You Don’t Have To Be Inspirational All The Time

Sometimes, being inspirational can be exhausting.

On August 2, 1999, I was paralyzed in a ranching accident. At 16 years old, I had big dreams for my future, and none of them included a wheelchair. I realized early on that people were naturally uncomfortable around my disability, and to compensate, I developed a visible positive attitude and slightly twisted sense of humor. Although this sounds like a reasonable choice, it masked an inner turmoil that I felt I had to hide from an able bodied world mostly void of understanding to my newfound situation. I didn’t want my perceived depressed or negative attitude to cause me to be lumped in the same category as “those stereotypical handicapped people” who never left their homes, always looked unhappy, and existed on food stamps and cigarettes.

I had a lot to learn about being a member of the disability community.

Seventeen years later, I have finally come to understand that it is okay to admit that there are days where my disability gets the best of me. While I make a living as an inspirational speaker, I still have bad mornings where it is all I can do to get out of bed. But for some reason, I don’t often talk about them. Maybe I’ve felt it wouldn’t do any good to focus on the negative aspects of my life. Perhaps I’ve been afraid to be that open for fear of being misunderstood or judged. Could it be that I am like a lot of people, and deep down, we just want everyone to like us?

Over the last few months, I’ve had some amazing conversations with friends who also live with a disability. Because we are close, we feel safe enough in these relationships to share openly about our struggles. We can talk about everything, including the fact that sometimes, life with a disability sucks in a big way. And it’s okay to admit that without being weak or defeatist.

I will never forget a conversation I had several years ago that has always bothered me. Someone told me that during a specific competition, women were asked, “If you could wake up tomorrow without your disability, would you do it?”  If you answered “no,” you were heralded as a strong individual who had accepted her place in the disability community. If you dared say “yes,” you were frowned upon as someone who was ashamed of their disability.

I often think about this question, and depending on the day, my answer is different. Some days I am able to share my story and help others to heal and grow. I get to travel and meet awesome people who challenge me and encourage me to continue my advocacy. I am given opportunities to experience new adventures that include my supportive husband and adorable daughter. I immerse myself in the outdoors and adaptive recreational equipment. I feel like I am right where God wants me to be to fulfill my mission. These are days where I wouldn’t change my life with a disability for anything.

And then there are days where I wake up and my feet are so swollen that I can’t get shoes on, and I worry about another potential blood clot. Days when I am out running errands and realize that I can’t get into the building I need because there is no ramp. Days where my daughter wants to run around outside and I feel guilty for my clumsy attempts at “normal” play. Days when I find out that I have to switch my medications AGAIN because my insurance policy has changed, and I hear about another friend getting the news that Medicare has denied her custom wheelchair and she has to start over with the disheartening process.  Days where I get emails from people living with a disability who can’t find a job, can’t rely on their caregivers, can’t get the education and training they need, or live in fear that they will always be and feel alone. Days where the pain makes it hard to keep smiling. Those are definitely days where I would give anything not to struggle with my disability.

We are all on this journey called life, and although God promises to not give us more than we can handle, sometimes it feels like He is taking us so close to the edge of our capacity to endure that we might slip over the line. It is in those times that I remember that He also promises to never leave us, and that it is His strength that is sufficient.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t still be hard days. Maybe you live with a disability, and you have many more good days than bad. Maybe you are newly injured or diagnosed, and you are struggling to draw a breath to simply make it through the next hour. No matter where you are on your journey, you are not alone, and you don’t have to explain or apologize for where you find yourself. Don’t ever let someone else guilt you into feeling like you owe the world constant inspiration just because you have a disability. Be honest about how you are feeling and what you need to be as independent as possible. On days where you can’t find the strength to fight for yourself, let alone fight for others, reach out and let someone else help you shoulder the burden.

If I have ever led anyone to believe that my life is perfect 24/7, I apologize. While I am at a place where my good days far outweigh my bad, and I am in a position to feel like I can turn around and reach back to help the next person, that could be temporary. I look around, and I know I have much to be thankful for, and that others deal with issues that I may never understand. But tomorrow is another day, and I might need to call on my friends in the disability community who understand what my life is like on a daily basis. I always want to be honest about my life, and I hope others feel that they can open up to me as well. Because there are many who want to make a positive difference and inspire others, but at times find themselves struggling to constantly keep it up.

I know, because I am one of them.

What about you?