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The unspoken emotional toll of disability

Whether it’s a romantic date or a trip to the doctors about that awkward medical issue you’d rather keep to yourself. The reality is; if you have a physical disability, you often have to give up a proportion of your personal space and dignity every day in return for the support you need.

Let’s face it, many of us want to find a life partner. Someone who we can share our joy, our pain and our life’s journey alongside. At the risk of you thinking I am a total romantic, I will continue and say, we want to find someone who wants to wine and dine us; who will take us on romantic weekends away; and someone who we can be content with watching the world go by.

However, if you have a physical disability, activities that can be considered ‘part of life’ require careful planning for successful execution. Whether it’s a romantic date or a trip to the doctors about that awkward medical issue you’d rather keep to yourself. The reality is; if you have a physical disability, you often have to give up a proportion of your personal space and dignity every day in return for the support you need.

While it’s awesome that we live in a more person centred world that is encouraging people with disability to have more autonomy in their lives. I think it’s important to acknowledge the emotional toll that having a disability can take on our lives.

I refer to needing to interact with someone for a large proportion of my day due to my support needs, which often means communicating with a support person in the morning; from the moment I open my eyes until – as the case may be – I close my eyes again that night.

Even if I get along fabulously with my support people, I think it’s still important to remember that I have someone who is paid walking alongside me to support me live my life. Whilst helpful, it can also be draining and at times overwhelming.

For some of us, this means we need to be “interrupted” due to our need for assistance. Sometimes, someone who we might not otherwise share our feelings with, might get to see us in an emotional and vulnerable state. It is a particularly good time to acknowledge the impact this can have on our lives, given today it is World Mental Health Day. For me, this is a time where we can all acknowledge the importance of mental health for both ourselves and those around us.

It is a time to accept that it is OK not feel happy all the time and that we all have a part to play in breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health, by trying to be more open, honest and accepting of it.

When I was a teenager I saw support staff as people who helped me create independence from my family. Today, I see my support staff as people who walk alongside me, providing the support I need in the least intrusive way possible so I can get on with my life.

I want to make it clear that I do not wish to create the impression that support staff are in the way. But, next time you are looking for support staff I encourage you to first have a think about what is important to you; because in my experience, this will help you frame the kind of person you might look for.

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