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The gifts of our limitations

  • 05 October 2021
When I was a teenager, something glitched in my brain and central nervous system and my hand stopped working. Over the course of a year, I went from playing in orchestras to being unable to hold a pencil; from being in the top team of every sport I played to being unable to throw a ball. I’d baffled the world’s top neurologists and exhausted every avenue of medical testing. Contrary to all the advice I’d absorbed to that point, the harder I tried, the worse things got. The right side of my body simply did and does not cooperate with my mind’s instructions. My involuntary muscle seizures worsened and became a constant part of my life. They are to this day. 

Growing up, I don’t really ever remember being taught how to deal with frustration. The mantras of the schools I went to were all about being able to do anything you put your mind to – ‘mind over matter’. If you try hard, you’ll succeed. If you are disciplined and tactical, you’ll be able to overcome the things that hold you back. But what do you do when that proves to be manifestly untrue? What do we do when no amount of determination will change our frustrating circumstances?

Whatever else this pandemic has brought about, it has schooled us all about living with frustration. Cancelled plans, the general malaise of Zoom, indefinite separation from loved ones, not having anything to look forward to, financial stress, missing significant life events… The cumulative frustrations bubble away just below the surface, and it doesn’t take much for them to burst through our surge capacity. 

It’s fair to say that I have had to learn a lot about living with frustrating circumstances that are outside of my control. I don’t for a second pretend to have always handled this well. There have been plenty of moments I’m not proud of and more than my fair share of meltdowns. But I have gleaned a lot from the other people living with a disability that I have met along the way; people who have been dealt a difficult hand, and yet have still found ways to thrive within the parameters they now find themselves. And so, when it comes to how we can try to handle our limitations better and more gracefully, there is a rich vein of wisdom we can mine from the experiences of other people: