Handle Hard Better
By Ian Ruder

June 27, 2024

Photo by Wesley Nitsckie

Editor’s note: In this thought-provoking article, New Mobility Magazine Editor, Ian Ruder, writes that living with a disability is like taking a MasterClass on how to “handle hard better.” While it wasn’t something Ruder signed up for, mastering the skill of rising to challenges has been key to shaping who he is today.

Sitting in my hotel room after the opening day of this year’s Los Angeles Abilities Expo, I kept coming back to something I told an attendee while I was manning United Spinal Association’s booth that day.

A newly paralyzed young man and his partner had stopped by to find out about SCI resources. I gave them my best spiel on NEW MOBILITY and United Spinal and answered a couple of his partner’s questions. I could tell by the look in his eyes he appreciated the info but was too overwhelmed to fully process everything. And I understood: As much as I love the expo, it’s overwhelming to me too. Imagining what must have been going through his head as someone with a new SCI, I blurted out the comment that had my mind racing later that night.

“It gets better.”
Aside from sounding so cliche even a Hallmark Card creator would reject it, there’s nothing inherently wrong or untrue about what I said. Yet I remembered how shallow those words sounded when others tried to reassure me in the wake of my injury.

I felt like I owed him a better explanation: How does it get better? What is better?
As I thought about what I should have said, a news segment about Duke University women’s basketball coach Kara Lawson came on the TV in my room. The segment focused on a speech she had given to her team that went viral.

Her message was simple: We will be a good team because we will learn to “handle hard better.” She said, “We all wait in life for things to get easier. It will never get easier, but you will handle hard better. … If you go around waiting for stuff to get easier in life, it’s never gonna happen.”

Lawson was speaking to a group of elite college athletes, but her message had broad appeal and particularly resonated with me as a disabled person. Living with a disability is like taking a master class in learning to handle hard better.

I get why this may not be the most popular class in the catalog, and we did not choose to sign up for it, but the best advice I can offer is to embrace the opportunity: to master handling hard better.

Working through all of the medical issues that I’ve run into over the last few years, I can’t help but think how these same issues would’ve crushed me two decades earlier. They still suck and are draining and infuriating, but I’ve learned to handle them and get back to living.

Many of the things I’ve gone through have left me with concrete lessons and tactics I’ve been able to apply again. I’ve also learned to accept that sometimes you just have to be happy with getting through something without learning anything. Regardless, each time that I make it out the other side, it builds confidence in my ability to do so.

What I was ineloquently trying to tell the man at the expo wasn’t so much that life gets better — hopefully it does, although no one can guarantee that — but how you handle the hassle that comes with disability does get better. And that’s the key: handling all the bullshit so you can enjoy all the good stuff — so you can live. It won’t get easier, and sometimes it will be oppressively difficult, but as long as you don’t give up, it will get better.

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