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Finding Strength in My Vulnerability as a Person With a Disability

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When you have a lifelong disability that affects your mobility like cerebral palsy, it can make you feel vulnerable in many ways. From getting caught in bad weather, or getting stuck somewhere because of accessibility issues, or maybe even fearing other people. A feeling of vulnerability is always in the back of my head to some degree.

The level of vulnerability can fluctuate depending on the issue at hand. Sometimes it’s as simple as being worried about being caught in the rain, all the way to being a target for sketchy people. Of course, I can’t control everything, but being vulnerable such as I am, has taught me to be prepared. For instance, when I used to stay at a dorm in college, I had to make myself check the weather forecast daily to make sure I didn’t get caught in the rain. But even if it was supposed to be a dry day, I’d keep my laptop wrapped in a plastic bag to ensure it didn’t get wet, which I habitually did every day just in case.

One time, my cousin and I were followed by some guys at the mall. We solved that by waiting for them to leave before we made our way to the parking garage. If we weren’t situationally aware, who knows what could have happened. Most people would find that scenario uncomfortable, but it’s even more so when you’re incapable of moving quickly. My disability has taught me to be far more prepared than I probably would be without it.

Although feeling vulnerable can be a regular cause of anxiety, and at times make you overthink and over-prepare, it has some positive effects as well. My disability, cerebral palsy requires me to use a walker or a wheelchair wherever I go. If you don’t use a mobility device, let me tell you, having one, especially in public, can feel like you’re the only one wearing a neon green suit at a black-tie event. Most people don’t stare outright, but most do give quick glances more than once. So it can be tough some days. However, being exposed to that level of staring, etc., after a while leaves you feeling pretty damn comfortable with yourself. I can’t hide the weakest part of myself, but I’m still here, aren’t I?

Sure not everyone will be cool about it, but that’s fine. The ones that are will be the cream of the crop. In that sense, being vulnerable exposes me to the real people. The people I can depend on. Being vulnerable has also given me incredibly thick skin, as being so exposed to the world in a walker can open a person up to all sorts of insults or jokes. It can also open you up to well-intentioned but tactless comments, like “I don’t know how you do it,” and “good to see you out.” When I was more insecure and unsure of myself, those comments used to sting, or at the least be awkward. Now I don’t really care about what random passersby think of me because I know who I am.

Aside from preparation, using a walker makes me get used to the uncomfortable moments in life. I mean, we all run late sometimes. Still, in my case, that means I will be late — I can’t exactly run to make up time. There are also those moments when you really want to leave the room because maybe you’re hearing an awkward argument you’d prefer to escape from. But if my walker isn’t in arm’s reach, I’ll be stuck there, hoping it ends as soon as possible. Sometimes the uncomfortable factor might be in the environment. An example that sticks out to me involves merely going to the beach. When I go to the beach, it doesn’t really matter whether I bring my walker, wheelchair, or crutches. The sand is unforgiving to all, and regardless of whether there’s an umbrella for shade, being restricted from free movement can make a day at the beach pretty miserable.

Having a disability and being vulnerable in one way or another has ultimately taught me to learn to give up control. So often I see people trying to maintain a stranglehold on their life. Trying to micromanage every aspect, so their “plan” goes perfectly. Having a disability, I know how uncontrollable life can be. Being aware of how vulnerable I am, being born at 24 weeks, I know I’m lucky to be alive. I had my last rites performed within my first week of life, and having that happen before I was even capable of understanding it demonstrates how little I can fully control in life. At first, that realization unnerved me, but then I read the following quote, and it put everything in perspective:

“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.” ― Shantideva

Being and feeling vulnerable, unfortunately, come with having a disability. Still, I hope I have shown that’s not the worst thing in the world.  Having my biggest flaw on display is definitely challenging at times. Yet, it’s helped me have more mental endurance, not sweat the small stuff. Because to be the person I want to be, I can only be so bothered by things I cannot change.

Getty image by Jovanmandic.

Originally published: February 26, 2020
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