That same old feeling
I hope that everyone is well. I would firstly like to thank you all for taking the time to read this and secondly to express that the following post is based on experience alone so apologies if anything that follows causes upset or offense, this is absolutely not the intention.
If I may, I would please like to share with you an element of a very difficult and personal journey, but one that I feel ready to share and one that I feel is important. I live with Cerebral Palsy and this causes physical challenges on a daily basis. However, I would argue, that some of the most difficult moments I have faced due to my Cerebral Palsy are not the physical ones but the mental and emotional ones. As many of us will experience throughout our lifetime, mental health is a really personal and delicate experience and one that needs to be handled with great care by all involved.
I would say my most difficult years were my teenage ones, both in terms of physical changes in relation to my condition and the impact that my disability had on my mental health. I would use the following sentence to describe how it was for me at this time. ‘I grew up disabled in an able-bodied world’.
I am quite a determined person and for many years I strived so hard to be like everyone else, like the people in the street, like the people in my school, like my friends, like my family. Everywhere I looked, no-one really looked-liked me, walked like me, spoke like me. When I moved to secondary school there were a few more people with similar conditions but not many, I still felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. On I went, trying everything I could to just be like them, refusing to use my wheelchair when I needed to and then falling over in front of everyone, making me stand out even more. No matter how hard I tried, I just never had the moment where I could say ‘Yes, I’m just like you’. Now, what I had not realised by approaching life this way, was the emotional and mental impact this had on me.
At around the age of 14 years old, I started to experience more health issues, increased pain in my hips and so on and this caused me to have to rely on my wheelchair much more and accept the need for the use of aids such as a stick and eventually crutches. This was where I lost ‘me’ for a number of years. It would be 10 years later, where I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and thought ‘It’s not the real me staring back’.
At 15 years old, I just felt so lost, that I was never quite good enough, that I was a failure, a burden, a let down and a disappointment. Everything I did just wasn’t quite enough because, to me, I was still disabled. I did all that I could to distance myself from my CP and yet, with each passing year, it was catching up with me. In my head, being disabled was something to be ashamed of and it was all my fault.
As I reached adulthood, I denied myself opportunities because I felt I didn’t deserve them and I felt I had to prove myself on every front just to try to put just a little bit right. I was sorry for everything, even, at one point, for my very existence.
The trouble with constantly being sorry, eventually your apologies run out because when we are sorry for something, generally it means, we recognise that something, whether it be a word or action, is unnecessary and causes pain for someone else. We do all we can to learn from this or to find a way to ease the pain of another but I could not do this because I would always be disabled. There also comes a point where burdening the blame for everything starts to really impact. It feels like a champagne bottle bubbling up ready to explode, especially when you tell no-one that you are feeling this way.
I had all these negative emotions buzzing around my head and my heart, guilt, apologies, anger, hurt, frustration, being a burden, being a let-down, not being good enough, being a failure. Even my chosen career choice was not compatible with me In all truth, they had been buzzing around for years and I just didn’t know what to do with them other than to suppress them. The problem was I told no-one and did all I could to hide it from those around me, though they knew I wasn’t myself.
It took me 10 years to ask for help and when I did it was the best thing I did. Please don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy and it took time but talking to someone who didn’t judge, who just allowed me to say those deep-rooted feelings which had been within me for all those years, was scary, thought-provoking, life-changing.
Now, when I face challenging times and feel myself closing up, I recognise this and take the appropriate action because I really don’t want to go back to feeling the way I did. Recently, I have been diagnosed with a second, long-term condition and I am not really sure how I feel about it. Some days I am able to acknowledge it as something that I have, other days I feel incredibly sad, particularly when I consider how it will impact my future. It once again raises, for me, the question of ‘Am I good enough’? However, I feel far more equipped to be able to deal with these emotions and recognise the importance of talking, when I feel I am ready too.
I know mental health is a very complex topic and each individual’s experience is different but I still feel there is misunderstanding as to what mental health actually is. When I was a teenager and experiencing these feelings, I was told that I was ‘emotionally cold’. I would disagree with this, even back then, I had emotions, both positive and negative ones, I just had trouble opening up and expressing them, something that is quite common among teenagers. It is about recognising when these emotions are having a bigger impact and how we can support people to open up in a safe environment. I was also told that I ‘shouldn’t feel sad’ because I was lucky ‘to have a loving family’ and that I should be ‘grateful for the support I received’. Please don’t get me wrong, I am all too aware of how fortunate I am, however these comments made me feel even worse about myself and shovelled the guilt on an already high pile.
As I reflect upon these experiences, I do feel sad, however, I also see them as learning opportunities. I am no expert, but try my best to be mindful of my wording when speaking with people about how they are feeling and also, to the best of my ability, not to judge because we don’t know the experiences of others. I do my best to just listen.
I really want to help raise awareness of the importance of talking and speaking to the appropriate professionals for help. I also want to shine a light on the fact that people with disabilities can face poor mental health. I have made some changes to my life, which have been scary, but worthwhile and I look to the future much more positively. I am starting to recognise my disability is a part of who I am and something that should be celebrated, though I am not there yet, I feel I am heading in the right direction.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I would also like to thank everyone here on the community for being so supportive.