In celebration of Disability Pride Month this July, I am going to share some of my recent reflections as a disabled therapist. My personal disabilities live in the realms of mental health, neurodivergence, and
invisible physical disability. I want to be very clear that I speak for myself and myself alone. My reflections are based on my lived experience, expertise in the field of mental health, and the years I have spent working with other disabled people. This is a reminder to ask appropriate questions rather than make assumptions about the individual experiences and desires of disabled people or members of any community.
My celebration this month is writing this post and trying to be gentle with myself. My body decided to really drive home the disability of it all this month and throw me into a chronic pain flare up. I provide therapy to other disabled people every day and yet, every personal flare up is just as emotionally difficult as the last. I talk with my clients about struggle care (check out KC Davis for more on this), coping with shame and internalized ableism, and connecting with support systems, but did I make use of all this knowledge and these skills? Absolutely not.
From the start of the flare up, I decided to ignore my needs and continued seeing clients. When I could no-longer be a good therapist for my clients and had to cancel sessions, I shame spiraled and judged myself. I isolated instead of reaching out for emotional support. I tried to use distractions to run away from my reality. I did everything I have learned doesn’t help. It took several days until I started to remember some of my skills and then, I immediately shamed myself for taking so long to remember. And it’s okay, it’s all okay. Or at least that is what I am currently working on telling myself. It’s okay that my brain was not working in the beginning of this flare up. It makes sense that I wanted to avoid and watch TV shows instead of doing more challenging caregiving. I did what I had capacity for. I did what felt good. It’s even okay that part of me shamed myself for all of that. It makes sense that I would be frustrated and want to do better by myself. After all of this, as always, I am back to relearning the importance of checking in with myself in the moment and reacting based on the needs and capacity of the present.
Now that I have more capacity, I can start implementing more skills and working on being more compassionate with all parts of myself. This is a lesson that I will learn and relearn for the rest of my life. That’s human. I can not expect myself to fight every instinct and react perfectly in every flare up. I can not expect perfect self-compassion when I am exhausted and in pain. I will face each new flare up imperfectly and I will rebuild and repair when I have capacity to do so.
In this reflection, I also want to recognize some of my privilege. I work for a company that values accessibility and accommodations. I have a supportive partner who was able to step in for me even when I could not articulate my needs. I have lovely friends who checked in and offered emotional support all on their own. I was raised by a disabled mother who advocated for me in receiving a diagnosis and taught me the skills she knows. I am white and grew up with health insurance that allowed me to access healthcare, receive a diagnosis, and treatment. I am also in a financial place where I can take off a little time from work and shoulder the consequences. I am sure I am missing some privileges, but I feel it is important to acknowledge the supports I have that many others lack.
How Other Disabled Folks Can Celebrate:
Share your experiences
Be intentional about play and joy in your life
Dr. Kristin Neff https://self-compassion.org/
Explore disabled communities around hobbies, passions, diagnoses
I am particularly fond of the disabled artist community on Instagram and Threads.
Connect with supports
Reach out to a therapist who worked with disability specific stressors and trauma
KC Davis Struggle Care https://www.strugglecare.com/
How Allies Can Celebrate:
Check in on your disabled friends
Seek education about the history and current struggles of the disability community
Support disabled owned businesses
Explore disabled creators
Elevate Disabled voices
Advocate for accessibility
If you are interested in following me for a hodgepodge of disability, art, and mental health content: @hales_whimsies on Instagram and Threads
Learn more about the Disability Pride Flag creator Ann Magill: