Woman posing in front of the mirror.

I came to the realization very recently that I’ve changed a lot as a person. This whole embracing change attitude has really made a shift in me. Life can show you who and what matters in an instant. I am not sure how to put this, but I don’t miss the old me at all. I always used to feel timid, scared, apprehensive. Like I was back in middle school and even high school.

I no longer miss the people who chose to leave my life, the ones I had gravely mistaken as my friends; my family. That whole “they’ll be my friend forever” type of thinking is long gone now. In the past year, I can honestly say the one lesson life has taught me is that life can show you the person you were truly meant to be. The moment you place yourself right in front of one of your greatest fears, you have two choices: cower in a corner or face it.

If you asked me a year ago if I’d be where I am today, not just personally, but also gaining speed professionally, I’d tell you outright: absolutely not. Who am I kidding; I am not the same person I was seven-plus years ago. It’s like that line from one of my favorite songs by the rock band Shinedown, “Dangerous.” “I own my story, and I won’t be sorry and neither should you.” I have gone from carrying the weight of an extremely heavy heart with a wall built up, to where you have to know the password to gain entry to me and my life. A year ago this past July, I started my blog, The Abler, with a simple goal in mind —  to shed light, education, and knowledge on topics people either make too many assumptions about or dismiss altogether because they simply don’t know what it is or how to help. I met some incredible people. I met myself along the way too.

When I was little, the corner of any room felt safe to me. While the world felt too big and confusing, sometimes I could sit somewhere far off in the distance and watch people, pay attention to all the things people seem to ignore or dismiss as typical. I never had any issues with kids my own age, it was always the adults who made mountains out of speed bumps. They didn’t realize what it meant to be limited to an extent that affected how you did things, lived your life. They understood all the textbook versions and variations, but at the end of the day they closed their books and went on with their lives. That was their definitions of “typical” and that’s OK. What wasn’t OK was the rejection they replaced their misunderstanding with.

I guess you could say that was a small glimpse into the real world, and adult thinking. I wish I could tell you I understand adults more now that I am one myself, but sadly adults are more confusing than ever. Lately, I have seen the word inclusion a lot. Why are you more concerned with being included by groups of people to feel a part of something? Why can’t we just include ourselves into our own stories first, and make what they stand for more noticeable all on our own? Inclusion is a great concept for children, but adults can make their own way with or without feeling included or invited by another person(s). Living your life on your terms does not require an invitation. The world creates enough roadblocks, so why not try and figure out how to turn it into a door for yourself?

That’s another lesson I have learned in the last several months. No opportunity is a missed opportunity unless you let it quietly float by you like a cloud in the sky. I am no longer that little girl in the corner of a room playing it safe. I now understand that the adults were ill equipped to understand the needs of a child who needed a little more attention and understanding when it came to navigating the world with a physical disability. I had yet to learn that the world was not nearly as ill-equipped as when that child grows into an adult. I am not the type of a person to hold a grudge toward anything or anyone that has ever wronged me in some way. I take the lessons I have learned from the person or situation and move on.

The moving on part was always the difficult part for me. I just couldn’t understand why people didn’t seem to “get it.” Having a disability is not a one size fits all situation. And to be honest I still don’t get it. Does anyone remember the old school Sesame Street, “one of the things does not go together.” For me, that’s what it feels like society tries to do with people with any kind of disability. The reality is I can’t erase my disability, and honestly if given the choice I wouldn’t want to. Why? Because when I look in the mirror now, I see the person I was meant to be. And I really like who I see, because I have fought so hard to become her.

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Thinkstock photo by 4maksym.

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Facing The Dakota, a short walk from the corner of 72nd and Central Park West in Manhattan, lies Strawberry Fields. This special section of Central Park is dedicated to the memory of The Dakota’s most beloved former occupant, John Lennon. It also happens to be the first place I ventured to on my first trip to New York City.

Strawberry Fields is a small corner of the massive expanse that is Central Park, but I could tell it is well-loved by New Yorkers and tourists alike. Near the entrance, artists and photographers set up booths to sell their wares, pictures of John Lennon mixed with images of the city that loved him so much. The main attraction in Strawberry Fields is a a circle with the word Imagine at its center, both made with mosaic tile. As I approached the landmark, a former Midwesterner looking for his big break began singing his rendition of “Strawberry Fields.” My mother and I smiled to ourselves at the coincidence. I spent a minute waiting for the crowd of sandals and strollers to clear so I could take a picture. My first picture of New York City, “Imagine” encircled in fresh roses.

As a person with cerebral palsy, I am well-acquainted with pain and fatigue. However, since turning 27, my life had become a cycle of working past the point of exhaustion, using my weekend to give my body recovery time, and waking up on Monday to repeat the cycle. I felt like something was wrong. I didn’t know what needed to be done, but I knew something needed to be done. After searching in vain for a doctor who treated adults with CP in my state, I expanded my search to the entire country. So in early June, I found myself in Manhattan.

While in New York, I received life-changing news, and I saw as many sites as my body would carry me to. I made many memories I shall cherish forever. Not many can say they saw a musical on Broadway and watched it sweep the Tony awards from their hotel room that same night. My mom left the city convinced that I need to marry into an Italian family — Italian food cart and restaurant owners were always giving us extra food. Out of all the memories I left with, what I cherished most was getting to experience what it feels like to be one among the masses, rather than an exception.

Now don’t get me wrong, I learned that the Northern version of “Bless your heart” is “God bless you,” but when compared to my interactions with people I come across at home, these double-edged blessings were few and far between. Awkward staring as I passed people in the street was nearly non-existent. New York is a feast for the eyes, ears, nose, and taste buds. Food carts were on every major corner, people were walking faster than I’d ever seen. Horns blared, subways screeched in and out of stations, riders packed themselves tighter than a can of sardines. I was serenaded with “Ain’t to Proud to Beg” by a trio of men looking for cash on the subway. The first sight I saw at Times Square was a man donning a speedo, sparkles, and a unicorn horn.

Everyone moved with purpose. Given all the distractions and the mood of being on-the-move, people approached to point me in the right direction (I was almost always going the wrong way), rather than to point out I was a different degree of normal. I loved it. I am so used to maintaining the delicate balance of educating others and advocating for myself, it was a relief to not have to launch into an explanation, or bite my tongue. For once, I saw what I felt on the inside reflected to me — normalcy.

I came to New York seeking answers and experiences I’d never forget. I left feeling validated for having questions and blessed to have had as many experiences as I could pack into two weeks. Most importantly, I left knowing I no longer need to imagine a place where I could be myself, swagger and all, without carrying invisible armor. In the immortalized words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” My trip gave me renewed hope that someday, I will not have to prove my normalcy to others. For this, New York, I love you.

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For many people, Labor Day is a reason to relax and enjoy the long weekend. They don’t have to think about getting up early Monday morning to go to work. Unfortunately as a person with cerebral palsy, I see Labor Day like any other Monday. I am sure there are a lot of individuals like myself who are feeling the same way, or perhaps worse. Here is the reason why.

Back in July 2016, I wrote a story for The Mighty about people with disabilities who struggle with unemployment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (July 20, 2015):

“People who have completed higher levels of education were more likely to be employed than were those with less education. At all levels of education, however, people with a disability were much less likely to work than were people with no disability. For example, 26.1 percent of people with a disability who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree were employed in 2014; among college graduates with no disability, 75.9 percent were employed.” *

When I wrote the story, I was searching for a job, and was very optimistic about finding employment. Now I must admit I am part of those statistics, something I was hoping not to experience. Despite having a Bachelor’s degree, I have been unable to get a job. One of my major dreams was to run my own nonprofit, Rainbow of Talent. I was looking for a job where I could use my skills as a writer and advocate for people with disabilities. That didn’t happen.

Each day it’s becoming harder to support myself. My bills are piling up, and I don’t know what to do. I  submitted my resume to GoodTemp. They help people with disabilities to find jobs. Their response was that my resume wasn’t strong enough.

I searched for work locally and spread the word among contacts. So far I haven’t be able to find any job. It has been hard for me to stay home and become aware of my sad reality, especially after all the struggles I went through to earn a degree. I didn’t want to stay home all day long. That was not what I went to college for. My major goal is to someday be able to say on Labor Day I will be off from work like the rest of the population.

Juana Ortiz’s book “I Made It” is available at www.juanamortiz.com and on Amazon.  

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Throughout my life I have kind of felt like I don’t fit in anywhere. When I was small it felt like there was no one like me in this world. I wasn’t quite like all my friends at school because I had mild cerebral palsy and was only in mainstream classes, yet I felt not quite like anyone else I met with a disability, either. As a small child, it was so hard to find acceptance of my CP and to truly understand it is OK to be unlike anyone else. Everyone is different. I truthfully struggled with this for quite some time.

I feel those of us with a disability the world may see as “mild” can struggle extremely hard to find our place in the world. Sometimes it can seem as if you aren’t accepted anywhere. This is where acceptance of yourself is very important. The realization that in all honesty, no one is like anyone else can be a hard one to reach. But in my experience, once you find it you feel as if a weight has been lifted from your shoulders!

To be yourself in a world that doesn’t embrace differences can be difficult. But within yourself, you can find the light to sparkle like a diamond! You are perfect just the way you are — you just need to believe that for yourself. Never be afraid to be yourself, believe in yourself and understand that no matter what the world thinks, within yourself you will find acceptance.

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It is hard to believe I am now 49 and staring at my 50th birthday approaching March 14, 2018. How did this happen? Yet I feel every one of those almost 50 years in ways many do not. Most days this physical body feels more like it’s 90 years old rather than 49.

I have spastic diplegia cerebral palsy and began to notice really weird changes as I got older. It’s known as post-impairment syndrome, but some in the medical community do not acknowledge it. The reality is that there are currently 17 million people living in the world with cerebral palsy (in all its forms). Many are adults who are aging and trying to deal with the symptoms of this syndrome, which usually begins to manifest in the late 20s.

I am not talking about the chronic pain, chronic fatigue, osteoarthritis and loss of mobility or increased severity and frequency of muscle spasms. I am also not talking about the swallowing difficulties, chronic cough or weak lungs that are all secondary complications found in this syndrome and ones I deal with every day. The medical community needs to at least begin acknowledging these chronic symptoms, even if there are no current treatments.

In the last five years, I have encountered one complication I really was not expecting: extreme hypersensitivity.  I am not talking about mood swings; I am talking about extreme sensitivity to physical touch. This has surprised me more than anything else, as it was never a problem when I was younger.

Have you ever had a single hair fall from your head and land on your arm with a thud?  Well I have and it happens multiple times per day!  I am completely serious, hypersensitivity has got to be one of the most uncomfortable parts of my post-impairment syndrome and the hardest to explain to people, especially those closest to me. Imagine being severely startled every time your husband or wife touches you lightly or tries to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. This is not good when you have no standing balance! Now, I know people with CP still have their startle reflex, but this hypersensitivity makes it 100 times worse. It also does nothing to help the intimacy in a marriage — enough said.

I am not impressed!

My struggle with hypersensitivity is not something I have discussed with a lot of people. I suspect I am not alone, so now is the time to speak out. Serious funding needs to be put into research on CP and aging with subsequent treatments for post-impairment syndrome being developed and made available. All medical students need to study CP in depth (from birth through adulthood to old age) in order to provide adequate care, which is sadly lacking at the moment.

Seventeen million of us are waiting, and we cannot do it alone. My generation may not see the benefits, but the younger generations behind me must.

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Thinkstock photo by Ingram Publishing.


Going out is fun. Who doesn’t like going out for a few beers with friends? But with cerebral palsy, sometimes that can be hard, and when a few turns into a few too many it can be downright dangerous. Here are my tips for hanging out a bar or anywhere where alcohol is consumed frequently so you can enjoy yourself and others around you.

1. Know your surroundings.

When you walk into a bar, especially one you haven’t been to before, try to scout things out. Where may be the easiest place to stand or sit? Is your bartender or server coming to you? If not, maybe sit a little closer to where they are. Where’s the exit? Some bars can go casual to crammed in minutes, and it’s always easiest to know the best way in and out if this happens. Is there a back door exit that may be easier to get out than the front, and where does that lead to? If it’s an alley, you probably need to go out the front, but if it’s a street it may be easier to walk around outside than push through the center of a crowded bar.

2. Get your bartender or server’s names.

It’s mostly common courtesy, but it doesn’t hurt when asking for a favor to address someone by their name. I know sometimes after having a few and sitting for a while I stiffen up. If you have friends with you, it’s easy to ask for some help up, but if not, generally people are pretty happy to help. If they’re not, that’s not the place for you.

3. Know your limits.

This can go for anyone, but those of us with CP know one too many can throw us off physically and mentally. If you’re in a bar you have never been to before, and especially if you’re by yourself, it’s good to have a mental count of beers or drinks you’ve had. Otherwise you may just end up on the floor.

4. It’s OK sometimes to let strangers who never asked know you have CP.

Generally speaking, people are in a bar to drink and sometimes to drink a lot. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had people think I was drunk before I even stepped up to the bar. I don’t why this is a drunk thing, but in my experience it definitely is. Sometimes it’s best to just get the confusion out of the way to the people around you or your bartender. This is 100 percent your discretion, but it can make things easier for people and possibly your bartender. Remember most people are just curious and too scared to ask, but if you get it out of the way sometimes it’s just easier to have a good time.

5. Falling in a bar is tough, but hey, we got this.

We all have our moments where we just fall down. In a bar, this can be downright embarrassing as well as a gateway for others to judge. Don’t worry; it’s OK. If you can get up on your own, try your best; if you can’t, communicate calmly with the people helping you. Don’t be afraid to tell the drunk guy helping you up to get someone sober so both of you don’t end up on the floor. If you’re drunk, know it and cut yourself off. Falling drunk with a disability is still falling drunk, and if you’re not careful you can harm yourself and others. If you’re not, you may have to explain yourself a little. I know this is tough, but it’s for everyone’s benefit including your own, so don’t be afraid.

6. You’re gonna get looks.

We often get those looks. The what’s wrong with that person? look. They are hurtful sometimes, but it’s just because people don’t understand. If you’re of legal drinking age, you’ve probably figured this out. You may get these looks more at bars because people think you’re drunk. This is when tip number 4 can come in handy. If you don’t want explain yourself, just press on.

7. General bar safety goes double for those with a disability.

Don’t take drinks from someone you don’t know. Who knows what’s in that thing. Don’t be afraid to refuse a drink even if handed to you by the bartender. If you’ve reached your limit and someone buys you a drink, don’t be afraid to say no thank you. Again, a sloppy drunk with a disability is still a sloppy drunk — don’t be that guy or gal. Be careful of new people. Don’t be afraid of making friends, but have your wits about you when conversing with strangers.

8. Have fun.

At the end of the day I hope you’re out to have fun. Try not to let your CP and everything that comes along with it stop you from having a good time. We all have something we have to deal with; your CP is just part of your something. Put it aside, kick back and enjoy yourself.

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Thinkstock photo by AiJohn784.

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