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The Lesson From Granny That Still Guides My Life With a Disability

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2017 is a very exciting year for me, but goodness has it started on a low, having lost an incredibly special member of our family. My Granny recently left this world, aged 90, after a 10-year battle with dementia – she fought a very good fight and is now at peace, no doubt drinking some sherry with Poppa, the love of her life!

As one does after losing someone special, I have spent a lot of this week reflecting on Granny – the wonderful person she was, the good times we had and the things she taught me growing up. The wisdom she shared with me is incredibly pertinent for the stage of life I find myself in, and there is one particular nugget I wanted to share.

“Life is not a competition, Emily. We all come into and leave the world in the same way. What matters is how well you live your life and the difference you make in your corner of it.”

Throughout my life, Granny has acted as a sounding board for everyone in my family. A gentle lady with a backbone of steel, she would tell you things exactly as they were. There was no mincing of words! I remember a conversation I had with her many years ago (although I can’t remember the original context) where she said that life was not a competition and that regardless of what a person does or doesn’t achieve in life, we all come into and leave the world in the same way. We are all equals.

This nugget of wisdom is particularly relevant for me right now as I have recently made what feels like a very big decision. In a week’s time, I will be going part-time at work. Now dropping down to four days may seem inconsequential to many people (and even desirable for a large number of us!) but it is a decision I found very hard to make. Having spent a large proportion of my life trying to do the best and be the best, in a way “proving” to people that I could hold my own in mainstream life as a disabled person, admitting that I could no longer keep up this pace felt like failure. But as Granny said once, “The only person who loses when you compare yourself is you. One sees the best of the other person and compares it with the worst of yourself.” What a wise woman she was.

If Granny had been able to talk in the last few years, I know what she would’ve said in response to my worrying. She would’ve told me to stop being so silly! Admitting that I need to slow down, step back and take care of myself is not “failure,” it’s choosing the type of life I want to live, particularly given the specific set of difficulties I face. It’s listening to my body and doing what is best for me and for my family. It in no way represents defeat.

If you speak to a number of different people including my doctors, it is pretty miraculous that I’ve survived three years of full time work without any huge dramas. If you don’t count multiple pressure ulcers because of time on my feet, feeling chronically tired, severe pain, multiple kidney infections and a pseudo-aneurysm as huge dramas, that is!

Granny would’ve said that making this decision is wise. It gives me back my work-life balance and means I can feel like I’m doing things well, both at work and at home. Rather than putting 100 percent into my professional work and feeling sub-par in my home life, I will be able to find the all-elusive balance and enjoy the excitement that is my personal life in 2017 as well as being a great Speech and Language Therapist. After all, life is about being the best person you can be, in all that you do.

I must also point out how lucky I am to have an incredible family and an amazing fiancé who have supported me in this decision. My fiancé has not once complained about the financial challenge this will pose for us, but has instead encouraged me, stating that a happy and healthy Emily is far more important than any wage. He told me that while it feels I’ve lost the full time work “battle,” it does not mean I’ve lost the war against the difficulties my disability poses on a daily basis.

This decision is about accepting myself the way I am and doing what is right for me. After all, life is not a competition. I don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. I just have to do my best and be the best version of myself that I can be. Although 2017 will be tinged with sadness, I can’t help but celebrate all that Granny taught me and all the next year holds. I’m eight months from becoming a wife — and that is certainly something to celebrate!

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreak Media.

Originally published: February 22, 2017
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