Mental Health and Disability: A Constant Intersection

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By: Sam Bickford

What does it mean to live with a disability?

A disability is any condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. Millions of Americans live their life every day not only navigating the struggles of life, but also having to deal with a different set of struggles: the difference in their body, mind, or senses.

We all know life itself is pretty tough, but when you add on another condition that the world and the people in it might not understand, it becomes a little bit harder. 

How does disability affect daily life?

Alexandra Ayaub knows firsthand. She is a podcaster and content creator from Michigan in her 30’s, who is also a millennial living with a disability. You can find her at instagram @alexandraayyy.

She shares her story with us not only about what life is like living with her disability, but also we discuss the relationship between having a disability and struggling with mental health in relation to that disability. 

We think about whether or not mental health struggles are an inherent part of being disabled, or if perhaps there is some other reason disabled people so often feel alienated.

Sam for YMyHealth: Do you identify as disabled?

Alex Ayaub: Yes, I do. I only started identifying about two years ago, but I’ve been disabled since birth. 

Sam for YMyHealth: What is your disability?

Alex Ayaub

Alex Ayaub:  I was born with really severe clubbed feet. And because I have clubbed feet it caused a lot of other malformations in my knees and feet—basically from the hip down. My disability is mostly bone malformations. I’ve had many surgeries to correct my alignment; I have arthritis in both feet; I have had complete reconstructive surgery on both my legs.

Sam for YMyHealth: Do you struggle with mental health in relation to your disability?

Alex Ayaub: Definitely. It comes in a couple different ways. Being the only kid with mobility aids and walkers in school, do you know how uncool it is to be the only kid in elementary school with a walker?

I’ve been in therapy for a long time. Getting rid of the idea that there’s something wrong with me, or I’m broken, has been a long road. I always say being disabled is having to take in a lot of information about your body that is very difficult to process and receiving no grace period to deal with it. 

Yesterday I went to the doctor and learned my surgery isn’t healing as it should, and it was a tough appointment. Then, an hour later I was in a meeting at work. And that type of thing takes a toll on you mentally. 

It’s a full-time job to take care of your physical and mental health.

Sam for YMyHealth: Do you feel like able-bodied people can/try to understand the difficulties of being disabled?

Alex and her husband

Alex Ayaub: I think able-bodied people who have disabled people in their lives can understand. My husband helps me so much. But I don’t think there’s any way to fully understand the disabled experience as an able-bodied person. Like yesterday, when I got home from the doctor learning that I need more physical therapy my husband was like, “That’s great! More physical therapy!” And I was like, “No, no. I’m so tired.”

Sam for YMyHealth: Is struggling with mental health an inherent condition of disability? Or is our society such an ableist one, one so ashamed of disability, that that creates the struggle?

Alex Ayaub: I didn’t have any disabled friends growing up so I always existed as “other”. And I don’t care how old you are, feeling like “other” feels bad. Not having a sense of belonging, not feeling like you belong, how does that not take a toll on you?

It wasn’t until I found disabled friends that I realized, wait a minute, we’re not the issue here? We’re just trying to exist! I didn’t realize until I was much older that I’m not the problem. 

When I was a kid in school, they made me enter through the boiler room! THE BOILER ROOM! That’s not my problem. 

Sam for YMyHealth: How much of the mental health struggle of being disabled comes from having to navigate the healthcare industry?

Alex Ayaub: It plays a really big part. It always makes me feel like I’m the problem when it’s so hard to get care. I was lucky though because I grew up with a single mom who was and is a huge advocate for me. 

All the things that go into it make it so difficult. I have to constantly make time and space to go to the doctor; telling my work that I need time off or whatever. And that always made me feel so isolated, so alienated. 

Sam for YMyHealth: What would you want someone who isn’t disabled to know about the mental health struggles of being disabled?

Alex Ayaub: That struggling with mental health, just like dealing with the actual disability, is a constant. We are so focused on accommodating the physical part of a disability, we don’t get to cover the mental part that much. I don’t think people realize how exhausting it is to deal with these things all the time.

I think it is the job of the able-bodied community to learn about the disabled experience. Anyone can become disabled at any time, so it is their responsibility to learn about the disabled experience.

To read more of Sam’s work about the lives of fellow millennials who are living with disabilities, visit or Millennials and Disabilities page.

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