without any brace or cane and doesn's even limp. When I met her, I could not tell she's been brain-injured; I just knew that she could not work or drive, but not the reason.
After the stroke I had, a neurologist told my husband that, at best, I would only ever use my paralyzed leg as a peg, and going up and down stairs would be out of the question so I would have to have a bed on the first floor of our house. You know what? My gait is terrible and I cannot lift my knee straight up as though I's marching, but I can bend my knee and I can climb any stairs I encounter – both feet on each step – as long as I have my cane; in fact, I once went up more than 100 steps at an old castle in Sweden; I eventually stopped counting because I had proved my point (to myself).
I often think that the best thing a disabled person can hear is that he/she will never walk again. I have observed that as the best motivator of all; it brings out the “fighting mad” reaction.
A friend told me the story of a man who had a stroke and was told he's never walk again; six months later, he walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.
A disability is like a gauntlet, a dare to accomplish what people tell us is impossible, a challenge to bring out the best in each of us, an opportunity to experience gratitude.
And those who are not disabled should be grateful too.