Why do some injured workers who suffer a severe life altering injury bounce back and seemingly recover, while others mire in a disability quagmire that seemingly has no exit?
Why do some apparently heal and adapt, while others continue to decline?
Why do some injured workers who face life changing injuries have more complications, less competent results, require more medications, use more resources, and are the most demanding of those around them? Certainly the responsiveness of the insurer and the quality of care has impact on this. So does the involvement and concern of the employer. But those, surprisingly, are not in my view the major contributing factors. No, there is a stronger element that affects all other factors to a surprising degree.
These are people who have never owned their disability.
I am not using the term “ownership” in place of blame or responsibility. We all know that no injured worker is ever hurt of their own doing. It is always defective equipment, poor training, careless co-workers, evil or irresponsible employers, or, in rare cases, pranking tricksters from the planet Krypton. No one is ever responsible for their own injury. That is not the point. No, for me the term ownership means an acknowledgment that says, “This is mine. I own it, cannot change it, and will be forever linked to it. What I do and how I react are now directly in my control”.
Too many people get distracted with blame, resentment and an overwhelming sense of entitlement. They focus and fester on what should have been, instead of what is, and what can now be done. Ownership is not about relieving others of their fiduciary, legal or medical responsibilities. It is not even about forgiveness. It is simply about recognizing that what is, is, and the disability you have is yours. No one else’s. Period.
When you own your disability, only then can you choose a direction for your life.
A few weeks back I listened to a man speak who, despite the loss of both legs, lives a full and rewarding life. As a double above the knee amputee, Warren Macdonald has climbed some of the tallest mountains in the world, and is a competitive swimmer. He lost his legs, and nearly lost his life, in a freak rock climbing accident. Yet, less than 10 months after that occurred, he climbed one of the tallest mountains in Tasmania. It was a conscious decision he made, telling the audience, “I decided I wanted to be that guy – the guy I used to be”. Warren Macdonald owns his disability.
I've referred before to the executive in my office, who once had a city bus use her for a parking stop. She suffers pain every day, but does not let it determine her life. She owns that condition – she does it so well I can't even refer to it as a disability, frankly.
I recently featured a video here about a disabled US veteran who was told he would never walk unassisted again. The extremely impressive video clearly shows his path to a full recovery after he took ownership of his condition, and proved the experts wrong. The comments to that posting stunned me, as almost all from injured workers completely ignored the man's accomplishments and focused solely on venting anger at their own situation. They were so self absorbed in their own sordid stories that they could not, even for one small moment, warm themselves in the light of another’s successful effort.
Many injured workers contain so much anger, so much resentment, either at the injury itself or the way their case was handled, that they never allow themselves to reach that point. That path of anger and denial leads to a cornucopia of problematic situations; weight gain, depression, drug dependency and abuse, decreased health and increased mortality rates to name a few. They become stuck in an endless circle of resentment; a continually declining situation that only gets more untenable by the day. They never accept their condition or situation, as if doing so somehow will relieve the parties they hold responsible from their obligations. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No, the truth of the matter is that the most disabling thing about a disability is the classification itself.
What I am talking about, of course, is mental attitude. It is acceptance in the face of huge adversity. It is a necessary ingredient to effective recovery. You can be angry at the insurer. You can be angry at the employer or your co-worker. But you cannot afford to be angry at what you no longer are. You are not going to change that. The best way out is the straightest path forward.
Ownership in your disability means that you become an active participant in your care. It also means that, with acceptance, you can figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. It means you will free yourself mentally to be more than you currently are.
You must eventually own your disability, or it will most assuredly own you.