I woke up with a sick child two nights ago, and afterwards, I struggled to get back to sleep. My bedside reading was about the achievements of Nelson Mandela, and it prompted an hour of musing about people.
At the time of Mandela’s passing, there were many, deserved tributes to his courage, resilience and his ability to forgive.
It struck me how we tend to make his strengths seem other, as if his behaviour is so completely out of the ordinary and unreachable.
It struck me that, when we talk about Mandela, with reverence for what he did, do we blind ourselves to the people next to us who are also brave and resilient?
In my work as an Occupational Therapist, I have the immense privilege to meet many people, whose daily existence inspires just as much admiration in me. They are Mandela-like in their tenacity.
Recently, I was talking to a gentleman about his daily struggle with a long term condition* (similar to Multiple Sclerosis). His daily life involves pain, and the humiliation of depending on others for small acts such as having a drink or going to the loo.
His attitude was inspiring: “Sure, you just have to get on with it” and “I’m lucky to be here”.
I meet the parents who work as a team to ensure that their child has the best start in spite of a developmental delay or disability; here are Dads working extra hours to have the money to pay for additional private therapy, Mums staying home instead of pursuing a career so that she can research and implement the latest interventions.
Or the parents whose child has an invisible disability - they have had to learn new ways of parenting, and, who feel shamed by the judgment of others who think they pander to or are lax in discipline with their child.
This is the invisible bravery of people. People that you don’t see at the big match or bump into at the supermarket; their daily quota of energy is reserved for the challenge of getting upstairs, or to the loo, or just to be able to get out of bed.
Or, there are the “walking wounded” who have chronic pain or other conditions- these are not well know conditions. Things that nobody holds a collection bucket for, at Easter or Christmas. Such as a young mid-20's man with severe, daily pain* due to accidentally banging his thumb on an object as he walked past it; there was no drama, nothing broken, "just" nerve damage – but, it means that he no longer goes out, cannot play sport and is struggling to have the energy to hold down his job.
I love my work.
An Occupational Therapist works with people who have illness or disability that impacts on their daily occupations; being able to hold your glass of water and drink it by yourself, being able to read and write at the same pace as the other children in your class, being able to dress yourself without your partner’s help.
The Occupational Therapist brings expertise in looking at how humans carry out tasks, and how to change the person, the task or the environment to make it easier.
I've learned that the biggest factor in "therapy" is not my knowledge, or time- it's the individual’s own courage, grit and, their determination that they will not fall under their load.
Small things. Huge things. The Nelson Mandelas that live next door to us - look out for them today.
Mary Anne Radmacher said courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
*Note Patient details changed for anonymity.
Maureen Ryan is an Occupational Therapist in Waterford and originally hails form Tipperary.
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