Disabilities Mental Health

Struggling with Anxiety on Top of a Physical Disability (and vice versa)

As many of you know, I struggle with anxiety. On top of that I have a physical disability; I can’t walk or speak 100% clearly. I’m an independent person and I go out alone a lot, mostly to the mall, as well as doctor/counselling appointments and such. If I’m lucky, no one talks to me or stares at me. If I’m not lucky, well, my anxiety gets bad and I quickly have to escape, even if that means not finishing my food or quickly finishing at a store.

  1. People stare. People stare at me all the time, and it’s not because I’m hot. I’m thinking it either due to pity, concern, admiration, or just ignorance. It’s cute when it’s a little kid staring but it’s annoying when it’s older kids or adults. Not only is it uncomfortable or annoying, but it triggers my anxiety too. I think why are they watching me? What if this? What if that? Then I have to move/leave as fast as I can.
  2. People ask if I need help or just help without asking. I don’t want or need help. There is a reason I’m out alone. If I couldn’t do this by myself, I wouldn’t be out alone. I get anxious when strangers come near me and touch me or my stuff, especially my food and especially if they don’t ask. Another thing is that I have an peanut allergy and I have no idea what they’ve touched that day. Also, it’s creepy and germy. Because of my anxiety, it puts me on edge. While the person walks away feeling good that they helped a “incapable” woman in a wheelchair, I have to deal with the anxiety and sometimes undo whatever they did to “help.” If you genuinely want to help, ask first. If the response is no thanks, accept that we don’t need your help.
  3. Talking to people. For anyone with social anxiety, talking to someone (whether it’s engaging conversation, asking questions, or ordering food), especially strangers or someone they barely know, is a very difficult (sometimes impossible) task. We, people with anxiety, try to avoid the situation as much as possible. But not only do I have to struggle with the anxiety part of it, I also have a speech impairment. Having a speech impairments means talking to someone (who doesn’t know my “voice”) takes much more effort and it takes longer because I have to repeat myself. It can also lead to misunderstandings, or someone not understanding me at all. This makes me anxious too and I just want to disappear.
  4. People talking to me. Sometimes people come up to me and just start talking to me. I don’t mean to be rude but GO AWAY! I know people mean well to sit and talk to a “lonely”, disabled person but all it does is make me anxious. As I said before, there is a reason I’m out alone. If I can get away with it, sometimes I pretend I can’t talk, pretend I didn’t hear or just straight up walk away.
  5. Physically struggling with something. People will most likely see me. I pray that they don’t come and help me. Not that I wouldn’t appreciate it, it’s just anxiety provoking (see #2). If I needed help, I might ask, but most likely not (see #3). I’ll most likely either put up with the struggle or give up.
  6. Getting in the way/taking longer. I sometimes take longer to do certain things and I hold people up. Anxious people overthink this; thinking we’re annoying them or that they’re in a rush. Then we try to rush, most likely messing up.

Other incidents include people petting me like a dog, talking to me like a baby or toddler, praying for me right there in front of me (which is really awkward, especially since I don’t believe in that stuff), praising/admiring me for doing regular stuff people do. Part of me wants to yell at them but I don’t because deep deep down, I know they mean well, in their own little way.

While writing this, I’m thinking “why the heck do I go out alone almost everyday?” Sometimes when I get to the mall, I regret it, especially if I’m having a bad anxiety day already. But I push myself because I know I love the independence and alone time. It makes me feel free and happy.

Jessica Victoria
<p>Jessica Victoria, 24, is a writer and advocate for mental health, disability and LGBTQ+. She uses her personal experiences and knowledge to help and educate others.</p>

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