Daniel Vance - Disabilities

Not often I write on personal matters.

About three years ago, I helped start an adult disability support group. It wasn’t anything splashy or fancy. No mud flaps or whistles: just two middle-aged men talking about their daily lives and experiences with disability. It met weekly at our church and was a faith-based group, so we also prayed.

I was one, and “Greg”, who has chronic progressive multiple sclerosis, the other. He used a manual wheelchair back then. Two weeks later, our third member said she was recovering from cancer and had ongoing soft tissue pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Over three years, we’ve had people with schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, traumatic brain injury, a mobility disability, another with fibromyalgia, spinal cord injury, another with multiple sclerosis, stroke, cerebral palsy, blindness, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Quite the gamut.

Gradually, most of us have become involved in each other’s personal lives and become good friends. Greg needed encouragement and support when his wife divorced him due to his disability. Another member went through difficult shoulder surgery, twice. Another almost died from an infection doctors couldn’t find, and another needed help re-establishing a relationship with an estranged father. At least one had been abused as a child.

Our collective list of past problems, and current challenges, must be ten miles long. And yet our group usually doesn’t have any whiners. We often laugh, and joke, and take comfort in feeling normal, if only one night a week.

We started our group for adults only because hardly any churches anywhere have any groups for adults with disabilities. On the other hand, it’s much easier starting and maintaining a group for children. Perhaps that’s because children with disabilities often easily receive and give affection.

But adults come with adult-sized needs, and that makes them not so appealing.

I wish I could say our group is perfect. It is not. We have had people get upset at each other. But so far, the overall rewards far outweigh any emotional cost.

Somewhere, someone reading this newspaper column has the desire to begin an adult disability support group, either at his or her church or school, or in the neighborhood or among friends. You have not done it because you are afraid of something. I encourage you to act: You live only once. Somebody out there really needs your laughter.

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