​Real Life Stories of Disabled Mom: Emotional Gifts to Make My New Year Bright

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on December 15, 2022 # Lifestyle

giftsIt’s the holiday season; my usual modus operandi is to balance my shopping frenzy with a healthy dose of introspection and what I want for the upcoming year. The list is usually endless; even after editing it down to something I tell myself is manageable, it would take a lifetime to accomplish most of it. I’m still reeling from losing my sister this year; adding items onto my plate didn’t seem like the greatest idea for my mental and physical health. But I did realize I could give myself gifts to help my mental health thrive.

  1. Sharing my memories and letting myself enjoy them. Too often, I have looked back on everything and nitpicked what I could have done better or differently, leaving me with tremendous guilt. I’d love to say I’m guilt free, but that would be a lie. More like I’m looking back with love.
  2. I won’t contend with situations where I have to justify my existence. Living as a disabled parent, I have a lot of exchanges where it feels like I need to prove myself just to take up the space that others are allotted just for existing. Knowing my worth and a low tolerance for BS, I’m stepping past them.
  3. Making concrete plans for fun instead of putting it off till a future that doesn’t come. Time blindness and forgetting things that matter to me to accommodate others have been something I have done my whole life. But time is finite, and the more you put off, the less time you have to enjoy it, if you get to at all. So, I’ve already planned special adventures for my kids and made and kept plans with friends. So why sit around and wait for the world to happen when we can make memories?
  4. Happiness without any caveats. I deserve to be happy without waiting until I can accomplish a specific task, make X amount of dollars or have a pain-free day. Instead, I grab the moments I can and balance happiness with all the other emotions.
  5. Giving myself space to have all my emotions without apology. My insides have been a rollercoaster, and as I grieve, I’m learning it’s ok to express myself and do that in front of people I feel safe with.
  6. Acknowledging that I am not a burden, and my needs are just as important as everyone else’s. It sounds simple, but two of my critical identities, disability and parenthood, involve not being “in the way” and sacrificing for others, respectively. Sometimes it takes a spiritual crowbar for me to say what I need.

These last two will probably be the hardest gifts to accept and take the most practice, but I’m worth it.

All of these gifts together come together to forge greater mental health for me. This drives more engagement with my family and friends and breaking a cycle that, while it kept me safe, left me isolated when I needed people the most. It all leads to greater self-acceptance and comfort with who I am and what I need on all fronts.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.