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Navigating Conflicting Disabilities

Image described in caption
Graphic overlaying a pale pink background, the words 'Navigating Conflicting Disabilities' are in purple curly text in the centre. Underneath is the view of a purple road, which splits into two in front of the observer, with a sign post in the centre pointing to 'mind' to the left and 'body' to the right. The road is surrounded by pale green, and Equal Lives' logo is the top right.

We know that many disabled people have multiple diagnoses. Sometimes these are unrelated (we’re just lucky, I guess?), but just as equally, sometimes these are not; one diagnosis can trigger another.

Today I wanted to share my experience of how my OCD and my physical disability at times work together harmoniously, but at other times are at total war with one another.

Before I continue, OCD is categorised by two main components:

  • Obsessions – intrusive, persistent, and distressing thoughts, images, or urges.

  • Compulsions – Often, but not always, repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed in response to obsessions. Compulsions are acted out as a way to relieve anxiety and distress but often only provide temporary relief.

Generally speaking, I have a lot more ‘O’ than I do ‘C’ – but I do still carry out compulsions regularly, in response to my obsessive thoughts. However, sometimes, my physical disabilities mean I’m not able to. After getting COVID-19 in 2021, I had a relapse of MS which caused me to lose some of my mobility for a while. During this period, I was using walking aids and wheelchairs and spending a lot of time resting in bed or in a chair.

My compulsions from OCD really had to take a backseat because I simply couldn’t perform them. If I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t walk up and down the stairs, which is one my compulsions. Actually, with the physical problems I have, it’s one of my most frustrating compulsions, not only because it plays havoc with my mental health, but also because it causes me to feel great pain and discomfort when I get stuck in a loop while doing it. I found that many of my compulsions that couldn’t be completed during my bed rest time weren’t completed at all. This felt frustrating and upsetting at first, but over time, I learned to sit in with the discomfort. I was in pain anyway, so it was helpful to spend time learning a new skill for managing my OCD; it was useful to see how my brain reacted to not being able to complete a compulsion.

I found that after just a few weeks of getting out of the habit of being stuck on OCD auto-pilot and performing every compulsion, I was able to find more control in navigating my OCD better, as well as the motivation to do so.

There have been times where my OCD has been such a strong, driving force that I’ve become physically exhausted and in so much pain, but unable to stop pushing; despite my discomfort, I felt I had to complete the O’s and the C’s, as if I didn’t have a choice.

Image described in caption
Same motif as the first graphic with the words ' despite my discomfort, I felt I had to complete the O’s and the C’s, as if I didn’t have a choice' in the centre. And the signpost in the centre of the road split 'compulsions' to the left and 'obsessions' to the right.

I have worked through some of these issues through counseling and I now have multiple tools that help me manage both my physical health and my OCD. However, I find it interesting to reflect on how we treat every illness. I think it’s worth noticing how we behave about our conflicting symptoms. Are we placing value on recovering from one thing but not giving enough attention to another? Once I was able to let go of my individual diagnosis, and treat myself as a whole person, aiming to meet as many of my needs as I possibly can, I found so much more peace within.

On reflection, I can be guilty of compartmentalising my disabilities and trying to treat them individually – but in truth, I am one whole person with multiple barriers. It’s okay not to know where the divide is and where one thing starts and another thing ends. Ultimately, it’s all me; I’m okay with that.

Written by a Member of Equal Lives

Image described in caption
Same motif as the first graphic, but instead of a split in the road, it is a straight road laid ahead of the observer, and the sign post simply says 'Myself' with a heart graphic with a typical heart on the left and a brain in the shape of a heart on the right.. With the text above reading 'Ultimately, it's all me; I'm okay with that.

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