Choice leads to empowerment, right?

Let me explain…

if you’re given a choice between strawberry and chocolate ice-cream, you are able to pick the flavour that meets your cravings at the time. And eating the ice-cream of you own preference is so much more satisfying isn’t it?

Some people may argue that they’d prefer if it was chosen for them. Fair enough – a surprise! But in delegating that decision, you are still making a choice.

For many people who have acquired or were born with a disability, the restrictions already placed on them is mammoth. A choice to undergo a certain procedure, select a certain walking aid or participate in a certain study is so important. It definitely makes the daily obstacles faced so much easier to contend with. Additionally, a choice makes one feel so much more valued, included and enabled to participate in life again.

But choices are certainly not always that easy to make. Often many people are reliant on others to help them decide which option to take. However, when not given a choice, we do feel rather frustrated and disheartened. Throughout my recovery there have been numerous occasions where I’ve felt so disempowered and devalued. For me, being enabled to make a choice during my stroke recovery made all the difference. Even if it was a nurse asking me what pants I’d like to wear each day, rather than selecting and dressing me in clothes that didn’t match. If I had’ve been given the choice to select a bad ensemble, I would’ve worn it with pride! In my book I write “…I didn’t feel I had a choice” (p.123) In fact, I realised early on in my recovery how by making a choice, I felt more able to move forward – less stagnant.

There are often no good options though, right? So how on earth can you feel empowered? Often we resentfully say that we have no choice when what we mean is that we see no good choice. For me, I often felt bitter and bogged down with the limited options in my new stroke realm. I write a lot about these occasions in my book –

“…Fed up with trudging through muddy water on my walking frame, I succumbed to using a wheelchair. Frame or wheelchair? What a choice. My companions had to either wait for me or push me” Yep, I chose the wheelchair but I refused to see with my victim mindset that I had a choice in that.”

I realised slowly that in this new unexpected spot, “I had a choice. I could sit and sulk or do what I was there to do – get rehabilitated. I had to choose to be proactive in my recovery rather than reactive. I had to change my attitude.

Often, making a choice before the outcome is imposed on us it’s easier to take ownership of it. For example, I chose to not have eye surgery a few years back. Although not an easy decision, this choice enabled me to feel more empowered to deal with the ramifications now. I write in my book,

“…I take full responsibility for how my eyesight is today. Having this ownership prevents me from blaming or living in the past and I find that complaining about the symptoms (that could’ve been prevented or delayed if I’d opted to have the procedure) isn’t fair on those around me, and a waste of energy. It is what it is…” (226)

Strangely enough, right now I feel quite empowered in this climate. I chose to isolate. I chose to go without my normal coffee. I chose to forgo rehab. and begin my own pain management regime. As in deciding to forgo eye surgery, the choice was mine. I can withstand the ongoing pain I endure and the coffee- deprived headaches, knowing that I’ve chosen this spot.

So, remember that we all have a choice within these restrictions. We are encouraged to isolate, to adopt physical distancing measures, but we don’t have to. The restrictions will be lifted, our options will expand. Many people don’t get that freedom. When you feel stuck or frustrated at the lack of choices you have right now, try and be mindful that you still have a choice.

As Cheryl Koenig writes in one of my book endorsements,

Reinventing Emma is a moving tribute to the courage of one inspirational young lady who, although representative of many thousands of young people who suffer a stroke, is exceptional because she chose to find  meaning and purpose from her condition. Her account of the sudden change of life as it once was, along with the partial loss of the very essence of herself, I found compelling. It was evident Emma found herself with two choices – she could spend her life mourning the fact that her dreams were now shattered, or do whatever she could to change what could be changed, without forsaking the insight to accept what couldn’t. So Emma learnt to push the boundaries of her impairments, and in so doing, she teaches those around her to do the same. Despite living in a society which values status and ability, the way in which Emma reinvents her life, teaches us that individuals should be accepted for who they are and whatever contribution they can make to society. …”

So, whatever spot you find yourself in, choose to respond proactively! Choice is empowering!