‘Our bodies are where self-esteem, desire and sexuality come together. The more attention we pay to our needs, the better we are able to take care of ourselves.’
FromThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability,ed. Kaufman, Silverberg and Odette, 2003
Why should I try and be healthy when everyone treats me like I’m sick?
Some people think having a disability means you are sick. This is not true. But you may need to take more care in your daily routines to stay healthy. You know and understand your body better than anyone else. So if you have an unusual feeling or bodily reaction, a pain somewhere, or any sores, don’t ignore it. If you can’t reach a certain area (either because you can’t see it, can’t feel it, or it’s in an awkward place), ask a family member or friend to help you. You don’t need to suffer because of other people’s prejudices – your disability is not a sickness, and you have the right to a healthy mind and body like anyone else.
Given that I have a disability, how can I stay healthy?
Firstly, what do you mean by health? Health includes a lot more than just visiting the doctor and staying disease-free. It has to do with how you feel in both body and mind, and there are many things you can do for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep, and doing some form of exercise – irrespective of your disability – are all important ways to keep your body healthy. What makes you feel good emotionally, though, depends on what you enjoy. Are there any particular activities that make you feel relaxed or satisfied? Listening to music, reading, spending time with people you love, and taking an active interest in the world around you, can all contribute to a positive state of mind.
Why is exercise important?
Exercise is great for everybody, irrespective of age, fitness level, disability or gender. It makes you feel good, boosts your energy, and strengthens your muscles and bones. Do you have weak bones? Constipation? High blood pressure? Exercise is the easiest way to keep your body strong and flexible, and it can be lots of fun.
Some kinds of exercise can help you feel less pain. If you live with arthritis or chronic pain, yoga, a slow gym routine, or even simply walking can help. If moving your body hurts a lot, it might feel easier just not to move a lot at all. But in fact, adding gentle exercise to your routine can start making movement a part of your life.
Exercising releases endorphins in the body that make you feel good about yourself. And it’s also a great way to get a good night’s sleep!
What can I do to exercise?
There’s lots of things you can do to keep your body moving and fit, and many of them don’t require going to a gym or joining a class. Going for a stroll (even if you are in a wheelchair) or a run outdoors is not only a good way to stay fit, but gives you a nice breath of fresh air.
If you have steps in your house (even just one or two), doing repetitions up and down can tone your leg muscles. Or how about some basic stretches or yoga? You don’t need anything apart from a mat and a quiet space. Dancing is another great and fun way to exercise – going for a class, to a club, or simply just dancing around your room with a friend.
I have very little mobility – how can I exercise?
Start by trying to move all parts of your body through their full range of motion. So if the maximum you can move your forearms is five inches off the table, move them those five inches, and repeat it as often as is comfortable. If it is very difficult for you to move your body at all, try to change your position often. So if you usually sit, try switching between sitting and lying down. If you’re bent forward a lot of the time, try to stretch the muscles in your chest. Or if you’re in a wheelchair, you can strengthen different muscles in your shoulders by pushing your chair backwards. You can also check out these exercise tips for strengthening your upper body while seated.
I feel depressed and worthless a lot of the time – I don’t care about my health at all.
What is that is making you feel like this? Take a moment to think about it. Is there something you want to do but can’t? Do you wish you had more friends? Do people make fun of the way you look? Is it related to how your impairment makes you feel? There is a small chance that these feelings are actually caused by your disability. However, if others have treated you badly, it can take its toll on your self esteem.
Have you tried talking to someone about how you feel? Sometimes we ignore our feelings hoping they will go away. But often the best thing is to let someone know what’s going on. Sometimes just having someone to confide in can make you feel better.
Exercise can also improve the way you feel, as can art or any creative activity. Pouring your energy into creating something new can allow you to express your emotions in ways that you may not feel comfortable talking about.
However, these things aren’t always enough. Depression can take over your life, with symptoms that can include a complete loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, or poor concentration. In the United Kingdom, depression is categorized as a type of mental disability, and the WHO cites it as the leading cause of mental disability worldwide. If you think you may suffer from depression, you should talk to a counsellor or get professional help.
My daughter is weak and sickly – she’s never going to be healthy like everyone else. How can I help her?
It’s best to make a clear distinction between her disability and her health, and ensure she’s healthy despite having an impairment. Helping her to stay healthy doesn’t just mean taking her to the doctor when she’s ill, but proactively taking steps to ensure her wellbeing.
Did you know that the most common and disabling health problem for women across the world is poor nutrition? For a girl with a disability, not getting enough of the right food will slow down her growth, weaken her bones, and often make her disability worse. All your children, irrespective of gender or ability, should get the same food, healthcare and love.
Believe in her. Know that she can achieve things with her life, and make independent and good choices. Show her that you love her and have faith in her capabilities. Help her to have the confidence to go out, meet people, and enjoy herself. If you treat her like she is a healthy person, she will grow up believing that she is valuable and deserves the best for herself.
If your daughter has multiple disabilities, suffers from chronic illness, or has a severe developmental disability, it can be very hard to stay positive about her health. Taking her to doctors, ensuring that she is properly cared for, and helping her understand and interact with her environment are taxing, time-consuming, and often disheartening activities. This can be an isolating time for you as a parent, and online resources like Parenting Your Complex Child or support groups in your local area can connect you with other parents for advice and support.