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The Struggle to Truly Know My Limits

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Sometimes I do wonder if I’m allowing my disability to hold me back. Or, rather, my identity as a disabled person.

It’s a worry that comes to me often in the middle of the night, when worries are at their loudest, but also when I see what others have achieved despite their own struggles.

I am aware that if I were in a less privileged position, I would have been forced to make harder decisions. I would have had to sink or swim, to take options I didn’t want to take. I don’t know if I would have come out of such a situation better or worse. I suppose that doubt bothers me.

Sometimes I regret not being pushed enough towards certain things. I worry about the opportunities that may have passed me by. I worry I don’t have the drive to take the opportunities that may still come. Do I know when to quit or do I just give up too easily?

I think maybe I have this idea in my head, this niggling suspicion, that I am indulging in some sort of stolen disability valor. I suspect that I am perfectly capable of doing anything a “normal” person could do and I am simply using the supposed hardships of my disability to rest on dubious laurels. It is an odd form of imposter syndrome, where deep down my expectations of myself and my secret confidence that I could meet them are both far too high.

And I do know it’s not as if there aren’t people out there with similar (or often worse) obstacles as me achieving so much more. Sometimes through necessity, sometimes through passion, or sometimes perhaps through an even more robust support system than I have. Surely it all means that my disability isn’t what’s holding me back, but my own failure?

I don’t really have an answer to this, not a satisfactory one. I think there is truth to the idea that if I didn’t have the support system I do have, I would probably be living what looks like a more “normal” life: living on my own (or at least, not with my parents), working a full-time job, and all the other markers of what we think makes a “functional” (maybe even successful) adult. But I would have achieved those things through having no choice but to do otherwise. I would have had to make compromises and sacrifices I’d never ideally want to make and would have faced unhappiness because of that. Even so, maybe such circumstances could have pushed me towards new opportunities, and maybe it would have driven me to work harder and achieve more. Maybe, if it brought out my full potential, some misery could have proven worth it in the end. I can never know, and so I wonder. But I’ve seen the toll working for a job they hate takes on people. I’ve seen the devastation of burnout. I know how much energy it can all take away from our passions, the things that really matter to us. As long as I have a choice in it, I don’t want to work just to work. I want to at least do work that means something to me, that is at least taking me down a career path and towards my future. Money is an important factor to me as well, of course, but I don’t want to find myself in misery just to live the life people tell me I’m supposed to have.

And, of course, there is always the possibility that my foundational assumptions behind these thoughts are wrong. That when it came to sink or swim, I would have sunk like a stone. My disability could be greater than I suspect, and I would not make it on my own unsupported. This thought is equally depressing and even more terrifying. Terrifying, because nothing in life is certain. I may have to put this all to the test one day, and I am terrified that failure could be the answer. Maybe even more terrified of it than misery. It’s not like I am likely to find myself particularly happy as a failure either.

I’ve become even more aware of all these things now that I am apparently just slightly too old to be within the upper limit of what many organizations consider “young adult”. It’s weird to realize how many sources of support have an upper age limit as if I should have had my life together by now. As if I shouldn’t still need help. I should have it figured out. I should not still be flailing, still looking for guidance, looking for an extra little piece of opportunity.

I’d like to just be happy where I am, to be content with and proud of what I’ve managed to achieve, but I’m not content. There is still more I want out of life. I don’t want where I am now to be the plateau or, god forbid, the peak. There’s more I want to do, more of the world I want to see, and for that I know I need to push myself. I can’t live life disappointed with myself either though, can’t constantly criticize myself for struggling with my disability. That’s not the way to live life happily.

So, I live with these two desires, both to push toward success and yet also to forgive myself for all my failures. To recognize my limits, but not to let imagined limits hold me back.

It’s a balance that’s always been hard for me to walk.