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PO Box 220751
St. Louis, MO 63122

September 2004

"Defining Disabilities"

We all want to live life on our own terms. To quote a southern friend of mine “We want our ducks in a row” and to direct life the way we want to. While our own choices can influence our life’s outcome, we can’t police the world and prevent some things from happening. Disabilities are one of those variables. Disabilities can happen in any social class, at any age, to any ethnic group, in any occupation, or in other words – to anyone! If you are a person with a disability, you are not alone.

The Americans with Disabilities Act uses two disability classifications: physical and mental. I think a more specific breakdown should be: physical, sensory, cognitive, and emotional/behavioral. Physical disabilities obviously affect a person’s ability to move from one place to another. Sensory disabilities affect our sight and hearing. Cognitive disabilities affect the brain’s ability to process information. Emotional/behavioral disabilities affect an individual’s ability to interact with others. Disabilities like depression, social anxiety, obsessive/compulsive disorders can keep some people from developing relationships, maintaining friendships or exploring new thoughts or ideas. I have a friend with an emotional disability that can’t leave his house. He’s more paralyzed than I am as a quadriplegic.

Living with a disability is a daily grind. I appreciate the fact that I can mentally take care of my body’s physical needs. A more difficult situation occurs when mental strength is lost and people can’t oversee their own care. Usually family members must step up to the plate and help out. After my SUV accident and six months of hospitalization, I moved back into my parent’s home. It wasn’t easy. They lost some of their privacy and I lost my independence so consequently, at times, we got angry with each other. But we some how worked it out. After fifteen months, though, I discovered it was time to bite the bullet and move out on my own. My brother Tom and I had lived together prior to my accident, so we tried it again with help from my parents and our five other brothers and sister. Tom moved out and married his wife Margie at about the same time I met Steve and married in 2000. I still use attendants during the week and Steve does my care on the weekends. I try to spread the responsibilities of caring for my body so that I don’t burn-out my care givers.

A frustrating situation occurs when people who can take care of or help themselves, choose not to. It’s hard to help people who don’t want to help themselves. I’ve seen this happen to newly disabled people and to others during their aging process. They see their situation as hopeless and just give up. They often sit around complaining about how life has done them wrong. But you know what? We are all dealing with something. No one has it easy. Sure others may have better abilities, more money and resources, a bigger family or whatever. But you can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. I have an older friend who has hopped from job to job and is bitter because she has no “career.” She blames every boss she’s ever had for her failings. I met a guy in rehab who told me “I was a jerk before my injury and I’m not changing!” I would hate to be his care giver. A friend of mine who is seventy-eight was complaining about how no visits him or calls. I asked him, “Why don’t you pick up the phone and call one of your friends?” His reply was “If they want to see me, they’ll call me.” WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!

If we want happiness and joy in our lives, we have to work at it. We have to take action. Make life what we want it to be. Create the life you want. I know money doesn’t grow on trees, but there are a lot free things to do. Talking to your neighbor doesn’t cost a thing. Pick up the phone, email a friend, go to the Zoo or the Science Center, sit outside, write a poem or start a journal, call your mom & dad or someone you have wanted to, have a picnic, roll around your neighborhood and just get out.

I get so mad sometimes because I can’t do what I used to. But I see a counselor and take a prescribed anti-depressant. Two resources I highly recommend! I was diagnosed with depression while I was in the hospital. I love the phrase an old friend used to say “Better living through chemistry.” But please don’t start smoking crack or chugging beers.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s out there. So just swallow your pride, admit that life is hard, cry a little and find a loving and supportive resource. Provident Counseling has counselors and their fees are based on income levels. Universities have counseling students you can see for a minimal fee as well.

So please, don’t waste your life wishing and waiting. You’ll end up bitter and full of disappointment. Use this lifetime to gain wisdom from your hardships. We are all carrying baggage and no one is immune from a challenge. I have one t-shirt that says “Life Isn’t Fair” and another that says “Get Over It.” Bad things happen to people everyday, so face the music and find a way to dance!

Katie Rodriguez Banister works with audiences to embrace diversity
through motivational speaking and disability education.

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PO Box 220751
St. Louis, MO 63122