I know a whole lot of people in my hometown that say that Jayhawk basketball gets them through the winter. And for those folks, I can see it. But I haven’t ever had a fabulous time watching other people play sports. Instead, I have something else that gets me through the winter, although I must say, I am not particularly proud of it. When the days are cold and dreary outside, resulting in my not being able to move too well, I love my screen time. Like everyone else, I know the dangers of having too much, and what screen time in excess does to the brain. But also, like everyone else I know, there are some things I know that aren’t good for me but I do them anyway.

During winter months I love to know who the latest couple is who got together on Grey’s. What medical mystery is Dr. Shaun Murphy going to solve this week on The Good Doctor and what kind of criminals are Olivia Benson and her team going to take down on Law and Order: SVU? Let’s be honest, who doesn’t cry every week over at least one scene on This Is Us? Even though I don’t have cable, Hulu, and Netflix and I go back a ways.

Another issue is that, since I am a writer, I have lots of screen time during the day as well. For some reason, writing by hand is a little more difficult for me than typing. (Having limited finger dexterity can suck eggs.) Most days when I am at my computer transitioning from one writing project to another, I have been known to take a peek at YouTube to see if there is something that piques my interest.

One day last week it was an episode of the Dr. Phil Show. This video had been recommended for me. (YouTube is another one of my “besties”) The guy being interviewed happened to be a quadriplegic as a result of an accident when he was a teenager. He was on the show with his girlfriend, who was also his full-time caregiver. The show detailed how burned out she was, and that he was simply angry at the world. He was just a semester away from completing a master’s degree, but he had stopped attending classes. He also had stopped going to physical therapy some months before he was on the show. His girlfriend had to feed him, bathe him, dress him, the whole nine yards. By his own admission, there was very little that he could do for himself. The tragic part was that this couple had become verbally abusive to each other and they did not treat each other well at all. They had reached out to Dr. Phil for help. His reaction surprised me, and it made me sad for several people that I know.

Dr. Phil told the woman that she had a choice to make and she had to make it that day. The choice was that she could be this guy’s girlfriend, sweetheart, and lover or she could be his caregiver, but she could not do both. That is a big decision and whatever the answer is shouldn’t be made hastily. Dr. Phil put pressure on this girl that I just didn’t feel was fair. Then he made it worse. He actually said something like “You are an attractive girl. Why would you settle for someone in a wheelchair?” Are you serious, Dr. Phil? Unfortunately, he kept going. According to Dr. Phil, the kind of situation they were in “fails 100 out of 100 times.”

Time out. Say what? That just isn’t true.

In my journey with a disability, I have met numerous couples who are “interabled.” That is, a couple comprised of one partner who has a disability and one who does not. I’ve been with them as they were dating and have even been to several of their weddings. And yes, there is some caregiving that goes on in each of those relationships. But I bet each partner would say that they are involved with their partner because of what is in their heart and soul, or what their personality brings to the relationship. I would be willing to bet when the partner without the disability is describing the other, disability does not top the list. 

From what I have seen, what makes it work is when the couple chooses to see the disability as simply a factor that must be dealt with instead of making it a huge issue in their relationship. I know more than most people that “caregiver burnout” is a huge thing. But in my experience, it comes from a bad attitude (by either the caregiver or the employer) much more than it comes from any true disability issue. I did not agree with Dr. Phil’s advice. If this couple was being verbally abusive to each other and not treating each other well, then I would bet that their issues run much deeper than the fact that there is a disability that is a factor in the relationship.

They might need some counseling. They might need to hire some additional support so that the woman in the relationship doesn’t have to do everything all the time. They might need a bigger network of friends or to pursue individual hobbies alone. But for Dr. Phil to say the kind of relationship they were in always fails just is not accurate. I literally know better.

The other thing about this episode that made me sad is that I know Dr. Phil has a huge following. I fear that the audience watching the show that day might have gotten the impression that dating someone with a disability is more trouble than it is worth. If that is the case, a whole lot of people will be missing out.

I firmly believe that we are all More the Same than Different. But I also believe everyone has a right to solve any issue in their lives in a way that works for them.

On this issue, Dr. Phil was wrong.

P.S. Thanks to the Squirmy and Grubbs YouTube channel for helping me to articulate how I feel about this issue. If you want more information about interabled relationships, Squirmy and Grubbs videos are worth watching. 🙂