I have some real off days. Days where I just don’t want to get out of the warmth of my bed. Days where I fantasize about calling in sick while nursing a second or third cup of coffee. I’m sure you can relate.
More often than not, I’m worrying about the same things you probably are. Am I passing all my classes? Did I eat too much yesterday? When will ISIS strike again? Will Donald Trump become President? Do I have enough money to last til the end of the month? Will there be heavy traffic on 580 on my commute home?
Wait… what am I saying? There’s always traffic on 580.
But that’s pretty much the extent of my worries, despite my physical situation. I may be disabled, but it’s not at the front of my mind. It doesn’t affect my happiness in any way.
Overall, I have a positive outlook. I do deal with some major stuff sometimes (and the occasional minor annoyances like flat tires), but big stuff happening is probably just as rare for me as it is for you.
The fact that I’m happy might seem surprising to some since I’m disabled, and that highlights what Albrecht and Devileger at the National Institutes for Health call the “disability paradox.” To someone who doesn’t know me, my life might seem unlivable. To me, it’s just life.
I’m nowhere near Dickens’ Tiny Tim, but disability is just a part of who I am. I’ve never known anything different, and even if I did, there are things I enjoy doing and people I enjoy hanging out with. Life’s good. Whatever the challenge, I’ve just had to adapt. My medical issues rarely get in my way, if at all. It’s like saying a person who freaks out seeing a spider not leaving the house because they might see one.
UC Berkeley’s Dr. Dacher Keltner, who recently spoke at Las Positas, would say I’ve found meaning in my life. He says having meaning in life leads to happiness, which in turn affects health. If you’re not happy, says Keltner, your stress level goes up. If your stress level goes up, so do your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which if it gets too high, can hurt your health just as bad as a double cheeseburger, a large fries and a chocolate milkshake. Keltner says being unhappy takes seven years off one’s lifespan.
I have a good quality of life. I have friends and family that care about me. I laugh a lot. I have hobbies. I can leave my house. And I’m comfortable in my skin.
It took years for that to happen and I struggle with it from time to time, but I’m mostly there now. I’ve had to work at it. I was bullied in elementary school, and although that was years ago, those scars still burn. One of my favorite songs of the last decade, “In My Mind” by Amanda Palmer, deals with self acceptance.
The song tells how she thought she’d be in life, how she expected things to turn out differently, that she wanted – wait, no, on second thought make that didn’t want – things to turn out the way she thought they would, her idyllic vision for the future, lamenting that it’ll never happen… and the sudden realization that things are just fine as is and “I am exactly the person I want to be.”
Structurally, it’s kind of a repetitive song, but its message is profound. It helped me realize that I may have had some major things happen in my life, but that’s ok because the things that I’ve been through make me, me. I may worry about way too much, but that’s OK. I have lofty hopes and dreams, and I’ve got stories to tell. But it’s not because I’m disabled: it’s because I’m human, and I’m happy.
And as long as the coffee bean doesn’t suddenly go extinct, I’ll stay happy.
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