This article is part of My Plan Manager’s guest blogger series.
As a person who was born with a physical disability, I understood early on in life that people would not understand the challenges I faced each and every day.
I have subsequently been diagnosed with a range of additional medical conditions including mental illnesses, an autoimmune disease and other physical conditions.
With each condition I experience the same response from people. Some people will want to hear all about your diagnosis and learn how the condition impacts you. Then there are those that politely listen to your diagnosis and how it’s impacting you before changing the topic, and then others couldn’t care less.
However, it can also be a process of trial and error. You never want to judge that a person will fall into a certain category. I tend to be cautious as to what I share with people because the reality is unless you walk through something yourself, you’re never truly going to understand what it is like. That’s just a fact of life, because we don’t know what we don’t know.
I know that some people try and do their best to understand what it is like living my life and the challenges I face. I know they try to understand that my life is very different to theirs because instead of working I just go from one medical appointment to the next.
Instead I’ve adopted the approach that if someone is interested in my life, I answer his or her questions. I seek to educate people on my challenges when they are interested, knowing that they may not understand but change can come simply by educating people one by one.
I also tell people if they have misunderstood or have a wrong perspective on one of my conditions. I don’t believe that we should just put up with people’s perspective on disability or mental illness. I believe you have the right to tell people when their perspective is incorrect or unhelpful.
Through trial and error, I have learnt what each of my family and friends can manage. I’ve learned what conditions they can understand and how much details of the condition they are going to be able to manage. I then tailor the information I give to the individual. This does mean that no one has a full picture on what my life is like, but it has preserved my friendships.
I’ve also learned to accept reality that no matter how hard I try and explain my conditions, people won’t necessarily get it. It means life can be very lonely, but I cherish those moments when I’m able to talk to someone who does have one of my conditions about their experience.
Briar has cerebral palsy, two mental health conditions and a number of other medical conditions. She has trained as a social worker, as well as a policy writer but her disabilities have prevented her from developing a career in these fields. Briar hopes her writing can encourage others in a similar position and provide them with useful advice. You can read more of Briar’s work on her own blog Strength, Dignity, Hope.