I came into the world as a premature baby of seven months. Doctors told my mother the odds of my survival were slim, as my body was so underdeveloped. This would be the first of several fights within my lifetime. I managed to survive, but my premature birth resulted in me developing a complication within my brain called spastic hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy (CP). What this did was hamper my movements in the left side of my body. I also had my left leg twist in when I walked. Growing up I was ridiculed by kids for my walk, sometimes even pushed or hit by them. I would come back to my house and not discuss the day with my parents. I remember there were days where I just wept in silence, wondering what I done to deserve the name-calling and other abuse from people I barely knew.
Matters were only worse when my mother told me to take a gymnastics class. I had to do an array of stretches and other exercises, neither of which I had the strength to do. I recall a particular instance where I could not lift my leg high enough to do a cartwheel. The instructor, Pete, requested that I do the motion again and I did, but it was still wrong. This process repeated itself several times until I heard the kids from the class laugh at me, then I just stopped. Pete became furious and yelled me to go again, to the dismay of my mother. When my mother asked Pete why he kept on picking on me to go despite my CP, he replied: “Miss, he can’t let his disability become his excuse for not trying. He will use that as a crutch. I want him to know that he can do things on his own if he dedicates himself.” Those words were difficult to understand at first, but several days after did they begin to make sense.
What Pete tried to make me understand was I could still accomplish goals and achieve success even with a disability. It took me a while to realize that this was possible because I listened to bullies and believed I held no power against them. But after that incident with Pete, I learned that despite what anyone says, only I can change my outlook regarding my disability. I have the power to decide whether I can allow my disability to be a major burden or a minor inconvenience. I decided to choose the latter when I came back into gymnastics and embraced Pete’s coaching style. Although I never had the potential to participate in a citywide competition, I made enough progress in gymnastics that I was able to do several “advanced” moves like cartwheels and handstands, something I thought I was incapable of doing when I started.
I soon began to believe I was capable of achieving whatever goals I imagined in my mind. I was more than adequate. I wanted to be more social, so I started talking more to people inside and out of school. I started to make friends and while they still asked me, “What’s wrong with your walk?” the bullying and name calling became less frequent as I grew older (surgery to improve my walking also contributed to this). It took work but I managed to turn what most would deem a source of weakness into a source strength. I had my fair share of days of self-doubt and days of unshakeable confidence, but every day I wake up and know I am in control in how to feel about my CP. I decided since that day with Pete the issues and challenges from my CP would be preparation for life. I chose to see my problem as an opportunity for mental and physical growth.
I know there are others that suffer from CP as well, and there are others that suffer from different disabilities as well. These individuals may feel fear, anger, and even pity for the way life turned out for them. I know this because I too felt these sentiments in the past. This negative mentality only succeeded in making me a bitter at the world; it did not help me improve my life nor did it bring me happiness. My recommendation is to abandon this negative mentality regarding their disability. An individual, and not outside factors, has the power to decide whether the challenges of today provide the resources needed to succeed tomorrow.
To those reading this with disabilities, I hope my words bring about a call to action. There will never be a better opportunity to change your outlook regarding your disability, and as a result, your outlook on life. Begin right now. Look at your disability as an opportunity for growth. Look at the disability as an aspect to life that makes you more resourceful, providing you with access to tools that may be applied later in life. Likewise, developing a solution to deal with your disability requires a degree of self-discipline that allows for one to endure. Your disability offers you a way to forge yourself into a more knowledgeable and resilient individual within the world.
For all those with a disability, whether mental or physical, I encourage you to envision a reasonable goal for yourself and strive for it. Do not worry about having the perfect plan or guideline for the goal, just start now and seek daily progress. Adjustments will come later, but it’s important to develop a strong foundation. Make an effort towards bettering yourself each day. Progress will follow if you are committed. Eventually you will realize, like I did, that you are capable of more than you ever imagined. All you need to do is try. Disregard what others think of you and your disability. Just try and in doing so, you will be able to live a life you once thought unimaginable.