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What I Wish I’d Known the Day Dream and Disability Collided

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February 6, 2015 was the day my dream career and lifelong, but recently diagnosed disability collided. Extremely long and incredibly painful story short, in the months that followed, my life collapsed. Combine that with existing anxiety and depression, and I fell apart. Here’s what I wish someone had told me that day.

1. You are not alone. Everyone tells you to “find your passion and follow your dreams.” No one tells you what to do when they get ripped away from you due to a disability. If you believe commonly quoted phrases like “nothing’s impossible,” this isn’t even supposed to happen. But it does, and no one talks about it. You aren’t the only one to have this happen; it only feels that way.

2. It’s not your fault. I was convinced that I had done something wrong and this was my punishment. No matter how many times I was told it wasn’t, I couldn’t believe that. Your disability is not your fault; the loss of the life you imagined isn’t, either.

3. Prepare for an emotional roller coaster. You are about to experience every intensity level of every emotion imaginable. This is where I realized that society’s philosophy of “choosing happiness” didn’t work for me. I eventually came to the conclusion that peace is a process. Your choice isn’t whether or what you feel, but whether or not you work through it.

4. You may question everything, from your worth and abilities, to what you believe and how the world works, the list of questions bombarding your mind is probably endless. Unfortunately, you may never get answers. Even if you did, they probably wouldn’t satisfy you.

5. Health and coping are key. You may be tempted to drown your sorrows and quiet your constantly spiraling thoughts in substances, junk food, endless hours of mindless TV, or 24/7 use of the internet. Try to maintain as normal and healthy a life and routine as possible. It’s perfectly OK to indulge and find comfort, but letting healthy habits slip too much will make it harder to recover. Find a healthy coping mechanism early, and rely on it often.

6. Appropriate support is essential. When friends and loved ones rally around you, lean on them, but maintain appropriate expectations. There’s no shame in seeking professional help. As much as others can offer support, your well-being is ultimately your responsibility. Also, remember to appreciate and treat your support system with respect. You’re going through hell, but that doesn’t give you the right to mistreat those who choose to go through it with you.

7. There is no timeline. Most people mean well, but they can be less than helpful at times. Whether it’s expectations to get a job immediately, advice to “just get over it,” pressure to hang out all the time to distract you, clichés meant to help you “look on the bright side,” or well-intentioned reminders of how hard what you lost was, their pressure on top of everything else you’re dealing with can be overwhelming. This is your journey, no one else’s. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re doing just fine.

8. Avoid major decisions. When you feel like your life is falling apart, it’s easy to frantically think through every available option for putting it back together. The problem is that desperate decisions often lead to regrets. If a decision or action is unavoidable, consult with those who have your best interests at heart. Otherwise, let the dust settle before taking any major steps.

9. Approach social media with caution. Posting to social media when you’re upset can be a bad idea. You may also find your pages filled with reminders of life before your condition, so it suddenly feel like a constant slap in the face. There might also be questions or criticism from those who don’t know the whole story. Remember, you always have the option to take a break, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

10. Don’t burn bridges. If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that life can be completely unpredictable. Don’t ruin your own, or someone else’s reputation on impulse. Your worst enemy today may be the best person to help you in 10 years. Maintain appropriate contact with your professional and/or academic connections. You never know what’s coming in the future.

11. You will move forward. I know you may not believe me and this feels like the end of the world, but I promise it’s not. You may be a different person after this, and your life won’t look like what you expected, but you will find a way forward.

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Thinkstock image by Tonis Pan.

Originally published: February 24, 2017
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