“Take Care” | Prioritizing Self-Care While Living With a Disability

A Filipinx woman with a filtering face mask sits outside a cafe and writes in a notebook. She is wearing headphones and in front of a window, with potted plants all around.

Photo by Justin Katigbak, courtesy of Disabled And Here.

My dad, an immigrant from Somalia, once made an observation – “in the United States everyone says take care of yourself.” I was so oblivious to this!  We end letters and emails with “take care.” It is a common phrase used at departure from loved ones or friendly strangers after small talk. It must hold some value, right?

Where else have I heard that phrase?  In scary movies! I can recall the main characters parting ways on their separate journeys (hopefully to safety) with danger and uncertainty ahead. There is usually an intense and intimate stare between the characters, followed by the phrase “take care of yourself.”

Though we aren’t characters in a scary movie (though living through a pandemic can feel this way), there can be danger ahead if we do not prioritize taking care of ourselves, self-care. What is the danger? Living an unfulfilled life! So what exactly is self-care? Fortunately, I don’t have a more precise definition because fulfillment should be defined by you, for you!

For the disability community, self-care often gets collapsed into health management tasks such as going to doctors’ appointments, taking prescribed medications, and attempting to get bouts of uninterrupted sleep. Self-care can even get collapsed into hygiene tasks such as bathing, brushing your teeth, or getting dressed. There is no doubt that these tasks are critical to daily living. However, the self-care that I am suggesting is defined by activities that tap into your values and leave you with a sense of purpose, meaning, enjoyment, and freeness. With all the urgent matters that may come with managing your health and disability, it can seem rather trivial or inconvenient to find time to laugh, spend time with good people, get a pedicure, read, get outside, meditate, do a puzzle, or whatever your “feel good” thing is. Yes, self-care feels good, really good!

Self-care is not a “one and done” task. Self-care does not have an endpoint; it should evolve limitlessly. For example, maybe your disability has made it difficult or even unlikely to reproduce your vigorous exercise routine that left you with runner’s high. This may have been your previous version of self-care. Because self-care should evolve with your resources, abilities, desires, and values, it is to you to explore, possibly through trial and error, how else you can reproduce that feeling of bliss and euphoria. Yes, you are accountable for your self-care (hence the word self)! Self-care requires an open mind. Maybe now instead, you can try adaptive sports, creating poetry, developing a recipe book, prayer, or learning a new language. You won’t know until you try, try again, and again. You can try something old or something new.

As a psychologist, I often meet people in crisis mode – “How can I possibly think about self-care when I am still working on bowel/bladder management, trying to secure income, or figuring out how to parent my teenager?” Self-care does not take away objective stressors that you may face, but it will equip you with the spiritual, cognitive, and emotional reserve needed to persevere through the stressors. Without the reserve that self-care replenishes, you may notice that fatigue, trouble concentrating, irritability among other challenges are more likely to get in the way of navigating stressors. Poor self-care may even threaten your sense of resilience. DANGER AHEAD! If you don’t think you can get through a tough situation, then it will be that much harder.

Be deliberate and intentional about pouring into your whole self. Self-care is within your control.

Take care,
Dr. Ali Carter

Need help prioritizing self-care? Counselors can be useful for this. Check out these resources:

Dr. Ali Carter is a Rehabilitation Psychologist at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network. She hosts the monthly Zoom session, Facing COVID Now, for the Independence Now community. See the events list below for more self-care programming offered by Independence Now.

“Take Care” | Prioritizing Self-Care While Living With a Disability
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