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Letting Go of the 'Could Haves' and 'Should Haves' When You're Disabled

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This past Saturday, my husband and I picked up a large fish tank someone was giving away. We already had two smaller ones, but this new tank meant we could combine all of our fish back into one like we once had it. It was quite an ordeal to fully take down two tanks and set up a third, so by the time we were finished, I was feeling quite accomplished. I wanted to celebrate as if it were a holiday, but couldn’t think of a nearby holiday to attach it to. So I did a search of holidays for the day, hoping to playfully mark the day by wishing my husband a happy random holiday or another.

After a brief search for holidays that fall in July, it turned out that it was Toss Away the “Could Haves” and “Should Haves” Day, which falls on the third Saturday of the month. Though I had never heard of this holiday before, as someone who is disabled, it resonated with me on a personal level. Tossing away my should haves and could haves is something I have had to do in order to fully accept my diagnosis and disability status.

Everyone has dreams, goals, and expectations. Actions such as going to college, accepting a specific job, or having a child all have ramifications, but we generally accept those repercussions as the price of our choices.

However, nobody chooses to be disabled. Nobody wants to have limitations, or to discover that you can’t accomplish everything you once hoped to do. In many ways, being or becoming disabled can feel like being robbed of your hopes, dreams, and potential future. Not surprisingly, that leaves you with a lot of should haves, could haves, and regrets.

Along with my disability diagnosis, I have had to accept that some previous dreams and goals I once had are no longer within reach. I had to acknowledge and accept that I now have limitations. But I also had to realize that just because life may not have turned out how I originally hoped or planned, that does not mean I can’t still have a good life. Going forward, I needed to reevaluate expectations, adjust to realistic goals, and find new sources of happiness that better fit my life.

Being disabled does not mean I have lost my life altogether. I am still very much alive. My life is just different than I once imagined it would be. I had to come to terms with this change, allow myself to mourn what used to be, and find a way to forge a new life ahead. Not bad, not worse off, only different.

I personally have a mental disability, in particular major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. There is a great deal of unpredictability to my illnesses. I never know when a bad day will hit, or how long it will last. There are days I feel like I am drowning in my emotions, and on other days I am virtually numb and unmotivated. I spend so much of my time battling my own mind that I’m often unable to do much else.

Over the years, I’ve beaten myself up more times than I can count for my long list of should haves and could haves. I’ve told myself again and again that I should have been able to do more, could have made more of myself. But the reality of it all is that I am disabled. My functionality is limited by my illnesses and no amount of brow-beating or should haves and could haves can change that fact.

I have made peace with my diagnosis. I accept it as part of who I am. It does not define me, however. It is only one fragment of who I am. Having a disability does not mean I cannot have goals or dreams, only that I have to take my disabilities into account when forging them.

I used to dream of making a difference in the world, of teaching or helping people. While my disability has hindered finishing college, and having my own classroom is now out of reach due to the severity and unpredictability of my illnesses, I can still aim to educate and help people through my writing, with my focus changed to mental health. I may not be fully functional every day, but I have learned to make the most of my good days, and to be gentle with myself, doing what I can when I can on all the other days. My life may not be what I once envisioned it to be, but I can find other ways for it to be fulfilling.

My husband and I both had a good and productive day the other day, worthy of celebration. In all honesty, regardless of the limitations my disability has put on my life, I have had a lot of blessings and many things to celebrate in the last few years. It seems fitting that our good day fell on Toss Away the “Could Haves” and “Should Haves” Day because that in itself is something worth celebrating. By throwing away the should haves and could haves of my past, I am able to move forward building a life that better fits the reality of my future as someone with a disability.

Accepting a disability diagnosis and letting go of the should haves and could haves doesn’t mean we have to give up on the possibility of happiness or fulfillment. We cannot change our past or our diagnosis, but our future is ours to determine. We can still have dreams, goals, and aspirations. We can still strive to be the best version of ourselves. We can still build a happy life, and one that better suits our lives, our disability, and our future.

Getty image by Vilde Indrehus

Originally published: July 27, 2022
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