When It Is OK to Say, ‘I Can’t’

Kim Tocker avatar

by Kim Tocker |

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Scleroderma and the Ordinary Girl

There is a phrase that gets me going every time it is offered up to me. It drives me nuts. It usually happens when I am trying to explain why I cannot do something that entails using a part of my body that scleroderma has permanently damaged. This explanation could be anything from why I can’t pour water from a heavy jug to why my heart doesn’t cope with strenuous forms of exercise.

It’s that old line, everyone’s favorite: “There’s no such thing as can’t.”

My feeling about that particular expression is that it is far too broad, contains aspects of foolishness, and also is rather whimsical. Perhaps it is offered because I am perceived as lazy, unmotivated, or possessing a negative attitude. I lack hope and self-belief. Or maybe it is a thoughtless attempt to encourage me in some way.

The fact is that there are fundamental parts of my body that physically don’t work anymore because I have systemic scleroderma. It isn’t rocket science, really.

Now, I appreciate the fact that the mind and body are often intertwined. I know only too well that sometimes physical possibilities are achievable even when they feel impossible. Those additional three bench presses during a workout, jogging that extra mile when you thought your body had nothing more to give, hauling yourself out of bed to get to the gym in the mornings. Those types of things.

I remember working hard to overcome my mental blocks when I trained, competed, and was placed in a body-shaping contest years ago, before I got scleroderma. It’s called extending yourself. It is very effective when you have something to work with — something to actually extend in the first place.

However, the crunch comes when people and patients alike do not understand that there are, in fact, times when the body and the mind are separate entities, and they cannot work together as a team. In these cases, mantras such as, “It’s all in the mind,” or “There’s no such thing as can’t,” are not appropriate.

If my body is irreparably broken because of scleroderma and it stops me from doing some things, then this is the truth of my situation. It is hard enough for me to accept that my mind will not fix my fingers that cannot grip things or my heart that will never have enough oxygen because of scarred vessels. I don’t have the energy to convince others that is the case.

So, to those who really believe my mind can overcome the permanent damage resulting from my disease, I say this:

“Enjoy your healthy life and all the things you can do. Have fun pushing yourself and mentally overcoming your pain threshold and physical endurance capabilities. I’m genuinely pleased that you can.  

“But please: If you don’t care to take the time to get to know me, or to understand systemic scleroderma, then check your privilege. Especially before suggesting that the power of the mind will overcome my permanent physical limitations because of this wretched disease.”


Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


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