By Morag Fraser, Student Connections Facilitator St. Andrews University.
Whether or not you have a disability, every being on earth has THAT inner voice.
The one that calls you stupid / fat / lazy and awaits every mistake or misstep. It rears its snarky head at the very moment you are feeling at your lowest. I think for the average person it’s easier to shake off and move on. But I know all too well that, on occasion, both my mind and my body may let me down.
The words “I hate me” are a persistent, automated mantra. Every day I notice a new bruise and have no clue what I did. Negating my ability to function in the world is my greatest weakness.
I often think it is this that is my disability, not my autism, defeating myself before I even get started.
Self-esteem and confidence are qualities that I have only in a sparse and fleeting manner. My brain is wired to fuse and sometimes that’ s fun and funny; I ADORE quiz shows because I can remember random, useless information and have a compulsion to shout out the answer. But then, there are the other times, miserable times, dragging me down and inevitably bringing me to a complete halt. So when you are innately pessimistic, by nature negative, it is very easy to let that side of you win out.
Anxiety and mental ill health are the not so merry bed-fellows of my condition, but I think that when you have an invisible illness it is especially tricky to feel you come up to scratch in the eyes of others. Sadly, there is no magic button, no off switch, but in learning to take care of yourself, understanding and recognising your needs and taking small steps, you can chase off the inner critic, at least for a little while.
“Would you kiss your mam with that mouth”
What would you say to your mam, or your best friend, if they said "I hate me" to themselves? Unless something is especially off, you wouldn’t say, “yup, you suck. You are the WORST, I hate you too”. The world is bumpy enough as it is, you don’t need to add to the bumps by beating yourself up.
The weepy kid compulsion
Think back to when you were little and you fell over and skinned your knee. Did you get into trouble? No! Someone who cares about you will have scooped you up, cleaned you up, and possibly bought you an ice cream. It is written into our evolutionary DNA to comfort and console infants, so just remember, you were one of those not so long ago. When things get to you, take the time to acknowledge what has got you there and do something indulgently soothing. Blasting music for 5-10 mins, tapping away at a game on my phone, a soothing / mindful warm drink breaks the self-loathing cycle and takes my mind off the things that caused the upset so that I can return to the situation with my rationality and problem-solving skills intact.
Two stars and a wish
This is a confidence building tactic. It encourages reflecting but not dwelling. Take any situation that went wrong. For example, I recently went to a training course. It meant that I had to travel, sit in a room full of scary strangers, and there were workmen ripping up the street in front of the venue. I suffered very badly the next day. My two stars - I learnt a great deal; I left my comfort zone and expanded my horizons. Here’s the rub - only one wish. So I WISH...there weren’t any roadworks outside. How can I deal with that? There wasn’t anything anyone could do. I’m not still there and the migraine will pass. Another way of choosing your own thinking would be to sit in a quiet spot, and run through the alphabet, thinking about the things that you enjoyed or made you smile. (A for Arbroath Abbey, near the venue; B for Books I bought to continue with what I learnt; C for the Coffee I stopped off for in a nice little cafe).
Distraction is a quick fix. I try to look forwards by reflecting and improving my practices so I avoid a repeat incident as much as possible. Of course there are days when you experience the perfect storm of trouble, but in making the choice to look for rainbows amongst the rain, or stars in the darkness, in learning to self-soothe, I can build on my resilience and confidence, and be ready for the next challenge.
Every day is a challenge for most, but for someone coming at it with the table stacked against you, like anyone with a disability, it takes much more effort.
Someone I reached out to when I was really low, (Tommy Dreamer) tweeted me something I keep in mind: “Life is like wrestling. Every time you take a hit and get knocked down, it is how you get up and continue to fight that matters".
* Image is not the author