Trigger warning: suicidal thoughts & self-harm
July is disability pride month. Four years ago, after jumping in front of a train trying to end my life, I lost my legs and became physically disabled.
After loosing my teenage years locked up in psychiatric wards fighting for my life with depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and eating disorders, at 19 it became so unbearable and bad that this incident occurred. I ended up in an induced coma for a week, and woke up to the horrid realisation that I had lost ( at the time ) my left leg and right foot.
A month later, I experienced a staph infection and my right leg had to be amputated too. It was the hardest experience of my life. And then to top it off, my body turned septic – ( an infection of the blood stream ). Extremely lucky to even still be alive, I have learnt to walk again after being told I never would be able to. It took so, so many months of gruelling rehabilitation to even stand up on one prosthetic leg, but the first steps were truely magical; a moment that was full of tears but just something that was indescribable in the best way possible.
I remember my physiotherapist turning away to assist another patient – and there I was walking on two prosthetic legs because I decided in that moment I could.
Although this was an incredible highlight, I’ve learnt since then, however, in society generally speaking, disabilities are a topic that too often people are uncomfortable talking about and is also a topic people unfortunately don’t know much about either. Just because somebody’s disability also might not be visually noticeable, it doesn’t mean it’s not there and it doesn’t make their experiences less valid. That’s definitely something I have learnt myself along the way myself too.
The most important thing I have learnt from having a disability is that the person with a disability has an illness / disability that prevents them from doing certain things. The person who has a disability has a body that is different from yours, functions differently to yours also, but at the end of the day, they haven’t changed. They are absolutely no less of a person. They may have to rest more, they may have to alter the way they do things. But that’s it, they’re still human.
People with disabilities still get treated with a lot of discrimination and misunderstanding, and it needs to change. As a bilateral below knee amputee and as someone who has suffered severely with depression and post traumatic stress disorder, I know too well the differences and marginalisation that comes with it. And it’s saddening – but there are actions that can be taken to change this!
**Here are some ideas of what you can do to help someone with a disability **
Directly ask them what they need – listen. Listen to disabled voices!!!! Truly listen – personal / real life experiences are such a powerful tool when it comes to being able to really understand, plus they’re incredibly powerful!
Educate yourself on the illness / disability someone you know might have – research it, read experiences from those with the illness / disability has had, follow blogs, join support groups etc. Although you might not be able to personally understand what someone goes through, educating yourself can go a long way – and will mean more than you know to those living with the disability. Even sit down with that person and let them tell you about their disability / illness, you could learn so much from them!
Know that just because someone you love might now have a disability, they are still the same person you know and love! Even though a lot of things might change – for example; physical activity, forms of transportation, use of mobility aids, specialist appointments, doctors, treatments, rehabilitation – all of that kind of stuff, doesn’t change who the person is.
Understand that there are going to be good times, hard times, moments where there are huge achievements and milestones for that person, but also times that are darker than others; times that are challenging, debilitating mentally and physically; so it’s so so important to celebrate those milestones – they are huge deals. Also understand that rest, like everyone else, is so important – people might become tired easier, need more rest than usual – but please try not to be hard on them. They are doing an amazing job!
But most importantly, never shame someone for having a disability – we are all humans and we all deserve to be treated as equal. Disabled people have feelings too, it’s really important to remember that – plus kindness always goes such a long way.
It’s also important to support people with disabilities by supporting them when it comes to things such as small businesses, blogs, brands, with their ideas as well as helping them enhance their voices – the more we know, the better outcome there can be for so many people, and there can be a more in depth, better understanding for society as a whole.
If someone is struggling with something such as advocating for themselves in difficult situations – step in and help !! It can be overwhelming, plus support goes such a long way right?
With stories on Instagram, put closed captions on it – that way it can be more accessible for everyone. Know that certain words and gestures are considered hurtful – learn what is and isn’t ok to say around people with disabilities, and learn what topics are ok to talk about whilst keeping personal boundaries in mind also.
Although I am a bilateral below knee amputee still suffer from depression and post traumatic stress disorder, and still require ongoing treatment for it and will for the rest of my life, I have never felt prouder to be myself, I have never felt more comfortable or more at home in my body. Since then becoming an amputee the way I have had to do things may have changed, but what I can do empowers the hell out of me! Having a disability is not a bad thing at all and we need to change that mindset. I hope this has helped and I hope you have enjoyed this.
You can follow Lauren’s journey at @lauren_mcdonough on Insta