During my first year of practice I’ve been trying to make the transition from student to practitioner, as well as making the transition from care receiver to care giver. Doing both at once is not easy. Part of the problem I’ve had is that throughout my life, the majority of people say things like “Really? I wouldn’t have noticed” when my disability comes up in conversation. I’ve grown up, apart from a hand full of exceptions, being told that my disability isn’t obvious.

However, in my first year of practice it’s been nailed home that it’s the complete opposite. I’ve had a lot of questions, I’ve had a patient copy the way I move and some have even physically grabbed my hand/arm to get a closer look.

The change in approach between people in my personal and work life is one that I mentally prepared for while at university, or so I thought. I knew it would be different but the frequency of comments about my disability compared to that in my personal life caught me out.

So would I say my disability, or rather how people have responded to it, has had a negative effect on my wellbeing? Yes and no.

There have been times that my disability has been good for my wellbeing and helped me achieve some of what I’ve set out to do in my OT role. What I call “little wins”.  I’ve heard “you’ve been through hardship, just like me”. This patient related to me and we had found a common ground.  Although I wouldn’t consider myself to have had any “hardships” and actually this comment could have been damaging to my sense of wellbeing, I decided to take it at face value as a way of building a therapeutic rapport. This was at a time when confidence in my own abilities as an OT were probably at their lowest being newly qualified so I’d have taken almost any opportunity to build effective relationships with those on my caseload.

On the flip side, I have had a share of negative experiences. I expect to be treated as a member of staff, first and foremost. It’s what I’m there for after all. Once however, after receiving a mouthful of verbal abuse, I received an apology from the patient: “I shouldn’t have done that because you are disabled”. This served as a reminder that I cannot hide my disability even if I wanted to and sometimes I might be treated differently because of it. It’s certainly impacted my wellbeing negatively, I wasn’t being apologised to because I am a member of staff (or just a human being), I was being apologised to because I was seen to be different.

I do think it’s important to remember also that we all make mistakes when it comes to making comments towards one another. I guarantee I’ve unintentionally made comments in the past that have negatively impacted on the wellbeing of others. What’s important is that where we are informed of our mistakes, we learn from it. I think this point of view is helpful when receiving comments that negatively affect your wellbeing. In my case it certainly ‘lessens the blow’ of some comments directed at me.

The need to balance the transition from student to practitioner and care receiver to care giver has given me a lot to reflect on and learn from and I believe that I am a much better practitioner and person than I otherwise would’ve been as a result.

Written by Ryan McClure

Picture by Rob Young

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