We hear often about the importance of looking after our mental health, and the things we can do to support ourselves. Take long walks, be present in your body, try yoga. But what if you’re a disabled person? How can you adapt the standard mental health advice to look after yourself in a way that is accessible?
I have cerebral palsy, which means that most of the time I use a wheelchair. A very visual representation of disability. What a lot of people don’t know about me, because it’s something that you can’t see, is that I also have complex PTSD. Complex PTSD is a mental health condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as emotional flashbacks and dissociation.
Learning to live with and indeed to thrive with complex PTSD whilst managing a physical impairment has been quite the journey for me, and it’s one that I’m still on and always learning more about. So as 10th October marks World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d take the time to share some tips that have helped me to find a good balance when it comes to managing mental and physical health.
It’s always good to talk
Let’s be honest, opening up about the things we are struggling with can be scary at the best of times. Your brain might tell you that you’re alone in these feelings, that other people don’t want to know or that they will think less of you. I cannot emphasise this enough: those things aren’t true. One of the most challenging things about living with a mental health condition is the isolation it can cause. And, for me at least, the opposite to isolation is openness and connection. Find someone trusted who you can confide in, whether that be a friend, a family member, or a mental health professional. You’re likely to find that you aren’t alone in your feelings, and by talking it out with someone else you might just be able to help them feel less alone, too.
Prioritise rest and ‘you’ time
As disabled people, so often we are conditioned to ‘push through’ whatever physical, mental or other symptoms we might be struggling with. I know I personally have a tendency to distract myself from difficult thoughts or feelings by being hyper-productive; working as much as I can, always finding a job to do in the house and never really allowing my brain to switch off. I’ve had to train myself to embrace, and enjoy, rest and relaxation. These days I love a duvet day, or an evening binge-watching Netflix or reading a book. Take some time to figure out which activities help you to feel calm and at peace, and make time for them, often.
AccessAble Head of Marketing Carrie-Ann Lightley
If you can, get outside
It’s 2023, and our lives are becoming increasingly more virtual. Whilst that’s such a good thing for accessible work, study, and virtual connection across the world, for me it means that there are days when I don’t see the outside world at all. I am fortunate enough to have a small dog, Poppy, who now motivates me to get outside more often, and I always, always feel better even for just 10 minutes of fresh air. My top tip here is quality over quantity: if staying out in the weather or a long walk/wheel is difficult for you, try and be grounded and present in the elements and environment just for a few minutes. I like to close my eyes, feel whatever the weather is doing on my skin, listen to the wind/birds/traffic sounds, and take in the smells. If you can’t get outside, can you get to an open window for a similar exercise?
Get to know yourself, your triggers, and what good looks like for you
We are all individuals, disabled or not, whether we have mental health challenges or not. The most impactful part of my own mental health healing journey has been truly getting to know myself; understanding what triggers difficult feelings for me, and why that happens. Learning what success looks like for me (in one word, balance), and allowing myself to go against some of the more traditional mental health advice out there, because it doesn’t work for me. Learning what I truly like, what I don’t like, and letting that be okay. Developing and trusting my own intuition. Unapologetically being my whole self, in all areas of my life.
Because truly successful mental health management is about having the flexibility to manage the good, the bad, and everything in between. Knowing that challenges will always arise, but our power comes from how we respond to them.