I'll be honest, this post is something I've wanted to write since I wrote my piece on angry disabled people. I had a hard time starting this post because I don't want to sound ignorant or offend anyone. Mental illness affects many people and I definitely do not want to take it lightly. The fact is, most people have struggled with their mental health at one point or another. No one is immune to it.
As far as I can tell, the discussion of mental health pertaining to people with physical disabilities (or any disability for that matter) is not widely talked about. Part of the reason could be because there is more of a focus on physical health. A lot of disabled people I know, including myself, have regular doctor's appointments, specialist appointments, physiotherapy appointments, etc., but never with a social worker or psychologist. A person's mental health is rarely ever brought up unless you bring it up yourself. In fact, I don't remember the last time I was asked how I was coping with life by a medical professional.
When I was a kid, I remember my parents seeing a social worker at ErinoakKids and they explained to me that the social worker helped them cope with having a child with a disability. Looking back on it, I'm glad they received this support. I just wish I received the same amount of support, especially when I was a teenager and in my early twenties. Don't get me wrong, I received a tremendous amount of support from my family, but there were parts of my life where I could have benefited from outside support, particularly during my transition into adulthood.
Growing up, I was encouraged by everyone around me to be as independent as possible and was often told (mainly by teachers and occupational therapists) that if someone offered to help me to tell them "I can do it myself." As I reflect on this, I realize that putting that amount of pressure on a kid that was barely 10 years-old was a disservice to me.
My "I can do it" attitude started to become an issue after graduated from college and was looking to find my way into the workforce. Up until this point I had accomplished most things I had set my mind to and didn't really acknowledge any bumps along the way. For the first time in my life, I started to see that my disability and being in a wheelchair was a major roadblock. I had no problem getting interviews, but getting hired was another issue. After going to close to 15 interviews for non-paid internships and not being hired for any of them, I couldn't help but feel rejected and wondered if the issue was my physical disability. Thankfully, I ended up getting hired as an intern at TV Guide Canada, which led to a job as a Listings Reporter, but my confidence was shaken.
I left my position at TV Guide Canada after working there for over three years. A large part of why I left was burnout. My commute from one end of the city to the other every day started to get exhausting and I just wasn't happy, so I figured I needed a change. I took a few courses to update my skills, but for the most part, I felt defeated. I didn't feel like I had it in me to hold a full-time job and didn't think I could handle the endless cycle of going through interviews and getting rejected again, so I stayed in my nice, safe apartment.
I spent much of the next two or three years questioning everything about myself. All of the years I spent putting intense pressure on myself to be independent became too much for me. I remember spontaneously bursting into tears because I couldn't cope with being an adult. All of the confidence I once had was gone.
Things started to slowly get better when my sister offered me an administrative position at her distribution company. It forced me to get back into the world again and I slowly regained some of that confidence I thought I lost. This newfound confidence is what motivated me to start Ling.
What I learned from the experience is that there is nothing wrong with having rough points in your life and it's okay to admit when you're struggling. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.