Muscular Dystrophy & Mental Health | Personal Strategies

My previous blog post touched on the topic of mental health and physical disability.

In response, a few people asked how I manage my mental health:

What exacerbates it, and what strategies I use to alleviate the symptoms ~

Although I dislike using the term ‘depression’ in reference to myself, it is something I suffer from, as, I believe, we all do to some degree and at some stage in our lives.

My bouts of depression are very much situational ~

I am a 32 year-old woman with a rare, progressive form of congenital muscular dystrophy. I am a non-ambulatory powered wheelchair-user, and I currently live with my parents in their home (not through choice).

How Depression Affects Me:

I withdraw, avoid social interaction, lose interest, lack motivation, procrastinate, overthink, overreact, become defensive, eat less, lose weight, neglect myself, don’t care what I wear or how I look, mood swings, sleep more, insomnia, chronic fatigue.

*DISCLAIMER: The information here is based solely on my personal experiences and circumstances. I am NOT in any way seeking to provide medical advice or instruction.

What I Do Find Helpful:

  • Saying no: As hard as this can be, it is sometimes essential for both my physical and mental health. It’s also important for me to acknowledge that I am not responsible for how others react. If I’m unable to attend an event or social gathering and others take this personally, that’s ultimately their issue, not mine.
  • Being selective about who I spend my time with: Age and life experience has made me review and evaluate the people in my life – who adds value and who doesn’t. Who are the “no matter what” friends? It may sound harsh, but I’ve learned it’s not only okay, but necessary to distance myself from certain people. It’s easy to find friends when you’re young, fit, healthy and carefree. But when times are REALLY tough, that is when you realise who and what matters most.
  • Listening to music (through earphones): A form of escapism, allowing me to block out the rest of the world and any unwanted distractions.
  • Getting out of the house: It can be anywhere, doing anything or nothing. Sometimes I just sit by the river and stare. Other times I like to venture out in the car, though for me, this means relying on someone to drive me around.
  • Express: Sometimes I lock myself away and cry, other times I sit all day in total silence. I would say, do what you need to; scream, shout, talk it through. Whatever works for you.
  • Do what you love: However small or insignificant it may seem, I try to do something, every day, just for me. It could be as simple as listening to my favourite song on repeat, writing, sketching, reading, watching TV or YouTube.
  • Self care: When I’m feeling low and I can’t be arsed with skin care, presentable attire or brushing my hair, I just spray myself, liberally, with my most expensive perfume. Granted, I’ll still feel like crap, but at least I smell great. It’s a small comfort requiring no effort.

What I Don’t Find Helpful:

  • Unsolicited advice: Superficial comments such as, “stay positive”, “get better soon”, “it could be worse”, and, “take some multivitamins” – This is neither helpful nor constructive.
  • Talking when not ready: We are often encouraged to talk and share our troubles. And, while I totally agree that it is ‘good to talk’, and we shouldn’t feel like we have to keep our thoughts, feelings and concerns to ourselves, I also think it should be on our terms. We are all different. Some people find great comfort in talking, while others don’t. I, personally, am the latter.

Muscular Dystrophy & Mental Health

Sunday 10th October 2021 ~ World Mental Health Day

It’s now officially autumn in the UK, and so the days are becoming shorter, cooler and darker.

For many of us, the cold weather and lack of sunlight negatively affects our mood (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

This impacts some people much more than others, and of course, it is only one factor that contributes to the state of our mental health.

I believe we all experience some level and form of depression throughout our lives, and for very different reasons.

We’re advised to explore the outdoors, take walks in nature, and get regular physical exercise to improve cognitive function and release endorphins . But for those of us with physical disabilities, this isn’t always possible.

As a powered wheelchair-user with congenital muscular dystrophy, I can’t go running, walking, swimming, cycling or to the gym.

Me, in my powered wheelchair

Though essential, my physiotherapy sessions came to an abrupt stop, many years ago, at the age of 14. Accessing services as a physically disabled adult is beyond challenging!

Furthermore, some with disabilities, impaired immunity and chronic illnesses are continuing to shield, and therefore cannot safely access the outdoors.

Some are completely isolated, don’t have a garden and cannot drive. Others are suffocated by the constant presence of carers and those they live with, unable to escape the confines of home.

It’s surprising how lonely you can feel in a crowded room.

So, what do WE do? How can WE support and improve our mental health?

There is no straightforward answer, (sorry about that!), as we’re all different, and facing our own battles.

I, personally, get very frustrated with life, my limitations, the lack of assistance, understanding and empathy. It does often feel like physically disabled people are disregarded from society and forgotten about.

But we feel, we need, we want, we deserve, we matter.

Related Blog Posts:

Physical Health & Mental Health

Living with a Rare Condition | Mental Health

Riding the Wave | Lockdown Perspective

Disability Lifestyle & Lockdown

I was born with a rare, progressive form of muscular dystrophy. Besides being a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, my condition comes with many other complications.

For me, being stuck at home for prolonged periods of time, due to chronic illness, is the norm. Hospital admissions, operations, cancelling plans and missing out on events and opportunities is a way of life.

Over the years, many birthdays, holidays and celebratory occasions have been lost to my condition. Whole months have been wiped out to repeated bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and pneumothorax.

~ This is the case for thousands of disabled and chronically ill people throughout the UK! ~

I know what it is to struggle, to feel trapped, isolated and helpless. Such an existence really puts life into perspective and opens your eyes to what is truly important.

Attitudes to Lockdown Restrictions

Since lockdown began, I’ve seen and heard many petty complaints from ignorant individuals, which I find incredibly frustrating.

People whining about being unable to go out partying or bar hopping to get pissed.

To those self-absorbed cretins ~ GET OVER YOURSELVES!

Despite warnings, many continue to flout the rules, refuse to wear face masks and generally take life for granted, with little regard for the wellbeing of others. Some naively appear to think they’re invincible.

Trust me, it’s a hell of a lot easier to breathe through a protective face covering than a ventilator!

So please, have a little care and consideration. Protect yourself and others.

Abide!

My Perspective

During lockdown, I can honestly say I did not miss going to pubs, restaurants, cinemas, shops or salons. To me, these are life’s luxuries.

Yes, we all need that escapism and we all enjoy going out and socialising, myself included.

But, when the time comes to look back on my life, I’m pretty certain I won’t be thinking, “damn, I wish I’d done more pubbing and clubbing”.

The one thing I REALLY missed during lockdown was quality time and physical contact with my family and closest friends. Being able to sit with them, touch them, hug them and talk face-to-face.

~ It really isn’t what you do, it’s who you do it with. ~

Coronavirus UK | Still Shielding

 

This week, the UK government issued new measures to suppress the spread of Covid-19. From Monday 14th September, social gatherings will be limited to 6 people.

In all honesty, I can’t say I’m surprised at these restrictions. From my perspective, as a physically disabled shielder, it seemed inevitable.

Our government has actively encouraged people to return to work, to school, the High Street, the salon, the gym, to pubs and restaurants.

Of course, we all want a return to some sort of normality. And while it is essential we sustain our economy through supporting businesses and minimising unemployment, it would appear BoJo favours wealth over health.

Those at greater risk have been largely neglected; the elderly, disabled and those with underlying health issues.

Many, like myself, have been shielding since March. We have been isolated in our homes, watching the world go by from behind closed windows.

[Image Description: An elderly man in a care home looks out at a female relative from behind a closed window. A carer, wearing a face mask, sits beside the man]
[Image Description: An elderly man in a care home looks out at a female relative from behind a closed window. A carer, wearing a face mask, sits beside the man]
 

Some have endured months without medical support. Personal carers, though essential, pose a risk to the most vulnerable. And others are forced to leave work, since there is little to no support for disabled employees.

I am very fortunate to have been able to continue accessing my routine hospital appointments throughout lockdown.

Despite initial anxiety and fears from friends, I felt safe and protected during every one of my 6 hospital visits and 2 GP appointments since March – all thanks to our invaluable NHS.

[Image Description: Me, sitting in a hospital waiting room, wearing a face mask]
[Image Description: Me, sitting in a hospital waiting room, wearing a face mask]
 

However, after waiting almost a year for a much-needed respiratory referral, I fear my upcoming appointment may now be cancelled, due to the latest guidelines.

My discussions with various medical professionals over the past few months reveal concerns for a second lockdown around October.

With Flu season approaching, this warning poses an even greater strain and impact on the elderly, disabled and NHS.

Getting back on the Horse

As a kid, I rode horses until the age of 10, when I lost the ability to walk.

One day, the horse I was riding decided to bolt and suddenly swerved to a halt, throwing me on the floor with an almighty bump.

Slightly shaken and slumped in a muddy puddle, with a bruised arse and a missing boot, I had two choices.

Unable to get up and walk away, I could either sit there and wallow, or clamber back on the horse.

As tempted as I was to avoid the risk and mope in the mud, I opted to get back on the frisky mare.

There’s a lesson there, somewhere…

Life can knock you down, again and again.

Sometimes you find yourself asking, “why me? What have I done to deserve this crap?”

There is often no rhyme or reason and, at times, it may feel like you just can’t catch a break. But, shit happens.

The point is, it’s up to you whether or not you try to pull yourself out of the muddy puddle.

Find the thing, the person, the people that motivates you to overcome and battle on.

I never did find my riding boot, though. Maybe the horse stole it. Bitch!

Showing Gratitude

In my previous post, I suggested writing a list of all the positive things in your life.

We’re currently experiencing tough times, but there’s still much to be thankful for.

With that in mind, here’s my list of gratitude…

1. Video calls with my brother and nineteen month-old nephew. “My no go nursery, Cazzy!” He’s quite happy going on “doggy walks” with Daddy.

2. People are realising the value of the NHS and care workers.

3. Receiving messages, calls, letters and cards from friends.

4. Blue skies, sunshine and warm weather to lift spirits.

5. Nature and Spring time. Venturing outside and exploring nature is great for improving our mood and mental health.

6. Community spirit – everyone is playing their part by volunteering, working and offering practical and emotional support.

7. My wimpy Labrador is much happier now that we’re not receiving visitors. No people – Yay!!

8. This lockdown period provides time to rest, sleep, think, plan and do the things I have been putting off, like decluttering my bedroom.

9. Environmental pollution is reducing, air quality is improving in cities, and the planet is slowly starting to recover.

10. I am fortunate to have a safe, comfortable home and a caring, loving family.

11. Finally, quarantine means there’s no pressure or expectation to shave or wax my hairy lady bits! Girls, you know what I’m talking about!

What’s on your list…?

Lockdown | Positive Thinking

I’ve read many trivial complaints on social media about the Coronavirus lockdown.

From park, pub and salon closures, postponed gigs and concerts, to cancelled botox, filler and wax appointments. Some are even moaning because they can’t race around and show off in their flashy cars. What a shame!

I appreciate we all have our own interests, outlets, coping mechanisms and methods of self-care. We all want to look and feel our best, and we all need somewhere to escape to.

But please, let’s try and keep things in perspective.

The current situation isn’t permanent. Of course, it’s tedious, stressful and frustrating, and will impact some considerably more than others. But it will pass and “normal” life will resume.

People on the frontline are literally risking their lives to help others – complete strangers. They are physically and mentally exhausted, yet keep going.

Carers continue to support the most vulnerable in society, despite the risk.

Key workers carry on working to ensure society functions and people are provided for.

On the upside, lockdown provides an opportunity for families to unite, spend quality time together and talk more.

But for others – men, women and children – being stuck in close proximity, unable to escape, can be a living hell.

The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since lockdown began!

We all have problems and we are all entitled to feel and express what we need to in order to get through these trying times. Your experiences and frustrations are valid.

But please, keep in mind the medics, carers, key workers, the elderly, disabled, those living with domestic abusers and those separated from their loved ones.

Try to appreciate what you do have – for example, your health, home, and hope for the future.

When you’re feeling low, maybe write a list of all the positive things in your life and focus on that rather than the things you are currently missing out on.

Quote from Bob Dylan, "keep on keeping on"
Quote from Bob Dylan, “keep on keeping on”

Decisions & Difficult Discussions

As a powerchair-user with congenital muscular dystrophy, I am at high-risk of developing serious complications should I contract Coronavirus.

So, I’m kinda hoping I don’t!

As much as I love them and couldn’t be without them, my folks have adopted a rather casual attitude towards the whole situation, disregarding it as, “just one of those things”.

I won’t sugar-coat, there have been arguments and tears of frustration. It’s pretty tense and stressful in our house at the moment, as I’m sure it is for many.

My big bro called the ‘rents a few times to enforce the importance of social distancing. It is comforting to have some back-up, especially coming from my great defender!

Sometimes, I do feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.

It was only on Saturday night that my Mom announced, “I’ve never known anything like this in my lifetime”.

It really was a light-bulb moment! The seriousness of the current situation seemed to finally hit home.

My brother is a teacher, his wife a business woman, and my two year-old nephew, who I see every week, attends nursery. They are therefore in contact with many different people on a daily basis.

Naturally, this lead to discussions about what we do going forward. He basically told me, “it’s your call!”.

Now, I’m not remotely materialistic and am somewhat an introvert. Missing out on holidays, going to the cinema, to restaurants, pubs and shops doesn’t particularly bother me. It isn’t forever.

All that really matters to me is the people I love – soppy cow! To be without them really is a killer!

It’s a case of weighing up the risks, being safe and sensible but also not denying ourselves life itself.

So, this week, instead of having my gorgeous nephew at home with us, we’re going for a woodland walk. We will be enjoying each other’s company, while keeping a “safe” physical distance.

My nephew on a woodland walk
My nephew on a woodland walk

My nephew on a woodland walk
My nephew on a woodland walk

My black Labrador walking down a country lane
My black Labrador walking down a country lane

It will, no doubt, be a challenge with an affectionate little boy who doesn’t understand what’s going on (and, thank feck he doesn’t!).

But, at the end of the day, it is what it is. We’ve all got to make do and get on with it, in the best way possible.

A motivational quote from Frida Kahlo
A motivational quote from Frida Kahlo

Coronavirus | Thoughts from a Disabled Pixie

Needless to say, we are in the midst of uncertain and unprecedented times.

Photo of a card reading, 'keep hanging on in there' (left) and a medical face mask (right).
Photo of a card reading, ‘keep hanging on in there’ (left) and a medical face mask (right).

Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with the latest news regarding Covid-19; on the TV, radio, newspapers and the Internet.

While most is factual information from reliable sources, there is also plenty of unhelpful rumour and speculation, particularly on social media.

Personally, I don’t find it beneficial to watch the News three times a day, unlike my folks!

We all know by now what we should and shouldn’t be doing to limit the spread and keep ourselves and each other safe.

Guidelines on social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Guidelines on social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Why add to the stress and anxiety? I’d rather focus on other things; happier things!

Of course, the situation affects everyone in some way; domestically, financially, their work, education, physical and mental health.

This is an incredibly frightening time for many, myself included. I am considered high-risk, since I have a progressive muscle-wasting condition that affects my breathing.

A Friendly Reminder from a Delicate Little Pixie

Though we all must now adapt and change our way of life somewhat, it’s important to remember this is only temporary. Things will improve.

I’ve heard people complain about the restrictions; mostly young, fit, able-bodied people. Yes, it’s a pain in the fat ass! But it isn’t forever.

Funny meme about the Coronavirus featuring the character Jay from The Inbetweeners.
Funny meme about the Coronavirus featuring the character Jay from The Inbetweeners.


Also, please be aware that many disabled and chronically ill people are repeatedly forced into prolonged periods of self-isolation throughout their lives. Plans are often cancelled last minute due to poor health. This isn’t new to them.

So, before you complain because you can’t go out partying with your mates, or to the pub, please consider those for whom limitation and isolation is a way of life.

Final Thoughts

Show your thanks and appreciation for the NHS and those working in health and social care.

Illustration of NHS healthcare workers being saluted by Superman.
Illustration of NHS healthcare workers being saluted by Superman.

Be mindful of the most vulnerable in society, and help out if you’re able to.

Print-out for those wanting to help anyone self-isolating due to Covid-19.
Print-out for those wanting to help anyone self-isolating due to Covid-19.

Please don’t panic buy or stock pile. This isn’t the apocalypse, people!

Where possible, please support local businesses.

Be sensible, be safe, be rational.

This too shall pass…

Physical Health & Mental Health

Physical disabilities/impairments and mental health issues are not mutually exclusive!

Many people, like me, living with disabilities and chronic illnesses are affected by stress, anxiety or depression at some point in their lives.

This is not to say that the disability/impairment, whether temporary or permanent, is the primary cause of the mental health issue. It could be a contributing factor, or they may be completely unrelated. You might just be super lucky and have been blessed with both – Double whammy!

Equally, those struggling with their mental health will often (if not always) experience physical side effects, such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, nausea and chest pains.

Essentially, what I’m saying is, the mind affects the body and so the body affects the mind.


My Disability & Point of View

I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy – a physical disability – that has progressed over time. I am now a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, having lost the ability to walk at age 10.

My condition has a considerable effect on my body and physical capabilities. With the best will in the world, there are many things I cannot do.

For example, my older brother is very fit and able-bodied. He has travelled the world and often goes trekking through the countryside and climbing mountains.

Last year, he and some mates completed the Three Peaks Challenge in aid of Muscular Dystrophy UK. Gruelling and possibly a little bit crazy, considering the 3 lads did all the driving themselves – but wow!

I often wish I could be out there with him. It might not be everyone’s cuppa, but it would be nice, just once, to experience that sort of thrill and adrenaline rush. A real physical accomplishment whilst being in the midst of nature.

But, I can’t. And I never will. Of course, this gets me down and impacts on my mood. Yes, I wish I could walk, run, dance, be completely independent and spontaneous. But I can’t. I am limited and reliant on support from others to live my life. This is something I have no choice but to accept.

There is no treatment, no cure, and no pill I can pop to help the situation. For lack of a better phrase, it is very much a case of, deal with it!

I cannot control my disability or how it affects my body. Therefore, it is important to focus on the things I CAN do and control.

I can’t dance, so I like to watch the dancing (yes, I’m a sad, old Strictly fan. Don’t care!)

I can’t drive, so I have a passenger WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), which allows me to get out and about.

My Motability passenger WAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle)

I can’t walk or run, so I roll (with style)!

Admittedly, I’m pretty crap at sorting my own problems out. So I tend to focus on other people’s 😂 Not necessarily a good thing, but there ya go!


Living with a physical disability is a way of life. It is inflicted on us – we have not chosen this path. Similarly, living with a mental health illness is a way of life. So what you gonna do? ADAPT or Die!