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Conquering My Self-Esteem Struggles in Life With a Disability

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Self-esteem is an especially important part of enhancing the human experience. It is one of those elements that ebbs and flows throughout the course of our life journey. Some days, we are happy and thriving, enjoying the world to its fullest potential, and other days, we are sulking around in every possible sorrow, focused only on the time frame when the day is meant to come to an end. I have always lived by the “devil on the shoulder” mentality, and its increased potential to affect our lives and decisions in a way that invites negative consequences.

Being a human in this extraordinary world is hard enough on its own, but when you add in a physical disability, be prepared for even more backlash from everyone around you. The world is very judgmental; sometimes people even point fingers without realizing the effect it may have on you. The society we live in currently is overrun by social media and public opinion. We have all witnessed moments on Facebook when an opinion is soon turned into a dumpster fire of ugly accusations and even uglier sessions of name-calling. As a person who was born with a disability, I believe I was predisposed to experiencing this very vitriol long before it became something everyone became accustomed to seeing.

Being born differently from many of your peers often means experiencing the hurt far before you were ready for such a judgment. As a kid, you do not yet understand the world, and you are on a life’s quest to comprehend it. As you can imagine, growing up as a wheelchair user, I had and still have a ton of insecurities, many of which stemmed from the very beginning of my childhood. I was treated horribly and made fun of because of my lack of abilities by my first-grade teacher of all people. She used to go on teasing rants with me, and she would initiate them in front of the classroom. This left me feeling not only embarrassed but simply humiliated.

I really feel this moment is where I began to have self-esteem issues, and it was also the same moment when I began to hold grudges against my disability and compare myself to other children. As a child, I could not really see far beyond what had already damaged me. I was also a cautious optimist, even at my young and especially inexperienced age.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I was very naïve. The struggles I had with my self-esteem and my disability grudges only tended to deepen with age. I experienced uglier belly laughs behind my back than I was prepared to handle. I witnessed people smirking at me in disdain. I experienced eating lunch alone in a cafeteria full of kids. Who would want to sit with a weirdo like me anyway?

Once you experience negative affirmations and negative setbacks long enough, sadly, you tend to start to see them as the absolute truth. Not surprisingly, that is exactly what happened with my circumstance. My once-clear vision of myself was now clouded with the stuffiest fog you have ever imagined. I began to feel as worthless and empty as people perceived me to be.

As a result of the negative influences that surrounded me most days, I began to drown in darkness. It was sucking all of the energy out of my lungs, and it was leaving me feeling not only breathless but lifeless. I did not understand why my heart refused to stop its repetitive thump. I just wanted the pain to end, and I absolutely could not see past the fog that so heavily suffocated me. I felt as hollow as the voice of the devil that was constantly whispering in my ear.

I had always prayed things would get easier as I would move on with my life and graduate high school. As I was becoming an adult, it was a natural reaction for me to search for my adult self. As a result of all of the horrible things I had been through with the bullying and poor treatment, I decided to go to college and study social work and human development.

This was the very step I took to absolutely blossom, not only as a human but as a disabled woman. The college atmosphere was unlike any other place I had been. Everyone was so welcoming and accepting. Classes were also fun and interesting because we got to learn about things we actually cared about. I did not feel like I was wasting my life and working just to get by. This work I was doing meant something and was aimed at making the challenges of life easier for the less fortunate and the destitute.

Finally, I would be taking all of the life skills I learned from being treated unfairly and like less than and making them mean more. My self-confidence and esteem were at the highest levels I had ever experienced. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was crafted for this life in order to make a difference. So much so now that I use the hardest lessons to my advantage.

If you are feeling low and sad, I just want to let you know it is not entirely uncommon, especially in today’s world and circumstances. So, please do not feel like you are alone in the chaos. Reach out to someone. Whether you believe it or not, there are people out there that care about you and are dependent on you to help them along in their journey as well. Just take life one step and one breath at a time.

Getty image by Piksel.

Originally published: April 19, 2021
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