Coping with Permanent Disability Following an Accident

A disabling injury following an accident can have a great impact on an individual and their loved ones.  A person dealing with the reality of a permanent disability following an accident is constantly trying to find the balance between the past and the future.  Behind them is the life they used to have and all of the abilities and freedom they enjoyed before the accident and before them is uncertainty about how to adjust to this new reality and the limitations of their new reality.  Oftentimes, the wounds and injuries following an accident are not only physical.  An individual must also process the anger, grief, fear, and shock that can be triggered by a sudden change in their physical abilities.  Coping with a permanent disability following an accident comes with many obstacles and a wide range of emotions.  But, the first step you can take towards healing is learning how to identify your feelings.  Only then can you begin to explore options for your future and move past the accident.

Emotional Reactions

A disability is an inability to engage in day-to-day activities that were previously possible.  Disabilities can be short-term or long-term, physical or mental, or they could be progressive.  But, regardless of their duration or their nature, they affect the life of not just the in individual, but also their loved ones.  When people realize that they have a disability, they often experience a wide-range of emotions and symptoms.  There is no “right” way to respond.  How a person reacts to a sudden disability depends on how severe the disability is, how much it will impact their lives, and how strong of a support network they have to adapt to this new lifestyle.  Most of the initial feelings and symptoms following a disabling accident subside over time, as people begin to understand their limitations and adapt to a new way of life.

  1. Anger
  2. Irritability
  3. Sadness or depression
  4. Guilt or shame
  5. High stress
  6. Fear
  7. Memory problems
  8. Despair
  9. Numbness
  10. Inability to be loving or sexual
  11. Flashbacks
  12. Sleep Problems

How to Move Forward

Change is difficult to deal with – especially permanent change like a disability.  Accepting your limitations is an integral part of adapting to your new lifestyle.  Once you have an understanding of your disability and the limits it will have on your daily life, you can begin to focus less on what you can’t do and more on what you can do.  Then, you can take steps to plan for your future, including your recovery, rehabilitation, and long-term health care needs, your home needs, your ability to work, your financial security. and your daily activities.  The following are good things to keep in mind when accepting your disability and beginning to move forward in your new life.

  1. Know that these feelings are temporary
  2. Be patient and kind with yourself
  3. Forgive yourself…and others
  4. Ask for help…from friends, family, professionals and support groups
  5. Come to terms with the reality of your disability
  6. Take an active role in your health
  7. Do not turn to drugs or alcohol
  8. Make adjustments to your living and work arrangements, and day-to-day activities, if needed
  9. Try and limit as much stress as possible
  10. Set new goals and take active steps to achieve them
  11. Know your rights and the resources available to you
  12. Plan for your financial future – including receiving any compensation (private or government-funded) that you might be entitled to.

Millions of Americans have some type of disability.  While a disability inevitably changes a person’s life, it should not be the sole focus of one’s life. Do not let a disability define you and do not dwell in the past.  The key to moving forward after a disability is to allow yourself to feel and experience all of the emotions and symptoms that come with the sudden life change, finding people and resources to help you, and creating a plan to live a new, full life.

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