I realized recently that I have yet to discuss living with a disability while maintaining my mental health. I can assure you that I am a proponent of self-care, but I wasn’t always. Before a life-changing event nudged me towards psychotherapy, I tried to deal with my feelings and emotions all on my own. What a big mistake. I had a lot of anger for many reasons, which I let wash over me in a bad way. By the time I hit ninth grade I had fallen into a depression; I just truly didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know what depression was or how to name it. I only knew I was carrying a deep sense of sadness that stayed with me and held me down. Even if it looked like I was functioning perfectly from the outside, I was battling something pretty deep on the inside.
My depression was in part due to my tumultuous relationship with my disability and how it impacted the way I saw my own body. I became tremendously self-conscious. For instance, I hated going to the beach in a bikini because of the long scars that ran down my hips. I neglected self-care by avoiding going to physical therapy even though I needed to. I didn’t do my stretches. I didn’t exercise. My social life hit a lull. I buried myself in school and schoolwork and didn’t really make lasting friendships. I felt as though being “the Honors student” was my only purpose.
After school, instead of hanging out in the neighborhood or local park like everyone else did, I rushed home to get lost in my writing and my stories. They had become my saving grace, a coping mechanism, and my sanctuary. I realized that not only could I express sentiments in my writing that I could never say out loud, but also it was the only time I could have total control over what went on to the characters that had become an extension and embodiment of my imagination.
I also realized that my mood significantly dictated the types of scenes or scenarios I would write. My feelings of sadness, self-doubt and anxiety were what produced my most effective and most powerful work to date. I had wholeheartedly and completely fell in love with writing, and it hasn’t let me down since.
It goes without saying that high school was an emotional time for me. I was attempting to reconcile with my disability while also trying to figure out where it fit in my narrative. There were also the typical social pressures that accompanied my teenage years: approaching college; maintaining good grades; building self-confidence and self-esteem….and then there were boys.
I must have been around 13 or 14 when I began to notice boys in earnest, and wondered if they noticed me. My initial response to that thought was to shrug it off. I could do all the noticing I wanted to do, but would it be returned? Probably not. Simply put, back then I thought that my disability made me undesirable. That no boy would want to date me or kiss me or hold my hand. I thought my disability made me a burden. Or even an after thought.
It took some work and a great deal of honesty, but eventually I realized that the voice in my head was driven by my own insecurities. My feelings were real, but that doesn’t mean those negative thoughts were necessarily true. Obviously my disability does not make me undesirable. I didn’t want my boyfriend to be my caretaker. Rather I was the one who wanted to take responsibility for my condition. I didn’t want to put that on anyone else; it wouldn’t be fair to either of us. Honestly, I wish I had realized this earlier on. It may have improved my overall high school experience. Perhaps I would’ve put myself out there more or taken more risks, put more effort in socially. Maybe I would’ve been gentler with myself.
If I could tell the high school version of myself three things, they would be…
You are worth it.
You are special.