I talk about my disabilities a lot, it’s hard not to when they affect every second of your life. Today, I’m going to zone in on something I struggle hugely with: self-image.
You see, being sick with invisible illness takes a very big hit on your self-esteem. To the outside world you don’t look like your struggling. They have no idea of your inner turmoil, of the battle you face every day. It’s easy to look in the mirror and forget your sick, even if it’s only for a second. I’d do anything to be as healthy as I look, but soon the mirror starts to crack. You start to see the flaws, the story behind every mark on your body. You know all the hidden meanings behind every curve, and what symptom they each represent. It’s all a part of your story; some things showing what you have beaten, and others which are still dragging you down.
It’s hard. Complicated. A messy combination of looking able-bodied, when your mind and body are falling apart.
It takes a toll on your mental health. If I’m being blunt, becoming sick has made me far more body conscious than I used to be. Particularly in the last year, it’s been hard to accept the rapid weight gain due to upping my anti-depressants I take for my GAD. The magic blue pills stabilise me, but at what cost. Most of my clothes no longer fit me, so instead I have to decide between keeping them around just in case, or accepting my fate.
Mobility aids completely shatter the mirror. Suddenly, you can no longer pretend you’re normal. You must face up to reality. You must accept you’re sick, that you’ll probably never get better. Using mobility aids doesn’t even cure anyone, in fact there are a lot of situations that make life even harder. Have you tried to do a quick food shop on crutches, or co-ordinate opening a door without dropping your brew or your stick?!?!?!
Buying a mobility aid is an investment into your quality of life. I bought my first mobility aid – a mobility scooter – just over 2 years ago, and since then I’ve gone through crutches, a walking stick, a manual wheelchair, and now a powerchair. They’ve all changed my life in unique ways, but equally every one has come with consequences. No 23-year-old should need any of these things. I’ve tried to adjust in my normal quirky manor, which admittedly results in wacky, colourful designs.
The thing I’ve struggled with the most is the odd glimpse of myself in the mirror. Unexpected, it still comes as a shock. In my head, I still look like the able-bodied gal from 4 years ago. Adding a bright aid turns me into a completely different person. It’s… confusing. Sometimes I don’t even recognise myself.
I adore my powerchair, I do, but cruising around in a mini-car isn’t the typical look for a 20-something. For all the freedom it gives me, I might as well be wearing a neon banana costume. I look different from everyone else, and even from myself. Whilst I openly deal with it by being a tad cocky, inside I’m battling my anxiety. I try to own the situation, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Using a chair means I have more energy and less pain, but it also triggers my self-doubt. Essentially, my inner dialogue is Mean Girls by now. If I can’t cope with how I look, how will anyone else be able to. Blah blah blah, you get the picture.
All these things said, I’m working on being better. Self-acceptance plays an important part in recovery. Every time I have a doubt, I try to train myself out of the negativity. Yes, I look different these days. No, it’s not even remotely close to how I thought my life would pan out. I have my bad days, but my life isn’t all rubbish… I’m still alive and kicking.