My previous article
talked about the struggles we experienced trying to find the right answers for our children who had special needs, and the difficulties we faced trying to get other people to understand our situation. What is the big difference between then and now? We didn’t give up, mostly, but the key to opening doors for acceptance by others was to talk openly about it. Here are some examples:
1. Instead of complaining to others about the struggles we experienced, we celebrated the good days and shared examples of why our day was particularly good. People tend to avoid others who are negative, always complain, or just feel sorry for themselves all the time. Hearing our examples of finding the joy among many bad days inspired them to take our struggles seriously.
2. Instead of avoiding social situations that involved the children by making excuses why we wouldn’t attend a birthday party or other event, we taught the children some coping skills to deal with their symptoms and explained to the party-goers why we might have had to leave the event early. That way, if the children did have a meltdown, the hosts would understand the reasons and not get offended if we had to leave.
3. Lastly, instead of beating ourselves up with the “what could I/we have done to prevent this?” question, we accepted the fact that this was our “new normal” in life and embraced the challenge. The energies we could have spent in asking “why?” and feeling sorry for ourselves were better spent by accepting and embracing our important role and responsibility in the care of our children.
The fact that we opened up to talk about it is what brought awareness and understanding from those who originally criticized us in the first place. They just didn’t know, and it was our job to explain it to them in a way that they could understand.
A couple of months ago, I was at a cleaning industry event with business owners coming in from across the nation. On the last night of the event, about a dozen of us were relaxing during dinner and reflecting on the experiences we all shared as business owners. As with any social gathering, many of us were also reflecting on our personal life. The topic of my own family situation was brought up, and I shared answers to their questions very openly and honestly. Just when most people would fear criticism from their peers or colleagues about taboo subjects relating to disabilities, I saw it as an opportunity to bring awareness and compassion for the topic. I didn’t present the information to gain sympathy, nor did I whine or complain about how hard my life was. I actually told them how it has helped me have a deeper level of compassion, understanding, and flexibility and how it translated into being a better person for it in the end.
The next month, my husband and I attended a session through Challenge Aspen
, an adaptive sports program that provides therapeutic recreation to people with disabilities. This session focused on helping severely injured military members, many of whom were struggling with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) Our purpose of joining this group was to show the newly-injured service members that there is life after combat injuries, that a marriage can thrive in the midst of the struggle, and that the right attitude and willingness to share their story was the key to a better recovery process.
Two things happened this week that confirmed my belief that opening up to share information about a disability can bring awareness and acceptance to others and for you. I would like to share these examples so you can see how sharing your story can help others in the process:
Earlier this week, one of the service members who attended the Challenge Aspen event stood in front of a crowd of his peers and said, “I am in the Army National Guard, and I have PTSD.” His wife sat in the crowd, overwhelmed with pride for how far he had come in his recovery. His bravery to step up and speak without shame was well received with a standing ovation. He finally realized he could be viewed as brave instead of weak by his peers just by sharing his story and encouraging others to do the same.
Then, only a few days later, a business owner from that seminar I attended called me to ask a few questions about her son. She remembered what I had said about my children months before, and was inspired to finally open up and talk about her situation with her son in hopes of finding answers. I told her I had total faith in her ability to get through it, shared resources she could use, and gave her some coping techniques to help her family deal with the issue better. She now has the ability to face the future and accept a “new normal” instead of bottling it up inside and fearing criticism. She saw the brave step that I took to speak openly and without fear as a way to reach out to someone she could trust and help her, too.
There will come a time in every person’s life when talking about a personal disability will become easier and easier. Connecting with people like yourself is the first step in learning how to help others by sharing your story. The DailyStrength community is filled with thousands of supportive people who share similar problems or struggles that you face, and were probably just as afraid as you are to open up and talk about it in the past. I encourage you to start here, and keep sharing your story with the world so you can help others, too.
- Torrey Shannon