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The ‘Toilet Dilemma’: Why I Negate My Depression, but Not My Cerebral Palsy

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Is depression really a valid reason to struggle with cleaning the toilet?

That question runs through my mind over and over as I stare at my dirty bathroom that likely hasn’t been cleaned in months. Cleaning the toilet feels like running a marathon when you can’t even run to begin with.

How can depression be a valid reason to not clean the toilet when I know I have the physical capacity to clean it?

I also have a physical disability, but that doesn’t prevent me from physically being able to clean the toilet either. So, what’s my problem?

Recently, my therapist and I have been discussing the toilet dilemma and I noticed something amazing: I negate the validity of my depression because I have a physical disability. With my cerebral palsy (CP), I’ve spent so much of my life focusing on what I physically can and cannot do simply from a functional impairment angle. CP is a tangible difference that I can visually see impacting my life. I know for certain that I am physically able to clean a toilet, so what is stopping me now?

While depression is a 100% acceptable reason to struggle with household tasks among other things, I am unable to grant myself the same validation.

I compare my conditions instead of recognizing how they both work in tandem as influences on my life. I only see how CP affects my physical functioning. In my head, I don’t see the effects of my depression as valid, rather an indicator of my not trying hard enough. In my head, not cleaning the toilet is a character flaw.

Perhaps I also see my CP as something society expects me to embrace and rise above, to push through every actual and perceived barrier. That’s not always the case. I am not always able to rise above in spite of my CP. People with disabilities are allowed to feel whatever they feel about their disability and it is not up to society to tell them how to feel.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Our CP Journey group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Join Our CP Journey — a supportive and uplifting space for anyone who has cerebral palsy. Let's help each other find the courage to keep going. Click to join.

Before this discovery, the only “disability” in my head came from CP, since depression does not functionally impair my ability to physically clean the toilet.

One thing my therapist and I uncovered was the concept of depression acting like an “acquired disability” in how it influences my life. The term “acquired disability” didn’t initially sit well with me since there was no trauma and my cognitive and physical abilities stayed the same.

So, what changed? I realized that, like many conditions, I manage medications and go to appointments solely to manage my depression. Since that has been my “normal” for so long, I continuously failed to recognize how much time and energy I spend on a daily basis to maintain my mental health.

This new perspective of having an “acquired disability” shows me that depression alone can prevent me from cleaning a toilet sometimes, but since depression can fluctuate, someday I may be up to cleaning the toilet. Although my depression has been long-standing, it’s even possible that this “acquired disability” may be temporary as I’m engaging in therapy, taking medication and searching for social support.

Getty Images photo via Irina Cheremisinova

Originally published: June 18, 2020
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