Permanently Disabled, Feeling Down, and No One to Talk To

How do I replace negative thoughts such as, “I have nothing interesting to talk about,” and, “I'm worthless due to being unable to work”? I'm permanently disabled. I was always a do-it-all personality type. Most times now I'm in my home, unable to do much. As a child, I received regular hard and painful whippings by both parents, sometimes until welts appeared. I was not told I did well on anything, even when I was an honor roll student. I got used to self-soothing to protect and comfort myself. I don't know how to be vulnerable, and I don't know how to reach out to others to talk about my problems. I had done that in the past with a friend, and she would suddenly have to hang up the phone. That friendship was dear, and I was deeply wounded by her treating me like that. I was the rock in the relationship; I listened to her constant stream of severe depression, and I did not talk about my problems to her until my spinal injury. The few times I tried, she had to go. We don't talk anymore. I feel paralyzed now as to how to reach out to others just to have a real conversation. I'm afraid to honestly speak about anything negative. How can I get over this? - Stuck
Dear Stuck,

Thank you for sharing your personal story in such an open and heartfelt way. Adjusting to a new life with a permanent disability can be tremendously difficult, and it is made infinitely more difficult when you don’t get the kind of support that you are seeking from friends and family.

It sounds like life as you have always known it has changed quite dramatically since your injury. While the grieving process is usually associated with death, it is a natural part of healing from any loss, and you have certainly experienced a very real loss. It may be necessary for you to spend some time grieving the loss of the person you were before your injury. It sounds like prior to your injury you were a very independent person, and life after your injury has brought about some very real limitations to your independence. This would likely result in intense feelings of loss for anyone, but it might be even harder for you. I’m imaging that you became a fiercely independent person who is able to soothe, protect, and comfort yourself as a means of surviving the abuse you suffered as a child. Because these characteristics and skills allowed you to survive your childhood, the limitations to them might feel like a direct threat to your survival. These are some complex issues to sort through and it would likely be beneficial to partner with a therapist to help you with this.

The good news is, you are the same person who survived a physically and verbally abusive childhood. Your therapist can help you adapt some of the very same skills and abilities that enabled you to survive your childhood to help you survive the disability that has resulted from your injury. Through this process, you will likely develop a deep love and appreciation for the remarkable person that you are today. As you begin to have more positive feelings toward yourself, the negative thoughts will likely subside and connecting with others in an authentic way will be as natural as it once was for you.


Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Lou

    January 11th, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    It feels just terrible when someone who has depended on you in the past now doesn’t have the decency to do the same for you. I feel so much for you in this situation, knowing that there is so much going on that you obviously need to unload and then again not feeling like you have the right person in your life to share all of that with. I encourage you to try to make some new friends because there are kind and generous people who will care about what you are going through and may even have some thoughts for you on how to deal best with this permanence. Best of luck to you, and I hope that things start to work out for you soon.

  • james

    January 12th, 2013 at 4:16 AM

    It must be so hard to go from one sort of life that you have always known to something so completely different and to find that somewhere along the way the people whom you thought were your friends really aren’t.

    Look I know this is hard, but better to find out now that these people are not your true friends instead of later down the road. But in the mean time I think that it is probably so important that you find a system of support whom you can count on because you are going to need it, even just because of the emotional journey that you are on.

  • Laurie

    April 14th, 2013 at 1:16 AM

    Three years ago, I became disabled. I was in a new town, alone, abandoned by my husband of 17 years, having to navigate the red tape of food stamps, SSI, and selling my furniture and belongings in order to accumulate enough money to rent a small studio apartment. I felt hopeless. All I could think about was the life I no longer had….and for a while, that was okay. I needed to grieve. Little by little I began to just smile more. I read heart warming articles, looked at cute animal photos, anything uplifting. I began to imagine the kind of person I wanted to be….now….from this moment forward. I had to create a new life that I could be happy in. I sought counseling as a supportive structure for my journey toward this goal. Even though I have had several long hospitalizations and a serious brush with death, and ended up with further disability, my vision for myself held strong and I continued to feel better and better. Gradually new people came into my life. I met people on Facebook and reconnected with old friends. I worked on my attitude daily and made a habit of writing down the things I was grateful for.
    The list grew and grew. And as it grew, so did my contentment level.
    It sucks when disability strikes. There is no getting around that.
    But you can still choose how you are going to handle it. At least there’s that.

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