​Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom Wanted: A New Way to do Self Care When the Old Ones Don’t Work

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on June 28, 2022 # Lifestyle

Kieran and familyI have been in a constant state of overwhelm, and my body is letting me know that it’s not happy with my coping strategies. My scooter is even grumpy, but that is for another post. My nails have been painted and repainted, files moisturized until my color collection could rival your favorite salon. I feel like my day is spent taking care of and mediating for everyone else, rushing around, and trying to find a moment of peace, but generally, I’m met with more chaos. When I try to reach out to people, my inner ableism won’t drop the façade that everything is great. Meanwhile, I can’t seem to make time for things that have meaning to me and end up feeling like an automaton. I admit a part of me thrives on and seeks out those charged chaotic moments because I excel at fixing them. But that doesn’t mean I want to do it all alone. My family is in full contact, and I feel like I’m constantly fixing and mediating without reprieve. My body has started to cry out for care and rest. Exhaustion and body aches have taken over during the time of year when I’m supposed to be feeling better. It’s letting me know – really, my body is shouting at me to take care of myself before it’s too late. Last year, I ignored a spinal cord injury because I had too much going on (really!), and five months later, I ignored Covid until it was really bad.

So, in an effort to keep existing, I’m trying to find a practice that both satisfies my mental and physical needs. Last month to celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, my town offered Qigong in a local park. Maybe it’s my neurodivergent brain, but chilling, relaxing, or vegging does not come easy for me – I’m either all in or completely off. So, I was extremely intimidated when I rolled up on this Zen group of people moving gracefully as one in the sunshine. For the preschool and elementary parents in my audience, I’m about as Zen and graceful as a sleep-deprived Muffin Heeler shouting, “I am the Flamingo Queen” on Bluey. Yet, they welcomed me in and were very accepting of me remaining in my wheels and adapting the moves to fit my needs and abilities.

I attended two classes. After the first class, I felt a sense of stillness for at least 30 minutes following, and my back felt better than it had in a long time. The chaos soon caught up with me, but I reveled in the stillness like a soft blanket while I had it. The second class was more demanding with slow, repetitive movements, and I wasn’t sure that my spastic shoulders and titanium neck would keep up. As I leaned into the movements and internalized the instructor's soothing instructions and visualizations, I could feel a calmness spread through me. I was actively participating, and my mind was on, but without the stress or worry about doing it “right,” especially when I was in a group of able-bodied people. My whole body relaxed, and I had a sense of physical well-being. Physical pain was almost nonexistent for four to five days, and with that came a mental calm and happiness. The constant stress of my family and my lack of daycare that week were easier to handle strictly based on the fact that I had less pain and spasticity.

I haven’t been able to take the class since that second class, but I’m hoping to maneuver schedules so I can make that happen. One of the key things that made the class work for me and what I’ve been working on in therapy is advocating for myself and knowing that I am valuable and worthy enough to advocate for the things that I need to make my life better and healthier. Advocating for myself and modeling that advocacy is going to make me a better person and parent.

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.