Disability Counselling: Part 3

This week’s disability counselling largely covered personal relationships and how illness has affected them. This included family and friendships, working relationships and romantic ones. For obvious reasons I won’t be going into detail on these. As always, though, there are some general themes I can discuss which may help others in the same situation.

Isolation and Losing Friends

After my last counselling post, someone emailed me to thank me for writing it. We discussed how good it is to connect to people who understand what we’re going through. Disability can be very lonely. Vestibular disorders are particularly isolating because they limit the physical environments you can engage with. Every person suffering from a vestibular disorder has symptoms specific to them and triggers which make their nausea, vertigo or disequilibrium worse. For me it’s always been:

  • Very warm rooms, particularly if they’re stuffy.
  • Anywhere with bright visual stimulation, like a supermarket.
  • Busy streets with lots of traffic.
  • Areas with a high concentration of people movement: busy shops, concert arenas etc.
  • Loud noise. Especially where there may be various sources of noise to take in at once, such as in a pub.

Couple all this with the fact that at one point I could hardly walk from my living room to the kitchen without gripping the wall, that even now walking is extremely difficult and that standing for too long leaves me dizzy; it’s easy to see how all that could leave you feeling as if your life had been shrunk down.

This topic is difficult to talk about in general terms because we all engage in such different relationships. Everyone’s got a unique experience of family, friendship and romantic relationships. From what I’ve heard from others, though, many have lost friends and partners because of their disorder.

When you can’t do the things that link you to people anymore, they sometimes drift away. It can be unbearably painful and links with last week’s theme of grief and loss. Just as you might need to mourn the loss of the person you used to be, you may also have to learn to accept that not everyone stuck around.

These issues are fraught with complications. With fewer people in your inner circle you may begin to feel like a burden to those who stayed. It can also be hard not to blame yourself for those lost friendships. It can make you feel that maybe you weren’t worthy of their friendship and help. It can play tricks on your self-confidence.

What you can do to counter all this will be determined by where you are in the story of your illness and the parameters it sets for you. For me it’s been about reaching out to new friends (even when it’s been frightening), allowing myself to grieve all the relationships that disappeared, and well, the burden thing needs more work.

A New Chapter

Having established how my disability got me to this point and knowing I want to begin slowly building a new future around it but not defined by it, we started looking at how I can actually achieve that.

I was asked to draw a circle and section it up into a pie chart. Each slice of the pie had to be labelled with all the things that fill up my life now – work, hobbies, family etc. The size of the slices had to represent roughly how much each thing fills up my life. I then had to do the same again, but as I would ideally like life to be.

It was a very enlightening exercise. I won’t discuss my own charts, as they’re private. But once you know where you want to be, it’s easier to begin cutting through the overgrowth and making a path towards it.

The reality might be that some of the decisions which take you where you want to go are in the hands of other people or even dependent on how your disability changes. But there is always something you can do to start lifting yourself out of where you don’t want to be, whether that be a physical location or a state of mind. For me, it’s been about bringing new people into my life to make it feel fuller. Even after just a few weeks, that’s made a noticeable difference.

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