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The Friend Who Accepted Me When I Struggled as a Teen With Cerebral Palsy

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I’m sure you have all heard the phrase “life works in mysterious ways.” I really do believe this saying with all my heart. However, I think my story is a matter of fate rather than mystery. To tell this story properly, I must force myself to think back to when I was 17 years old. I will admit quite openly that I look back on my later teenage years with disdain and hurt. It is hard enough to be a hormonal teenager in the first place, with raging thoughts just floating freely around in your head. This is a time when you are trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do with this huge hurdle in front of you called life.

Unfortunately, when I was 17, I had an even bigger monster suffocating me. That monster was called depression. You know the thing that leaves you broken and down in the dumps? A lot of times depression will come along with no reason. When I was a teen, though, I knew deep down why I was so broken apart, so sad and so lonely.  Essentially, all of it boils down to being in a wheelchair. I never imagined that life as a disabled person would be as difficult as it was in high school. It is extremely hard and disheartening when everyone around you is going on dates and having the time of their lives communicating with the popular boys and the football players. I was an average-looking girl in a wheelchair. I wasn’t kidding myself — no able-bodied person in the prime of their adolescence was going to want to date a girl who requires extra help.

As you can imagine, this made me feel like an unwanted piece of garbage. I would cry myself to sleep, thinking I would always be alone and never experience love because I had to use wheels to get around instead of legs. This wasn’t my fault, and at my core I knew that, but it did not make my feelings of loneliness any better. I hated myself because I thought I wasn’t and would never be good enough for anyone. I literally wanted to jump out of my chair and just run aimlessly for miles, not even caring where I was going to end up. It got to the point where I would cry myself to sleep, and I began thinking I did want to live anymore.

Of course, these thoughts had me feeling guilty. Guilty because I had been told all my life that God gave me the life of a disabled individual because he knew I was graceful enough to handle it. I had the superhuman powers it took to overcome all the hurdles before me. Even though I felt I was indeed specially equipped to handle these extremely difficult situations, that still wasn’t enough to lure the depression away from my mind. I was a super strong person, and at this point I should probably have had a cape, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could take the pain. I could withstand a lot of s***, but this load was bearing down on my mind like the world’s worst hurricane. I would just lie awake at night and wonder when it would come to an end. I needed someone to save me before I was at the edge.

October 20, 2001 was the night my life would change for the absolute best! I didn’t know at the time, of course. I believe God always brings you whom and what you may need at the exact right time. October 20 was not just an ordinary night. It was the night of the junior homecoming dance. I wasn’t going to go at first because I hated the school, and of course I didn’t have a boyfriend to go with. I thought, what’s the point? However, my friend Samantha called me that night extremely bored and suggested that we go. I too was bored and had nothing better to do, so I agreed to go. Boy, am I ever so glad I went now.

I decided I was going to wear one of my sister’s dresses from middle school. I was always rather small for my age, and I wasn’t planning on going, so I hadn’t been to the mall shopping like most of my classmates. Turns out the dress fit and looked rather nice on, so I just went with that. It was blue, my favorite color, and had sparkles on it. Let’s be real, what teenage girl does not like sparkles? I didn’t have anybody to impress, but I still wanted to look nice. To be honest, this night was the first night in a handful of years that I thought of myself as being somewhat attractive. For months I couldn’t even look in the mirror without feeling a sense of disgust at not only my looks, but my feelings. So I guess you could say this night was already off to a better start. Tonight was the night for a thought makeover!

Once we arrived at the dance, I noticed someone out of the corner of my eye staring at me. He was beautiful; he could not possibly be staring at little old me! When he asked me to dance with him, that just showed me how wrong I was. I was so shy and broken at the time, I assume I was staring at him in awe that for once someone did not care that I was not able to walk and move like all the rest. I was amazed and so bummed at the same time, because I did not ask for his phone number. I didn’t think I would ever see him again. For the first night in forever, I was finally accepted and seen for who I really was on the inside. What a great and overwhelming feeling!

Little did I know I’d see Eric again within a matter of weeks, and he would turn out to be my best friend in the world. I was at the mall when I noticed someone waving at me and shouting my name. It was Eric! He worked there. This time around, I was smart enough and not so shy and decided to get his contact details. He gave me his AOL instant messenger screen name, and this is where our friendship truly took off.

We spent hours at a time over the next few months getting to know each other. I liked this guy. He was very funny and caring. He kind of reminded me of myself on a good day.  The more we got to know each other, the more open and honest I became. He made me comfortable and not afraid to be myself. I even got gutsy enough to ask him to be my date for both my junior and senior proms. He and I did not go to the same high school, so all these incidences happened because they were supposed to.

On both of my prom nights, I had the time of my life. Not only did I feel better about myself, but I was starting to really understand what true love and acceptance were all about. Thanks to this one person who did not care one lick about me being in a wheelchair. His acceptance has taught me and still reminds me, 16 years later, that I am so much more than my disability.  He taught me everything there is to know about what it means to be truly confident, and to love so hard that flaws are not even part of the picture.

Today he is my best friend, my angel, my hero. I see him as the person who single-handedly changed my life for the better, forever. I make sure I remind him each day how much I love him and how much he is appreciated. He does not think of the things he does and has done for me as a big deal. He sees it as being a friend, but to me, who has been in the most opaque pits of darkness, it is the biggest deal on Earth. I honestly do not know if I will ever find someone as great as Eric. He is irreplaceable to me, and I am beyond blessed to have someone like him as my best friend.

If you are feeling slighted or having a hard time because of depression or your disability, please remember that we all struggle. Struggle is universal among human beings, and I promise you mean the world to someone out there, and the world needs you!

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Thinkstock image by Andrej K.

Originally published: October 6, 2017
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