Living with physical disability during COVID-19: William’s story

William Crisp shares his personal experience of living with physical disability during the coronavirus pandemic, and explains how he has looked after his mental health during this difficult time.

New challenges, old problems

As well as creating a whole new set of challenges for people with disability, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened many existing issues.

William Crisp, who has cerebral palsy and lives in Victoria, sums the situation up perfectly.

“What was already problematic in society has been amplified by the global pandemic. People with disability already face multiple disadvantaged and challenges, COVID-19 has magnified them,” says William.

Many people with disability are more likely to have poorer physical and mental health than people without disability – and that’s without the added challenges brought about by the pandemic. William feels this existing disadvantage has a lot to do with stress.

“For people with disability, it’s important that they’re first and foremost treated as individuals – and can have their individual needs met,” says William.

“As someone with physical disability, I can vouch that having to fit into a maladaptive environment can be very stressful, and I think this stress is often linked to poor mental health.”

Life in lockdown

It’s probably fair to say that COVID-19 has seen most people’s stress levels go through the roof at some point.

For William, life in lockdown has been very testing at times.

 Being stuck at home all day, every day – I’ve found that very hard 

“Living during a global pandemic hasn’t been without its challenges obviously,” says William. “Not getting out and being stuck at home all day, every day – I’ve found that very hard.”

For William – who has a PhD in the processes that facilitate the self-determination of people with intellectual disability at the Living with Disability Research Centre, La Trobe University, and works as a Project and Policy Officer at National Disability Services – not being able to work in the office is something else he really misses.

“My work provides me with the opportunity for daily social interaction, I miss that a lot. I’m also not able to see my physiotherapist right now, so I’m feeling a bit stiff,” he adds.

A time of uncertainty

In terms of how his mental health is doing right now, William perfectly captures how confounding the ongoing pandemic can be when it comes to mental wellbeing.

“I’m a little depressed at the moment, although it’s hard to tell what’s ‘COVID fatigue’ and what’s depression right now.”

“I also feel like I’m suffering with ‘COVID brain’; that mental fog that makes it hard to focus. I float from one thing to the next and am easily distracted.”

“I already have a counsellor as I’ve had clinical depression in the past, however, I’ve not spoken to her for a while. I usually see her face-to-face, but it’s just not the same online. I know she’s there if I need her though.”

A healthy approach

To help support his mental wellbeing during these uncertain times, William tries to stay focused on what he can control.

“I enjoy following current affairs, but I also know that it’s important to know when to switch off,” he says.

William adopts a similarly judicious approach to how much time he spends online.

“I definitely use technology to stay connected with family and friends and some days will happily while away hours online. On other days, all I want to do is get away from my computer. Online catch-ups are, for the most part, a poor alternative – I miss seeing people face to face,” he says.

 I’m lucky as I’m pretty independent and well supported 

On reflection

“When we first went into lockdown, I thought: ‘oh hell’, but I’m actually doing ok. I’m safe, I have my work. There have been other times in my life that I have struggled with much more in terms of my mental health than now.”

On the whole, William feels fortunate to be in the position he’s in.

“I’m lucky as I’m pretty independent and well supported,” he says, although like most people, William is looking forward to when seeing family and friends in person is once again the norm.

For further information

Read more:

For more information about COVID-19 for people with disability, see:

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