Fighting for Focus as the Band Plays On

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on March 23, 2017 # Advocacy and Policy

While the passengers on the Titanic were panicked and fighting to clamber aboard the scarce lifeboats, distraction was provided by the ship's band that continued to play on as people fled the ship. Why? I have always imagined that perhaps the music provided some comfort and diverted the attention of people who were involved in that tragedy.

My own experience with such distraction occurred in a dental office; a new dentist decided to avoid anesthesia by taking a different approach to distract me from any pain associated with filling a cavity: white noise.

White noise was a new concept to me, as I was equipped with a set of headphones and a small box with a dial on it that registered from 1 to 10. The idea was simple: if I felt any discomfort I could turn the dial and it would result in a progressively louder noise, meant to distract me from the pain. Unfortunately, when the drill hit my tooth I cranked the dial all the way to 10 and there was a loud static noise that did nothing to take away the pain.

In both of these examples, the distractions did not change the outcome. Sadly, something similar is happening today and people with disabilities of all types are losing ground that we fought for during the last five decades.

The fate of our country and the support programs we rely upon appear to be outweighed by a series of distractions that are orchestrated to keep the media occupied. The goal appears to be to have the media ignore many of the other negative actions taking place in Congress and the federal administrative agencies. A continuing series of nonsensical Tweets and unfounded accusations, such as wiretapping, provide background music or white noise that should concern everyone, but especially the disability community.

With the media focused on everything else, the House of Representatives quietly passed a series of bills that strive to reduce or eliminate many of the programs and agencies that seniors and people with disabilities rely upon to stay alive and healthy. No one knows what the final version of the plan to replace the Affordable Care Act will be, but the current proposal will apparently take away medical insurance from over 15 million people who are currently insured and can least afford that loss.

The final blow arrived in a budget proposal offered by the President. In it, 19 agencies would be eliminated; in addition, there would be drastic cuts or elimination of funding for such critical programs as housing, research, environmental protection, and public schools. Other troubling proposals involve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid--programs we all rely upon.

In the face of what is happening, it is difficult to be anything but concerned, frightened, or even depressed over so many actions that could impact those of us who are paralyzed for some reason. There are, however, things that can be done to stave off or eliminate some of the gloom.

Pick your fight. It is too easy to become distracted if trying to follow several issues at once, as there are daily changes originating from the White House, the FBI or from Congress. It is best to get more involved with one or a handful of battles and join others with similar concerns who are organized and have greater numbers.

Limit media time. It is possible to have our moods influenced and available time consumed by the sensational mainstream news media; social media can be even worse, as people continually comment about everything that shows up on Facebook, twitter, etc. While time limits might seem like a simplistic solution, it is difficult to stick to them without a real effort.

Evenings are sacrosanct: protect them. Avoid negative news from all sources for at least 2 hours before going to bed at night; that will allow blood pressure and heartbeat to return closer to normal, and will remove some of the stress caused by the day's latest news.

Stay healthy. Eat right, drink plenty of fluids, and don't forget to exercise to the extent possible. It is easy to neglect our bodies in times of stress, inviting illness, so make a conscious effort to follow good habits.

The above suggestions may not work for everyone, but it is important to try anything that might help maintain focus. That is far better than letting national policy and political actions (or inactions) distract us from handling the many other challenges we face while living with paralysis.

© 2017 Michael Collins

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.