Disabled by Arthritis and Living in a Normal World

Adjusting to the Reality of Being Disabled

Woman with disability receiving help.
Westend61/Getty Images

People who are disabled live in a world designed primarily for the able-bodied. Disabled people want to live life no differently than anyone else. They want to be able to do the same things -- go shopping, go to the movies, go out to eat, work, and simply enjoy life, despite the realization that it must be done within the boundaries of their limitations.

It is not easy to accept disability and redefine life within physical limitations imposed by a disease.

It can be a big hurdle to adjust to rheumatoid arthritis or any number of chronic diseases. There are harsh realities that cannot be ignored. For example, expensive equipment and medications may be needed. Mobility aids, car or van adaptations, orthotics, periodic intravenous treatments, and myriad types of assistive devices may become part of life. It's true that each of those things improves quality of life for someone living with arthritis, but it comes at a price. While the list of necessities grows and expenses multiply accordingly, the ability to continue working may dissolve. Financial security may become a memory. An uncertain future takes its place.

Adjust and Adapt

People who have a disability are taught that they must adapt and adjust. It becomes their mantra.  In reality, as their independence slips away gradually and reluctantly, they are forced to adjust. I could pull out all the trite sayings for you:

  • Play the hand you're dealt.
  • Focus on what you can do, not what you can't do.
  • It could be worse.
  • God never gives you more than you can handle. 

Mostly true, right? But, let's take a bold look at reality. Let's look at what "normal" people take for granted and what "disabled" people often must forgo. I'm talking about simple things -- the joy of rough-housing with children and grandchildren, participating in sports, road trips, long walks with your dog, and much more.

Crowded public events become daunting. Social situations become uncomfortable. It becomes tiresome to have to think before you do -- instead of simply doing.  After a while, it's all too much trouble and that in itself is scary because avoidance and isolation can take over.

Subtle Realities Versus Harsh Realities

The subtle realities of living with a disability can frustrate and sting more than the harsh realities. Having to quit working or deciding not to have children are harsh realities. Subtle realities occur when you are faced with an impatient, rude, insensitive, inconsiderate, pessimistic, or unhelpful person.

Impatient people try to rush people with disabilities through life. Here's an example. A man was behind me at the grocery store while I was unloading my cart. Without saying a word, he reached in and started pulling items out of my cart. The gesture may have been welcome if it had been rooted in kindness, but it was obvious to me that I was moving too slow for the pace he decided was acceptable.

Inconsiderate people inappropriately use areas specifically designated for those with disabilities. It's not uncommon to see this around handicapped bathroom stalls and handicapped parking spaces.

Inconsiderate people also do not hold doors open or let a disabled person go ahead of them.

Rude and insensitive people stare at people with disabilities. Have you ever wondered why some people stare? It may be more complicated than simple gawking. They may have empathy or may imagine themselves faced with the difficulties of disability. Regardless of the reason, staring does create an uncomfortable situation.

People who are demanding or who are not understanding can provoke negative feelings.  This seems to happen on a regular basis when people do not understand your limitations or the variable nature of arthritis pain.

When you say to them "I can't", they react as though you are speaking a foreign language. 

Pessimistic people can be annoying and hurtful. Pessimistic people focus on the negative aspects of having a disability instead of trying to build up, encourage, and praise the accomplishments of people with disabilities. Pessimistic or negative people don't want to learn about the realities of living with disability. They have preconceived ideas and often treat physically disabled people as though they are faking or lazy. Or, even worse at the opposite end of the spectrum, negative people sometimes treat physically disabled people as if they have no abilities at all.

Unhelpful people can certainly be frustrating for disabled people. Most tasks seem effortless for people who are able-bodied. The same task for a disabled person may seem impossible. Changing light bulbs or air conditioner filters, scrubbing shower stalls, carrying heavy bags of groceries, and opening jars are just part of daily living. Disabled people may need help with some of these mundane tasks, and typically, they hate needing help and asking for help. 

Become a Positive Force Yourself

What you can control, whether you are able-bodied or disabled, is yourself. All humans face challenges, it's just that people with physical disabilities face physical challenges. You will not rid the world of impatient, rude, insensitive people, but you can control how you react to them. Turn bad into good.

  • Allow the impatient people to teach you to have more patience.
  • Experiencing insensitivity will cause you to become more sensitive.
  • The antidote to negativity is more positivity.

In reality, you will have many more positive encounters than negative encounters. Surround yourself with people, things, and experiences that make you feel good and inspire you to do good. No one deserves less than that, especially not someone who rises up to the challenges of disability.