Tylia Flores.

Waking up in pain and needing help to get out bed is all too typical for me. When you are born with a disability, you’re bound to face some sort of obstacles in life. The best thing I learned over the years is to overcome all obstacles and to always be myself. Having this disability has affected my childhood, health, and even socially by dealing with prejudice. My disability has forced me to explore life in a different way.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t say it’s all bad and that I had a bad childhood. Being born with a disability is not the end of the world. It’s not like when I was born I had a choice anyway — I couldn’t tell the doctor “no cerebral palsy please.” However, I did have to learn to do things differently. For example, as a child in elementary school, every student in class were learning how to write their ABC’s, while I was learning how to type them on the computer. Being older now has helped me understand that although my childhood may have been different, it did provide me with many advantages.

After childhood came my teenage years, when I began to notice the health concerns involved with my disability. My first surgery was at the age of 3, and I had my tendons released in my legs. When I turned 8 I had a hip surgery and was in a body cast for six weeks. I can remember this surgery, because it happened two weeks before Halloween and I had the best costume in town. When trick-or-treaters came to the door I just laid in my body cast in a special wheelchair with my face painted as a zombie thinking, “Wow this is so cool.” Meanwhile, in the back of my head I thought to myself “I hope these surgeries help me one day be able to walk.” My mother has taken me to many doctors and specialists over the years, and while some gave us hope, others told us it is not medically possible. I believe I will always have health challenges in my life, however I also believe in miracles and blessings.

I try to stay positive and not think of all the judgment I have experienced throughout my life because I am in a wheelchair. Teens can be so mean when you appear to be different. I always feel like I have to prove myself, even though I can do most of the same things they do. For example, I am part of an organization called “The Plantation Dynamites” where people with any type of disability get to play sports. Basketball and baseball are my favorites. My mom takes videos of me playing, and I like to put the videos up on my Youtube channel, so I can show others that even though I am in a wheelchair, we are all the same. However, that doesn’t stop people from judging me when they see me out in public. Some people stare and even allow their kids to stare. It makes me feel sad, but at the same time, I like to talk to those people. Most of the time they are shocked that I can talk, let alone have a conversation. It just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Anyone with a disability will likely have to face obstacles and challenges, no matter what. The key is to learn from those challenges and keep pushing forward. Through my experiences in my childhood, health, and being prejudged, I learned to overcome it all. I am older now and understand that my disability will have an impact on my life, however it will not stop me from being myself. Life is what you make of it!

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Mollie and Alex are friends who both live with physical disabilities. Alex is a stay-at-home mom and Mollie works in PR and manages multiple online dating profiles.

Erin is a 27-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who uses a walker regularly (and a wheelchair occasionally) who has worked in the public and private sector.

I told myself I needed to suck it up and get over it. I was just reading my old IEPs (Individual Education Plan) in the name of university research. And yet, as I read the front page of my primary school plan, I was still struck by an acute sense of difference, tempered by thoughts of how strange it was to see myself summarized in a little bold box of “strengths.”

According to the perennially well-meaning teachers and support staff with whom I (very reluctantly) worked, these were the things I was good at: I was an avid reader and enjoyed creative writing, I liked speech and drama, I had a good memory, I was an enthusiastic learner (apparently my enthusiasm equated to high achievement) and finally (I’m direct-quoting here), I was aware of my limitations, but I would always have a go.

In my 10-year-old mind (around the time when these IEPs were a thing I didn’t really want to know about, talk about or acknowledge in any way), that was possibly the worst backhanded compliment ever. I took umbrage at the implication of incapability cloaked as a “strength,” and it was from that point forward that I decided to adopt a stance of steadfast denial whenever my teachers looked to involve me in setting goals for my IEP. But some days (especially in high school), my unflagging desire to reject all offered assistance in order to maintain my façade of conformity grew harder to sustain. My legs would ache from the many stair climbs I traversed throughout my day, and I’d get upset – not visibly, obviously, because that would give the game away – when I couldn’t draw a perfect circle with my compass, or trace and color my map with the same precision and attention to detail as everyone else. But for me, maintaining that veneer of “normalcy” trumped any pain or frustration I experienced.

I have just completed my undergraduate university studies, and it was only recently, when I was preparing a paper for a national education conference (take that, teachers who pigeon-holed me during school!) that I autonomously chose to “expose” my cerebral palsy to a wider audience than my family and school teachers. And the reactions were nothing like I was expecting. That fact that I have a disability was (blessedly) not a big deal to my university lecturers. They didn’t look at me like my CP is something contagious. They didn’t look at me with that calibrated combination of pity at my “situation.” And they didn’t look shocked that I have a disability, but I look nothing like people with disabilities are “supposed” to look. And it has only been since then – at the ripe old age of 21 – that I started to feel like I could be defined by more than what was in that little bold box.

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I have more scars and bruises on my body than I can count. The first fall I can remember was when I was 4 years old. I busted my knee open while running across my grandma’s uneven sidewalks. It took over an hour for the bleeding (and my howls) to stop. Sixteen years later, I can still trace the indentations on my knee.

Ask anyone with cerebral palsy who walks — falling is a part of our lives. It hurts, it’s not glamorous, but it’s going to happen. And if there was a way I could catch myself before I fell, trust me, I would. Many people casually ask,“Oh, what did you trip over?” With a shrug, my answer is…“My left foot.” Because my calf and ankle muscles are constantly in contracture, my gait with CP causes my left foot to drag behind me and occasionally catch on the ground.

I don’t usually realize that I caught my foot until I’m about to hit the concrete. Knowing you’re about to go down is one of the worst feelings. It’s the “pit in your stomach, heart skips a beat, everything around me is in slow motion” feeling. After two broken wrists as a kid, the last-ditch effort I can make is to be sure not to fall with my hands forward. If the impact is too much on my palms, bones have a tendency to snap.

After you hit the ground, it’s a whirlwind. Whatever I was carrying is now scattered in front of me. New wounds start burning. And after I pick myself up, all these questions start running through my mind.

Did I stretch today? 

What shoes do I have on?

Are there large cracks in this sidewalk?

Did I rip my jeans again?

How badly am I bleeding?

Do I have Band-Aids with me?

Can I wiggle my wrists back and forth? Yes? Good. Nothing’s broken!

My brain is going a million miles an hour. I’m shaky. I have to remind myself to re-focus. With my cerebral palsy being as mild as it is, I don’t usually have to worry about how it impacts my daily life as a college student. And living a positive life with the condition is very important to me. But when I fall… boom. I’ll keep it real: These are the days when my CP begins to consume my thoughts.

Why am I so tight? 

Why aren’t my muscle injections working perfectly? They’re supposed to be helping!

Now I have to go clean myself up before doing anything else!

I don’t have time for this!

And then, I have to remind myself to B-R-E-A-T-H-E.

It’s OK. 

It’s just another scrape.

Let others help you.

Falling has given me the grace to see a great amount of kindness in people. When I fall away from home, I have to rely on friends to help me clean up my bloody knees and elbows. At my lowest, letting others take care of me is hard, but it has allowed me to really see the best in people, and given me a lot of gratitude. Even strangers have been so genuine, asking if I’m OK at that moment I hit the ground. It reminds me there are still good people out in this world.

In the past few months, I’ve had more falls than usual. Yes, the scars that result are a part of my story. But I can’t say I was thrilled when I looked in he mirror last week and saw a couple of scaly reddish purple ones on my knees. I hated that these marks were messing with the look of a sparkly Christmas Eve ensemble. At the end of the day, though, I have to remind myself that my life doesn’t have to revolve around how many times I scrape my knees.

I can’t do much about falling. But getting back up stronger?

That’s all I know how to do.

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