My Mental Health Journey as a Disabled Girl

Posted by Olivia Calvert in Life After Paralysis on September 06, 2022 # EmpowHer Stories

As someone who has suffered from clinical depression, health anxiety, and occasional suicidal thoughts, I can affirm that people with disabilities face a variety of structural and ideological challenges that have little to do with any potential limitations.

My mental health journey started at a young age. As a child in elementary school, I was bullied. Oftentimes, children would pick on me for my appearance in my wheelchair and say that I was too skinny. Additionally, I was bullied for struggling to participate in the gym. These criticisms over the structure of my body set in and triggered the roots of my general depression disorder.

The next phase started the summer after I finished elementary school. I was in the hospital for five months due to a catastrophic surgery. I started experiencing clinical depression from being in the hospital setting. As another result of that surgery, I started experiencing occasional suicidal thoughts, as I could not understand why all of this was happening to me.

Soon after leaving rehab, more depression set in. Because I was still unable to sit up for long periods, I could not attend public school. I was homeschooled through Home and Hospital for two years. Being stripped away from the social life I once had was devastating to me. I also developed more anxiety as I was the only student in the program, so I constantly felt pressured to know the answer to everything. I did not have any peers to rely on if I did not understand something.

In eighth grade, I was finally able to attend public school again. I was extremely nervous because I did not know anybody, and I was scared about how the kids would perceive my disability. It turned out that I didn't need to be scared of the kids but rather the germs. My immune system was compromised from not being exposed to germs for two years when I was at home. As a result, I had back-to-back illnesses for the first three quarters of the school year. This contributed to further health anxiety and depression from a further lack of social interaction.

Going into high school, I was excited to engage in new opportunities. I was able to stay healthy up until I got sick in February of that school year, and I was out of school for an entire month. Shortly after I got back, my school district shut down due to COVID-19. I started sophomore year, and we were still virtual. Midway through the school year, I mentally had enough, and I ended up going to the ER with severe suicidal thoughts.

After being discharged from the ER, the last challenge was finding a therapist that my insurance would cover and understand my physical disability as well. While I kept finding therapists that would fit one or the other requirement, I have yet to find one that meets both. However, I'm happy to report that with routine mindfulness and a personalized music playlist, my mental health has improved through this long journey. If you need help, don't hesitate to reach out to someone you trust. Help is out there, and somebody's ready to listen.

While my disability has contributed to my mental health, the root causes of my struggles with mental health relate back to a lack of social acceptance as a child. If there were more social acceptance, more financial support, and fewer barriers within the disability community, mental health would not be as prominent of an issue for many other disabled people and me. In the future, my hope is that there will be more opportunities for mental health support within the disabled community. After seeing how far I have come myself, I hope to have a successful future in my education and, eventually, a well-rounded career where I can improve the future of every living organism.

Olivia Calvert is a young adult from Maryland. When she's not advocating for the disability community and the environment, she enjoys making jewelry for her small business, “Jewelry by Olivia.” She plans to attend college next fall, to study environmental science and geographic information systems. Her goal is to eventually work for NOAA, specializing in GIS analysis of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Olivia wrote this blog as a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program, which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

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.