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How Using Healthy Coping Skills Helps Me Accept My Disability

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When you’re in a dark place, you may encounter many different emotions and questions. The most powerful feeling I personally experienced at my lowest was anger. I wanted to be angry at the world. The two questions I asked myself were “Do I want to change?” and “How do I want to change?” After answering these two questions, I started to think about seeing a mental health professional.

When you’re looking for a mental health professional, the web can be a big help. It might help to first make a list of the main struggles you need help with. You want to work with someone who will understand your needs and health conditions. When I was looking, I stumbled upon NBCC’s Counselor Find. I was able to enter in the area where I live and share what I was looking for in a counselor in order to find good mental health professionals near me. Anyone who is looking for a mental health professional should know that finding the right fit can be challenging. When you meet a counselor for the first time, it can be vulnerable, but at the same time, finding the right professional to help can be really fulfilling as you make changes in your life.

Once you’ve chosen your therapist, there’s a “getting to know you” period so that the professional you’ve chosen can see how they can meet your needs. Once you’ve decided that your therapist is a good fit, you’re ready to begin the hard work. My therapist and I mainly talk about coping skills, how and when to use them, and which ones work for me.

Coping skills are important to me. People have always told me I have good coping skills, but the skills I always used to help me cope with my cerebral palsy (CP) were never about disability. Due to my disability, it used to be challenging to express what I felt without getting physical or angry with myself and others.

When I found the right mental health professional, we started the journey of picking the skills that would help me most. We started working on the most crucial chapter in my journey: developing coping skills.

What is a coping skill?

A coping skill is a skill that a person uses to help face a challenging situation. Coping skills can help us in many ways, but there are also coping skills that can hurt us. The point of using a healthy coping skill is to affect a person positively. An excellent place to store all these coping skills is a “mental toolbox” — the part of your brain where you remember skills that help you through tough times.

One of my most effective coping skills is breathing. When I am frustrated or upset, the first coping skill I use is taking a deep breath and counting to five. I also move around or leave what I am doing until I can cool myself down. At this point, I use a mixture of breathing and picturing stop signs in my head. As I think about every letter in the word “stop,” I take a deep breath in, spell the word, then exhale. After this, I start to feel relaxed. This technique is the foundation of my “mental toolbox.”

How do I develop coping skills?

A coping skill is a problem-solving skill. Knowing how to use problem-solving skills can be a challenge to many people, but with practice, it can become easier.

Coping skills may be among the topics you and your counselor discuss after establishing a relationship. A coping skill is a learned behavior that is developed over time. I have to use these problem-solving skills to help me resolve real-world struggles I face because of my CP.

When I was growing up, life was always about my cerebral palsy. When I could have been developing coping skills for real-life situations, I was lost because I didn’t want people to see me as a person with a disability. No one else saw me as just a person with a disability; people usually saw me for who I am. They saw my personality and how I was going after life. The only one who saw my CP stopping me was me. When I look back on my life, I remember the joy and memories I had, but I also remember all of the shame I felt about who I was with cerebral palsy. At those points in my life, I really needed coping skills, but I didn’t have the skills I have now.

How do I use coping skills?

Coping skills will be different for every person, and many people will have a variety of coping skills. What I have in my “mental toolbox” may not be the same as what you have in yours because coping skills need to fit your needs. For example, a lot of people enjoy using walking or running as a coping skill, which I can now do, but it wasn’t always like that. When I couldn’t walk or didn’t have the space to walk, I learned to use coloring or knitting as coping skills.

As time went on, I started using social media to cope with my cerebral palsy. When I started connecting with other people with CP on social media, I saw that there was nothing to be ashamed of. I learned that many people with CP felt ashamed of their health at certain points in their lives — and I felt less alone.

Why can coping skills be crucial for people with disabilities?

Having healthy coping skills is important for mental health, healing, and life in general. When you have a disability that impacts movement, though, having healthy coping skills can be vital. I sometimes feel impatient waiting for life to happen because I have to modify my life to accommodate my CP. To cope, I work hard on having patience every day. Having good coping skills can also fill any extra time you need to occupy — like the time you spend waiting for appointments or rides. Other days, you may feel frustrated because you want to do something but can’t. I have an arts and crafts box I use on those days, so I can pick out something I know I can do.

There are many times in life when you may be in a dark place for one reason or another, and that’s often a great time for you to find some healthy coping skills that help you. If you want to make your life better, take the first step forward by working to develop coping skills that help you accept your disability.

Getty image by Iryna Rudaieva.

Originally published: June 13, 2022
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