My previous article referenced the song “Defying Gravity” and the lines “I’m through accepting limits, ‘cause someone said they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.” This song can be a powerful anthem to anyone living with a disability determined to make the most of their situation and prove to the world that they are so much more than a diagnosis. In the first of this two-part series, I gave several examples of times in my own life when I overcame obstacles and proved that I am capable of succeeding despite my differences.
However, there are some times when, no matter how hard we try; we discover that there are some things that we just aren't capable of doing. My ADHD is not going to magically go away someday, and there will always be limitations on the things that I can do.
For instance, learning to drive was a struggle for me. As a teenager, the regular driver’s education program offered at my school wasn't enough to prepare me for my license, and had to take several additional lessons with a special alternative driving school. Although many people with ADHD are able to learn to drive without any problem, it wasn't the case for me as I also have other sensory and processing issues, including NLD (non-verbal learning disability). When I am focused on looking straight ahead, my brain turns off the signals from my peripheral vision in order to prevent constant sensory overload, a common condition in people with ADHD. I also lack the ability to perceive distance and depth; and to process spatial directions. As a result, driving on the highways and on city streets was impossible for me. I managed to pass my driver’s test and get my license, but I only felt comfortable driving on the suburban streets of the quiet New England town where I lived.
When I moved to an urban neighborhood as an adult, I had to learn to drive all over again. I took lessons with the same alternative driving school I had as a teenager, but this time, I was unable to progress. The combination of my ADHD and other learning disabilities just made it too difficult to process all of the necessary cues on the road to drive safely. I made the decision to stop driving altogether. I am fortunate that Boston has such an excellent public transportation system and that my family and friends are willing to drive me places.
At first, I was ashamed and felt like a quitter. I kept thinking of all my mentors who gave me advice such as, “If you try hard enough, you can succeed at anything,” and felt that the reason why I failed to learn to drive was because I hadn't tried hard enough. Even worse, I felt that I had let my mentors down by giving up.
Then I remembered “Defying Gravity” again. I took another look at the lyrics of the song, “Some things I cannot change, but till I try I’ll never know.” Driving was an instance where I had certainly tried my best; and I discovered that this was something that I could not change, nor would I ever be able to change. Now, it was time for me to accept limits- not because “someone said they’re so” like in the song; but because I had tried my best and came to realize that some things are beyond my control. I realized that it wasn't worth the possibility of getting in an accident where I could injure myself or someone else just to prove something. This wasn't like learning to dance on pointe or auditioning for a play, because safety was a real issue.
Once, when I was out with my friend Lorie and she was driving us on the highway, I sighed and said, “I wish I that I could drive, too, so that I wouldn't always have to rely on you.” Lorie just laughed and said, “Becky, I've told you a billion times, I don’t mind driving you!” I said, “I know you don’t, but sometimes I wish I could be normal like you and be able to do all the things you can do.”
Lorie then said, “Okay, first of all, none of us are normal. Normal is just a setting on the washing machine. And secondly, there are so many things that you can do that I can’t. You can sing, and play guitar and piano, and you’re such a good writer, and you’re so creative with words. I can’t do any of those things, and sometimes I wish I could. And just because you can’t drive a car doesn't mean that you’re not in control of your life in other ways.”
I took a minute to muse on Lorie’s words, and I then I said, “So I guess what you’re saying is, even though I’m physically in the passenger seat of your car, I’m still in the driver’s seat when it comes to the road of life!” Lorie laughed again, and said, “See, that’s what I mean about you being creative with words. I never could have come up with something like that!”
I realize that although I have a disability, I am not without ability. All of us have limitations, even people without diagnosed disabilities. There’s a reason why they are called disabilities and not inabilities. There are some things that I am not capable of doing, but that doesn't mean that I am helpless or a failure. As many have said, the only real failure is the failure to try.
Once you have tried your best, accepting that you can’t do something is not a sign of weakness or defeat; but rather a sign of strength and maturity. It takes a certain amount of strength to be realistic and acknowledge your shortcomings; especially if you've been told your whole life, “there’s nothing you can’t do if you try.” Humility is not easy.
So, when is it appropriate to keep trying your best until you get it right, and when is it appropriate to accept limits? When you are unable to progress any further and the life, health, or safety of yourself or someone else is at risk; that is when it is time to stop trying.
It’s also important to accept limits when looking for jobs and choosing a career. As I discovered as a teenager, it can be fun and exciting to challenge yourself to rise above your limitations by taking a class or starting a hobby that requires skills or abilities that you don’t currently have. However, it is not a good idea to use this same philosophy when applying for jobs. For instance, if you are not good at math, do not take a job at a bank because you want to use it as an opportunity to improve your math skills. Or, if you are deathly afraid of snakes and rodents and want to get over your phobia; it would be unwise to take a job at a pet store. You would be putting yourself in a situation where you would have to deal with a serious anxiety trigger every day, and you would be unable to effectively perform your job. In the real world, people will be negatively impacted if you make too many mistakes or cannot perform the basic duties of your job. So do not apply for a job unless you possess the necessary skills or are confident that you can learn them without too much effort. For instance, I've only used PowerPoint a few times, but I would not be put off by a job description that required “proficiency in PowerPoint” because I am confident that I could easily master the intricacies of PowerPoint if given the opportunity. However, I have tried to learn to sew several times and discovered that my poor fine motor skills made it nearly impossible. Therefore, it would not be wise for me to take a job as a tailor or a seamstress.
Above all; try not to be disheartened over the skills that you've attempted to learn and discovered that you weren't able to master. Instead, focus on the things that you can do and the skills that you have, and you will be “flying so high, defying gravity!”
By Becky Rizoli