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Adjusting to disability

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

"I've found strengths I didn't know I had. Life's not so exciting and vibrant as it was before, but I'm more content and have more purpose," says Dan Eley who has had to adjust to disability after a diving accident in the Colombian Amazon in 2010 left him paralysed from the shoulders down.

Dan, like more than 8 out of 10 people with a disability, wasn't born with it so has had to adapt to his new situation.

Life may change dramatically if you become disabled through accident, illness, or a long-term (chronic) medical condition. But with the right emotional and practical support you can continue to have a fulfilling and happy life.

The emotional impact

There's no golden rule as to how people cope emotionally with becoming disabled. It also depends on the type and severity of the disability.

"There are different stages of shock, denial and anger," says Selina Mills, who began losing her eyesight around 10 years ago and currently works for Leonard Cheshire Disability. "Just give yourself time to adjust, it's about finding the new normal and managing your disability."

Dan says it took him about a year and a half to accept what had happened to him and to feel happy and ready to do something more with his life.

He says: "It was a long process and I went through so many emotions in that time. I didn't even believe it was real, and then there was a feeling of bereavement, mourning the loss of my old life."

Selina says: "You may feel changed emotionally. Some people feel their identity has altered but it's an individual journey and people cope in different ways."

Reach out for support

Getting the right support is going to make a big difference. Family and friends may be brilliant, but joining a support group for people in a similar position can make you feel less alone. Find out about charities or groups that are relevant to your particular disability and join online forums, or if you are able, attend local support groups.

"There is a lot of support on offer through plenty of agencies, but it's up to you to reach out," says Selina.

You are not in a tiny minority either, even though at times it might feel like it. There are 11 million people in the UK with disabilities, long-term illness, or impairment.

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