Disability can increase one’s risk for depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, frustration with circumstances, and more. But sometimes the worst part of all this, is the fear that it will never get any better. That your life is worthless, and that there is no point to it all. It is so easy to feel a complete lack of hope when you live with a disability–especially when it impacts your quality of life.

So, with this in mind, we think it’s important to ask: Why do disability and hope need to coexist? Also, how can you find hope in an authentic way–without toxic positivity–when life just doesn’t feel worth it?

Why cultivate hope when you have a disability?

Disability is not always permanent, but even when it is, there are reasons to cultivate hope. Let’s talk about it. 

1. Hope can support you through the emotional effects of disability.

Despite the prevalence of disability, we have a long way to go when it comes to accessibility and equity. This, alongside other parts of having a disability, can have an emotional impact on people in the world. Disability may come with financial concerns, lack of understanding from others, loneliness, barriers in the workplace, school, in social situations, or in hobbies/activities, and so on. Some disabilities come with physical pain, which can impact your emotional or psychological health and outlook on life. Some come with limitations, whether societally imposed or otherwise, that can be frustrating. Hope may be what keeps a person going when it comes to these challenges. 

2. Hope may provide an opportunity for creativity.

Instead of throwing in the towel, hope gives us the ability to remain creative and find solutions. When we have hope that things can be good, we see positive outcomes as an option. When we see the good as an option, we can explore ways to find that “good.” For example, maybe you can’t work a range of jobs due to disability, or you can’t engage in a specific hobby or activity. With hope, one may be more apt to get creative and find enjoyment and fulfillment in other ways. 

3. Hope may protect your health. 

We discussed how hope may support your emotional, psychological, and social health–but it can also support physical wellbeing. One study on adolescents with chronic illness found that hope promotes health, coping and adjustment, quality of life, purpose, resilience, self-esteem, and better management of physiological symptoms. Other research shows that optimism and hope can help with pain and other challenges. Even for those up against terminal illness, it’s noted that hope “can be aimed at finding joy or comfort.”

Define what hope means to you

With a disability, there can be pressure to be positive all of the time: to be an inspiration, to be uplifting, to avoid feeling like a “burden.” However, that’s not what we mean by having hope. Hope does not have to mean toxic positivity. In fact, quite the opposite. 

Like disability carries a number of potential definitions, hope does, too. Hope can mean that you plan something to look forward to, that you believe positive things could be in the future, that you believe in moments of happiness or peace in the midst of struggle, or something else. It’s sometimes just a commitment to chasing small improvements, despite setbacks or slow progress. 

Define hope for yourself. What matters is that you are supporting yourself as the unique person you are. Your version of hope doesn’t have to be uniform to others’. 

How to balance hope and disability 

It does not say anything adverse about you as a person if you struggle to feel hope. But the rewards of cultivating hope are mostly for you, not others around you. 

Whether your disability is short-term or enduring, find ways to either spark or reignite hope. Here are some things you can do:

1. Remember just how much things can change.

This does not refer to disability itself, but it does refer to life in general. The chances are that you have experienced ups and downs in life. And, the chances are that there were some “ups” that you could not anticipate. Meeting a new friend, a new piece of media that brought you happiness, an accomplishment, a life change, and so on. A common cognitive distortion is actually “predicting” or “fortune telling.” But, just as we can’t necessarily anticipate the downs, you don’t know what positive thing (or things) in life might happen next.

2. Look for ways, no matter how big or small, to experience joy.

When you do face a rough patch, it can be tough to experience joy. Find it where you can. That could be in an art project, starting your own blog, a podcast you like to listen to, movies, TV, the outdoors, singing, connecting with other people, drinking your favorite tea, reading a book, using bath products that you like, helping someone else, whether emotionally or in a tangible way – virtually anything. Identify the joys you can experience, and actively engage in them. 

3. Take action to support your emotional health.

Sometimes, life really doesn’t feel enjoyable. In fact, it’s a symptom of depression, situational or otherwise, to experience loss of interest in things you would typically enjoy. Whether this is the case for you or not, you deserve self-care, and you deserve to support your mental and physical wellbeing. If you need help with self-care, you still deserve self-care, and although there can be great grief involved in not being able to do certain things yourself, you do deserve to ask for help, and you do deserve to have your needs met. Also, every bit counts – acknowledge acts of self-care as achievements.

4. If comparison is a concern, challenge it. 

We all know the saying: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Disability or not, we are all unique people with unique strengths–and, if you do struggle with comparison, know that it isn’t a personal fault.

In some ways, our society is set up in a way that leads us to compare ourselves to others. Even in early childhood, we may be compared to others at school, in sports, or in other areas that emphasize particular achievements or skills, or we may find ourselves comparing our appearance and other parts of ourselves to other people. 

Although this is a continuous process and may not be perfect, it is possible to unlearn this instinct, at least to some degree, and boost confidence. For instance, if you find that you compare yourself to other people on social media, whether they share your disability or not, it can be helpful to remind yourself that social media is a highlight reel, that you may have different skills and successes (rather than the other person being more skilled than you), and there is enough room for everyone. Your worth isn’t contingent on your ability or what other people can or cannot do. 

What does this have to do with hope? When we dismantle ideas about what we should be able to do and challenge the idea that our worth is something we can measure in contrast to other people, we may find that our hope is heightened. It changes the paradigm for what a fulfilling, happy, and hopeful life can look like, and of course, it can decrease shame, which could mean that there’s room for more positive thoughts and feelings – without the negative voice that makes us question our own path.

5. Extend words of compassion and pride to yourself.

The way we talk to ourselves matters. Take a moment to consider how you talk to yourself; what your internal dialogue looks like. 

Maybe, you are feeling down, and you feel that you don’t deserve hope, joy, or other positive emotions. Perhaps, your physical pain is severe and it’s tough to do anything at all. This could be a moment where you think to yourself, “my body and I are in this together,” “I do not deserve what is happening,” or “I deserve peace, love, and joy.”

These words or affirmations are something that you can cater to fit you. They should feel authentic, comforting, and supportive. This can also include challenging negative thoughts. For example, if feelings or thoughts affiliated with depression, like feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness – or any other form of negative self-talk – you may work to directly reframe that: “I’m not worthless, I would never call another person worthless, and I deserve to extend that dignity to myself as well.” 

6. Connect socially to find hope within disability. 

Social connection is an incredibly healthy and supportive thing. You may want to connect with other people who share your disability via support groups, the internet, or other means. Alternatively, you may wish to speak with a friend, a therapist if that is accessible to you, or find connection in other ways.

If there’s a hobby you enjoy, like reading or playing a particular video game, you may find an online or in-person meet-up based on that. If you don’t have a lot of social support right now, you may take steps toward connecting with other people genuinely and joyfully in ways you can.

And, if you want a place to speak with someone anonymously–or, just need an open opportunity to vent, talk, and connect with someone–you may consider a peer support network like Supportiv.

Share your hope–and struggles

Need someone to talk to? Supportiv is here to help you connect with people who understand and go through the same things that you do. You may be surprised to learn just how much you aren’t alone. To get started with Supportiv, select “chat now” at the top of our website, or click here to learn more about what we’re about.