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What Strength Means When You Have a Disability

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I started going to physical therapy before I was even diagnosed with a disability at 3 years old. For years, I was too weak to walk inside and I’d fall asleep in the car as soon as we’d leave, exhausted from everything I had to do.

I don’t remember when I finally gained enough strength to make the walk in and out of the hospital by myself. But I remember the first time I felt strong. It was the day I really didn’t want to go to physical therapy – the day I so badly wished I could just be like everyone else – but I went anyway.

Strength looks different for me than it does for most people. I’ve had to fight to get where I am today, and I keep fighting each time I face a new obstacle or challenge. Yet I’ll never forget how I felt a few years ago when I came across the words that have been imprinted on my mind ever since: “Strong is beautiful.”

If strong is beautiful, what does that make me?

If beauty is measured solely on the way people look or what they are physically able to do, is beauty reserved just for those without a chronic illness or disability? I knew it couldn’t be true. Still, it felt true.

I’ll never measure up to society’s standard of what it means to be strong. I won’t ever be able to do the trending workouts or run the marathons. Instagram will never see my gym selfies because they aren’t cute, and the running shoes in my closet certainly aren’t for running. Some days I wish I could close my eyes and make my world look different. But I can’t.

Instead, I go to doctors’ appointments and let them measure my strength so they can tell me what I already know. I go to physical therapy still, all these years later, even when it’s difficult and uncomfortable. I keep pressing into it, trusting that even the hard and hurtful can turn into something good.

Strength isn’t the opposite of weakness. It’s in a category of its own. Strength is choosing to keep pushing and reaching when everything is in the way of where you want to go. Strength is born out of the imperfect places in our lives that stretch us farther than we ever thought possible. Strength means not giving up, and that means you keep showing up.

This kind of strength looks a little different on everyone. But we all have the potential to be strong. We all have the opportunity to demonstrate our unique strength in our own way, in the face of our own obstacles and scary circumstances.

Where others choose to see weakness – when my arms cannot carry the weight but my heart tenaciously decides to thrive while carrying the weight of a life I thought would be too intimidating to accept – I choose to see strength.

I choose to see strength when I keep showing up on days where I’d rather run away; when I push through the pain and keep moving forward when it’d be easier to stand still; when each morning I wake up and realize strength comes from something greater than my limited ability.

And I choose to see it as something beautiful.

Strong is beautiful, but it doesn’t always look the way we expect. There’s beauty in weakness. It shines a light on true strength.

Getty image by Kevron2001.

Originally published: May 22, 2018
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