Living With Disability Teaches Me the Importance of Offering Grace to Others

In times of frustration, columnist Sean Baumstark takes a moment to reflect

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by Sean Baumstark |

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I recently returned to an old, bad habit that can take up too much of my time if I’m not careful.

I enjoy game nights with friends and family, but those nights are few and far between. So instead, I play Risk on my phone when I have some free time or need to numb out a bit. A more recent and growing interest of mine is playing with others in real time using the Risk app. Playing against other people is much different than playing against the computer.

While talking about the game with a friend, we got into some of the strategies I employ. Although every game is different, especially when playing actual people, one principle I’ve adopted is to avoid taking attacks personally. I play the classic “global domination” mode where all players work toward the same goal: capturing and retaining all territories on the game board.

One pitfall I used to struggle with was taking an attack personally and retaliating against the attacker. Unfortunately, this often weakens me and the one who attacked me, and we are among the first to be eliminated from the game.

In telling my friend, “Don’t take it personally,” I realized how effective that strategy could be in many aspects of life. From receiving a complaint at work to getting cut off on the freeway, people often act on thoughts or emotions that have nothing to do with me. I recognized this the other day, specifically regarding disability.

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The Importance of Avoiding a Negative Mindset When You Have FA

I live with Friedreich’s ataxia, so I parked in an accessible parking spot next to an accompanying curb cut in front of a Starbucks. I often park so that the hash marks are on the driver’s side, allowing me to easily maneuver my walker in and out of the back seat.

When I only have one hand free, it’s easier to control my walker by standing off to one side. Such is the case when I return to my car with precious cargo (aka a grande Nitro Cold Brew with sweet cream, add light ice).

My morning routine is to park my walker against my rear tire while I open the front door and set my coffee in the cup holder, thus freeing up both hands to safely load my walker. On this particular occasion, after putting my coffee in its safe zone, a car pulled up next to me in a concerning way. It narrowly missed my parked walker and came to a stop more than halfway into the hash-marked area, leaving me little room to load my walker.

Immediately, I began to feel frustrated with the driver. My walker and I were safe, but with only a few inches to spare. Still, the way the car parked rendered the hashed space useless for a wheelchair user, blocking access to the curb cut and not allowing enough space to wheel between the parked vehicles.

As the brief scene unfolded, I felt myself taking the awkward parking personally, as if the driver was sending me a message or was out to get me.

But when I noticed the driver and passenger, I realized the elderly couple probably wasn’t acting out of spite. The driver more likely struggled with vision or depth perception, and perhaps didn’t realize how close she got to me or how far out of her designated parking spot she was.

Although her age and driving abilities don’t excuse her close call or unfair parking, I quickly suppressed my frustration by not taking either of those things personally. Instead, I realized the driver just needed some grace — much like the grace I need when someone is walking behind me in a hurry and feels like I’m in their way.

I’m confident the world would be much kinder if everyone avoided taking everything personally.

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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