Physical Disability & Mental Health

Hi everyone,

So, here’s my next blog. I’m going to talk about a subject that I’m very passionate about. It’s an area I have worked in previously, an area I continue to work in occasionally, and an area I’d like to get more involved with in the future. It’s also a topic that, from my experience, most people have struggled to talk openly about. It’s Mental Health.

Our mental health is SO important. It’s as important – if not more important – than our physical health and is something we ALL have. How many of you have felt like you’ve had a REALLY bad day? What about a really good day? Ever felt anxious about things you have to do at work, or exams you’ve had to take at school? All of those things involve our mental health. Most of us will experience these things very regularly. So, why don’t we talk about it? Why is it so taboo to say “actually, I’m not feeling so good today”?

1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 young people will experience some form of mental health issue at any one time in their lives. Yes, those are the statistics (see the Time to Change website for more details, links to follow at the end of this blog). So, why is there still, in 2015, so much stigma surrounding talking about mental health problems and saying if you’re feeling depressed or anxious? The more we talk about it, the more we can try and challenge that stigma. This is why I’ve decided to share my experience of mental health problems with you now.

*and breathe* (see, the stigma is still there, I’m nervous about writing this, and especially nervous for my family to read this, anyway…Here goes)

Right, well. I’d say I realised I have mental health issues aged 19, in my second year of university, following the break up of a relationship. It was awful: I was crying constantly, I didn’t want to eat, I couldn’t sleep, I certainly didn’t want to socialise. Now, as a psychology student, I could only bury my head in the sand for a short time. After reading the text books & writing the essays, I was pretty sure I was depressed. So I booked an appointment with the GP.

I was diagnosed with depression and the doctor prescribed anti-depressants. Initially, I felt worse and debated stopping taking them, but after about a month, they started to take the edge off. I started to feel human again. Following a number of difficult life events since then, I still take anti-depressants now (though I’m on my third different type), and I finally feel human again. In my opinion, they definitely keep me ‘stable’.

Anyway, I was 19 when I first admitted I had a problem, but if you ask my close friends and family (and probably myself, if I’m truly honest) my mental health issues began much earlier, when I started high school (aged 11), following a stay in hospital after a major hip operation.

Now, this is where my physical disability comes in. I wouldn’t have needed the aforementioned hip operation had I not had a physical disability (Cerebral Palsy, AKA. CP). As I grew, my left hip grew out of its socket and I needed an operation (and the insertion of a metal plate) to put it back into place.

The operation was a success. Years later (aged 16) I had the metal plate removed, and today my hip is totally fine (*touches wood*). So thankfully, as I type this, my mental health and physical health are stable (CP is not a degenerative condition, it won’t get majorly worse as I get older, as some physical disabilities do).

As you can imagine, it has taken me a long time (and a lot of soul searching) to get to this point. I owe so so much to my closest friends. I hope they read this and know who they are (they should do). Secondly, thank you SO much to my family, particularly my parents and my Nan, who have had to (and still have to) put up with so much c**p from me over the years, but continue to love and support me through the good, and not-so-good times. I honestly would not be in such a positive place now without you all.

It’s only now that I understand, or at least properly realise, how much of an impact on my mental health my physical disability has had and continues to have. As I grow up, there’s the usual worries about moving out, getting my own place, and whether I will start a family; with the added worry of will I be able to employ a suitable carer, will I be able to buy an accessible house/flat, and will I find a partner who will honestly, unconditionally put up with the challenges of living & being with someone who has a physical disability?

When I was younger I had a lot of support and meetings about how to look after myself physically: “do these exercises”, “wear these special shoes”, “you might want to consider this operation”. However, there was no support around ‘Oh, you have to use a wheelchair, you’re not ‘the same’ as the majority of your peers and that must be tough’. In fact, from what I remember, the difficulty surrounding this was not addressed at all. Don’t you think it should be? I certainly do! And I REALLY hope young wheelchair users these days are given the option of some kind of mental support for the struggles they might face, because as soon as puberty and hormones kick in, life gets a whole lot tougher.

I can’t speak for them, but I don’t think my parents received any support for how to care for a physically disabled child either. That also must have been really tough: it’s certainly not what they signed up for, I can assure you. I always hear pregnant ladies say “as long as it’s healthy, I don’t care what it is”. So many people don’t get that luxury. Where is the support and advice? I do, however, think these support groups are more common now, 25 years after I was born. I’m glad. But as far as I know, there’s still very minimal support from disabled children and how to deal with how much it can suck at times.

Shouldn’t we live in a world where we have some kind of provision for this now? Even if kids in wheelchairs just get a single letter or phone call from an older person with the same disability that they have (I know, their experiences won’t be the same, but hopefully they won’t feel so alone and they would be able to talk to somebody who has a slight idea what they’re going through). I’d certainly be up for doing this. Maybe I’ll put the idea forward to my local MP, maybe even the PM, who knows…

These days, I have completed my undergraduate degree, and as you may be aware from my first blog, I am currently studying a postgraduate course in Integrative Psychotherapy. It is definitely my own experience of mental health problems that have led me to pursue a career in one of the helping professions. If I can make even just the slightest difference to just one person, I will have done my job.

I still work occasionally for the Mental Health charities Time to Change and Rethink Mental Illness as a Co-Trainer. I have been into schools to deliver my personal testimony about my mental health issues and the stigma I have experienced, alongside one of the charity workers who’ll show fancy films and deliver all the stats. Our aim is to get more people talking about mental health (even if it’s just asking somebody how they are and actually listening to their answer) with a hope to reduce the stigma around it. I feel it’s so important to deliver this message in schools as it will be the next generation who could really make a difference, and make the subject of mental health a little less taboo.

I really hope so anyway.

If you take one thing from this blog, I want it to be that of course, having a physical disability will affect your mental health. However, if you tell someone, you can get help and support. People can help you. Therapy has certainly helped me. It’s tough, but it can be managed and you can live a ‘normal’ life (whatever that means).

If you read this far, thank you so much. I hope it has given you some food for thought; encouraged you to take some time out to look after your own mental health; and you may have even learned something…Maybe.

Take Care,

Louise

*And breathe Again*
P.S. as promised, here are some mental health links that I find helpful:

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

http://www.rethink.org/

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://www.samaritans.org

http://www.scope.org.uk

http://www.b-eat.co.uk

http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk

http://www.bipolaruk.org.uk

http://www.bpdworld.org

Healthy Minds

Depression Alliance

OCD Action

I Grew Up Not Talking About My Disability. I Want to Change That for Others.

As I was growing up, I always had the feeling no one could relate to my experience of living with a disability. I have spinal muscular atrophy type II and scoliosis. I felt like I didn’t really “fit” in this world as my disability was never talked about. I went through mainstream education and overcame many challenges along the way. I never had a friend with a disability or illness growing up and had no one to relate to about being hospitalized for weeks on end.

In those days, there was no support in schools. My fellow pupils helped me day by day, but I often felt ignored by the teachers. I had terrible anxiety all the time and was incredibly introverted. I’m glad things have changed since then. I felt like I needed a survival guide to get through what would be a normal day to most.

Not talking about my disability was great on one level because I felt people just saw me for myself. But on another level, it felt I was denying the difficulties I was experiencing. I’m aware my parents were never offered any emotional support by professionals, and this meant they never had the opportunity to talk about the impact I had on their lives. No one can prepare for being told their child is disabled and that their daily life would be changed forever.

I wish I had someone to talk to when I was younger about my experiences so I could have had a better relationship with myself sooner. It was easy to be depressed, frustrated and isolated in my experience. I found myself protecting those around me from the fact that life was sometimes overwhelming for me. I didn’t want to upset my loved ones, since none of this was anyone’s fault.

So I became the girl who always had a smile on her face. No one could see past this, and it took a long time for me to work through the resentment I felt towards my disability. Growing up, I constantly thought about what I couldn’t do, what experiences I was missing out on and thinking my life would never be “normal.”

This was a difficult journey of acceptance to face alone. But years down the line, this inspired me to forge a career as a counselor. It wasn’t an easy decision to specialize in disability and illness, since I knew firsthand how complex those issues can be. Having gone through my own personal journey and finally appreciating everything my disability taught me, I felt it was time to offer this support to other individuals with disabilities. I have met some wonderful people on this path. And I have helped individuals acknowledge the difficult days but, at the same time, have encouraged them not to be defined by their disability or illness.

I feel I was given this hand in life to do something positive with it. I feel passionately that individuals should be supported to reach their potential. I think it’s important for individuals not to face their struggles alone. I want to make a difference to someone on their difficult days, and I want to rejoice with the person who celebrates what their life has taught them.#

By Helen Rutherford

You can get in contact with Helen in a variety of ways:

Twitter @emotionalresp

*NOTE* This piece was also published on The Mighty.com and can be found by following the link: http://themighty.com/2015/09/i-grew-up-not-talk1ng-about-my-disability-i-want-to-change-that-for-others/

COMPETITION

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Hey everyone, it’s Louise again.

So we’re lucky to have our friends over at thestudentwordsmith.com running a poetry competition for us. We’d love it if you entered.

All abilities and styles accepted. The winner will be given a prize & will be invited to the company’s annual awards ceremony in Loughborough, Leicestershire in April 2016.

Please get involved and visit http://www.thestudentwordsmith.com for further info 🙂

Best wishes, and Good Luck!

Happy Writing 🙂

xxx

 

 

Introducing Lizzie

Hi folks.

I must begin by admitting that this is the first blog I have ever contributed to. I cannot, however, a more fitting and original blog to write for than Head over Wheels.  I was invited write this piece by Louise, who have known for donkey’s years, since we were both five, in fact. Regular bloggers and readers may have to forgive me if this style is not the usual form for blogs. I hope people will enjoy it nevertheless.

I will now follow the example set by Louise and telling you a little about myself. My name is Elizabeth Hancock, and, as you may have surmised from my brief introduction, I am twenty-five.  Those closest to me call me Lizzie. I, like Louise, was born with Cerebral Palsy which limits my mobility and means I am only able to walk short distances and use a wheelchair when I’m out and about. I am fortunate enough to be able to work a short distance using sticks. I was fortunate enough to have surgery to ensure that I would be able to continue to do this as I grew older, which was thankfully successful. Even in that admittedly sometimes rather bleak situation, I was lucky enough to make some great friends who I’m in touch with over ten years later, and managed to have a great laugh at times. There were about three of us who were all in hospital for similar operations, and we used to refer to ourselves as ‘the CP club’. One particularly hilarious incident I remember involved a fruit pastel ending up in a glass of Vimto (but I guess you had to be there)!

I went through school much as anyone else does. I have always enjoyed learning and did fairly well in my endeavours.  For two years from 2004 to 2006 I was involved with my local community as a member of the Student Council. One of my pet projects was raising awareness of disability by going round the town centre and filling out a questionnaire asking about how particular shops dealt with customers with disabilities, asking whether they had a lower counter that wheelchair users could reach, for example. For anyone who is interested, Marks and Spencer’s came top of all the shops we visited.

In short order I found myself undertaking an undergraduate degree in Psychology, having discovered a liking for it at A-Level. I did however end up completing a joint degree in History, which I have always loved, and Psychology together. During the course of my time at University I was asked to take part in a study for another university exploring what it is like to be a student (I don’t know, anyone would think I had an interesting life :)). In this endeavour as in others I have been supported by the best, kindest and most loyal friends and family anyone could wish for. I enjoined my time at University immensely. I came away with not only a degree in my chosen subject, but also with one in the art of procrastination, as I’m sure many have done before me.

I continue to live my life fully, and have recently completed a Masters degree in History at the University of Warwick and await results. For the past three years I have been volunteering for the National Trust and find it very fulfilling and relish the change to meet lovely people. I hope to soon enough join Louise in the Adapted Car Drivers Club. I have also be involved with other forms of volunteering in the past.

Apart from the more usual hobbies of reading, binge watching on Netflix and quizzing I enjoy playing poker and creative writing (which is why writing an almost autobiographical piece seems strange).

But that is quite enough about me I should think. I hope this serves to show that I have never let my disability hold me back, and that I believe that it is important for people to embrace their differences regardless of whether they are able-bodied or not. Our differences are, after all, what makes the world such a vibrant, versatile and interesting place.

Best wishes,

Lizzie 🙂

Hi, I’m Louise – An Introduction

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Hi everyone,

This is my first blog post, so I’m kind of nervous.

I just wanted to introduce myself and the idea behind this blog… Basically, ‘Head Over Wheels’ came about when I was watching a programme about disabled people finding love on TV. I felt like most of the dating sites were focused on people with a learning difficulty, and I wanted to create something for wheelchair users (like myself). The name is a twist on ‘Head Over Heels’ (in love).

I then decided I wanted the idea to be more than just a dating site, and that’s where the idea for this blog was born. I want to create a safe, positive online space where young wheelchair users can share their stories about living with their different difficulties and  discuss relevant news stories.

So, I thought I’d start by telling my story:

I’m Louise, 25 years old, from Birmingham. I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and for me, this means my legs and left arm/hand don’t work ‘normally’ (but what is ‘normal’ anyway). When I was younger, I could walk a little independently and I also used a frame to assist my walking. However, when I moved to high school, the distances I had to walk were much greater, and I couldn’t manage these on my frame so I went around school in an electric wheelchair. I’ve been very fortunate to have wheelchairs and scooters funded for me over the years by the NHS and local golf clubs.

Aged 13 I found a BBC Teens message board where young people could interact. It was a safe space (moderated) for us to share our stories and questions and not feel so alone through the difficult time that is your teenage years. Although the BBC Board shut down, one of the members set up an alternative message board and 12 years on, I’m still in touch with a lot of the girls I met on the message board. We meet up as regularly as we can, are still incredibly supportive of each other and I would consider them some of my closest, most-trusted friends. I love you all.

I finished my Alevels at Waseley Hills High School in Worcestershire in 2008, and was determined that my next step would be to study a Psychology degree at Loughborough University.

I moved to Loughborough to start my degree in September 2008 and I spent 4 years (including a work placement year at Birmingham Children’s Hospital) studying the subject. I loved the course, I loved and am so grateful for the friends for life I made, and I loved Loughborough. Even though I am now living back in Birmingham, I still try to visit as often as possible.

Loughborough was definitely where I gained my independence and learnt about my place in the world. However, I couldn’t have achieved this without my family and friends at home; my new friends from university, and most importantly, the 7 girls who spent a year of their lives supporting me with personal care whilst at university. I owe so much to them, and feel very lucky to now call them friends although they were once my carers.

As you might imagine, life can be difficult. I realise that I am incredibly lucky that I am as able as I am,  and I hope I can use this to help others who have similar experiences. I also feel lucky that I am in a positive place right now, but life hasn’t always been like this.

There have been times where I have been incredibly low and not really known how to move forward. But I will be eternally grateful to my friends and family for giving me the strength and support to fight through the low times. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, on reflection I realise I was lucky enough to receive counselling to help me work on some of the struggles I was facing.

I now drive an adapted car (I drive into the back in my wheelchair and drive while I am sat in my chair); I work part-time as a Learning Support Assistant at Solihull College and as a Co-Trainer at Rethink Mental Illness. I am also studying a part-time postgraduate course in Integrative Psychotherapy. As you can see, I’m keeping busy 🙂

One of the Requirements of the Psychotherapy course is that we have weekly personal therapy. Therefore, as we speak I am working through struggles that being a wheelchair user presents. It has also been such a revelation to me to understand that you don’t have to be ‘ill’ or want to ‘fix a certain issue’ to have therapy. I have found it invaluable to have a space to talk where I don’t feel judged or like I will say the wrong thing.  I recommend therapy to anyone reading this.

So, there it is, my first blog post. However, I don’t want this blog to be just about me. The whole point of Head Over Wheels is for young people who use wheelchairs to have a safe space to talk and discuss life’s issues and share positives with others in similar positions.

With that in mind, if you’re a wheelchair user reading this and feel like sharing your story or suggesting a topic for discussion please email: headoverwheels2015@gmail.com.

Please remember that this is a new idea & the first of this kind that I’ve had, but any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Finally, I would like to thank my parents and my two best friends: Lucy and Katy for encouraging me to give this a go. Also, I would like to thank Nathan Littleton, a high-school friend (now local, successful businessman) who suggested this layout as a start-up platform for this ideaa; a huge thank you to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (Paralympic legend and my childhood hero) who discussed ideas and made suggestions for this idea to go forward; and a massive thank you to Rik Moody who put in a huge amount of time and extraordinary effort in designing the Head Over Wheels logo 🙂 I can’t thank you all enough!

Please share this with friends and anybody you think would be interested in this project.

Many thanks for reading; keep in touch

Lots of love,

Louise xxx