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How My Disability Taught Me to Embrace My Own Uniqueness

Growing up with cerebral palsy in an environment where there was no one to really identify with made it difficult to establish my own normality. So I grew up spending most of my time trying to be the normal I saw around me and fit in. This was fairly ironic seeing as how I’m anything but normal by nature!

I learned it was important to be more like others and less like me if I were to fit in. And yet no matter how hard I tried to fit in, there were always skeptics. From a small child wanting to wear roller skates to my decision to become a teacher, I have always been met with skepticism, which means I have spent a large amount of my time proving people wrong. If the skepticism was meant to deter me, it had the opposite effect entirely. Instead, it fueled my determination to succeed, if only to prove the impossible possible. Each obstacle enhanced my belief in myself and strengthened my spirituality.

I succeeded. I became a teacher, got married and had children.

However, sometimes when you think you’ve figured everything out and appear to have a handle on the situation, life throws you a curve ball. In my case, it was a stroke. After the stroke, the full extent of my disability came to the fore. Whereas before I had a slight limp and my hand was only mildly affected, I lost function in both. I also lost my ability to speak clearly and concisely.

What did I do? I did what I do best. I adapted. Those around me continued to struggle to come to terms with the situation. As far back as I can remember, it was instilled in me that I would one day have to provide for myself. The option of it being someone else’s job to look after me has always been very far removed from my reality and was never an option.

But now I choose to accept the circumstances as they are rather than dwell on what I was capable of before. I am indebted to my children who, from the onset, accepted who I was and, in turn, allowed me to do the same. The stroke has allowed me to embrace my new uniqueness. Instead of feeling ashamed of what has made me different to everyone else, I have learned to take pride in my individuality. I would never have done this in the past.

I have never lost my passion for teaching or discovering my sense of self. I now know who I am and I’m more at ease with myself. My goal of passing on knowledge and broadening horizons has always been the same, but I have had to adapt my thinking and learn to let go of the conventional and listen more to that little voice inside my head that says don’t give up when everything else around me has.

I still feel like I have something to give, and while my body may have given up, my belief that my voice can still be heard is something I hold on to. I use it to motivate myself, especially on days when I think, “What’s the point?” I like to think that this unexpected detour in my road hasn’t been in vain. I hold on to the hope that maybe in my own small way I can contribute and make a difference. Attitude is everything!

I would like to teach my children that whatever challenges they face, it’s up to them to decide how to confront those challenges, learn from them and find something positive to take from them.

I don’t believe my story is different from many others. The difference may only be that I have chosen to share mine with you. It only takes one individual to stand up, be counted and make a difference. This is what truly motivates me.

Perhaps if we all made a positive difference in our own unique way, we would feel more connected to each other and less afraid to be imperfect.

Lesley Potgieter the mighty.1-001

A version of this post originally appeared on WonderBaby.org.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.