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Why I Talk About Adapting to Disability, Not 'Overcoming' It

While participating in a virtual group art therapy session, another client brought up quotes that mean something to her that she has been putting in cards to send to the VA. One such quote was, “Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” –Joshua J. Marine. At that moment, something felt off in me and I started discussing how that quote made me feel.

Let’s start with some relevant definitions:
Meaningful: having significant quality, implication of a hidden or special significance.
Overcoming: to get the better of, to gain superiority.
Adapt: to make fit, often by modification.

This quote made me uncomfortable because I will never be able to overcome some things in life, no matter what I do. When challenged to give an example of something I will not overcome, the first thing that came to mind was my cerebral palsy, a more or less unchanging physical disability I’ve had since birth. Even with the many years of Botox injections, stretching casts, surgeries, and PT, I will never overcome CP. I will never be able to get the better of, the upper hand on CP. I will not defeat cerebral palsy and that is OK.

To me, overcoming means doing something in spite of having a disability. That gets mixed in my head with inspiration porn. If someone is going to do something, it should be because of an internal drive they have and not because they saw someone with a disability do it first. I’m just trying to live my life as any person would. Don’t use me as inspiration to try harder or start something new.

I don’t function without CP. I will never do anything in spite of CP because it will always be a part of everything I do. CP makes me who I am. Having a disability either directly or indirectly influences everything from how I physically maneuver in the world to how I think and interact with other people.

One of the other clients attending the group has a brain injury. Her reaction made me feel heard. Her response was that although she will not be able to overcome her injury, she can adapt. She can make things work for her with modifications, and I can do the same. I do the same every day even if I don’t realize it. I adapt to how my life is different and I make the most of it.

I adapt by recognizing my limitations and l live within them while slowly trying to reduce those restrictions. I adapt by seeing a therapist. I adapt by wearing my AFO when I walk long distances. I adapt by continuing to work out to allow my body to perform at its highest level, even if that is not what society would consider “normal.”

I am slowly starting to become part of a group of people who are proud to be disabled, who prefer to be disabled because it makes us who we are. Disabled isn’t just a word, it’s an identity. Overcoming challenges doesn’t make my life meaningful — having the ability to adapt to the challenge does.

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Getty image by Arata.