My Journey to Self-Love as a Person With a Disability
Growing up with a disability was definitely different, but not in a terrible way as people may think. Many people have stereotypes of how people with disabilities live their lives. They think they should feel sorry for us, or that we can’t do anything ourselves or need to be fixed. I will get the occasional comments like, “I’m so sorry,” or “I hope you feel better” just for being in a wheelchair.
I always say having a disability was my biggest blessing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard sometimes. Being in and out of hospitals was definitely not fun. But even then I never complained. When I look back, all the great times I had make the bad memories fade. Having a disability can be difficult sometimes but when I achieve something, it makes it even that more special, because I know I had to work really hard to get there.
Of course there are times where I get frustrated whenever an elevator isn’t working, or when people stare or ask rude questions like, “What’s wrong with you?” I always reply, “Nothing is wrong with me.” It’s true. I’m just different and that is OK, no need to feel sorry for me. I realized that if I got mad at every little comment or stare or inconvenience I would be an unhappy person, and I did not want that for myself. So I chose happiness.
Everyone has bad days. We are all human, but because I know what pain is, I am able to feel and appreciate happiness so much more. All of the not so great things that happened in my life are a part of me. All of the good and the bad experiences make me the person I am today, and I have a different perspective on life because of it. I embraced every little thing about myself, wheelchair and all.
People may think a wheelchair limits a person, but in reality it’s the opposite; it gives me my freedom. One of my favorite things about being in a wheelchair is getting to connect with other people with disabilities, especially children. I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school being the only one in a wheelchair. It was hard because I stuck out a lot, but I think that was also my favorite part. I loved being unique and different from everyone else. It’s important for children to know they are not alone, and they can embrace their differences.
Growing up, people with disabilities were not represented in the media; in fact they still aren’t. I was not able to flip through a magazine and see a woman in a wheelchair. I was not able to turn on the TV and see a movie or a show starring a character in a wheelchair. There were no advertisements in the beauty industry featuring women in wheelchairs. There was nothing. It’s always the same women: blonde, tall, thin, perfect skin and hair and of course able-bodied. This is so damaging to the confidence of children and adults. Society makes it seem like if you don’t fit this mold then you are not beautiful. Society should not determine how you think of yourself. Not even the girls in the magazines look like that in real life.
The moment I truly accepted myself, I was truly happy. Everyone has beauty and you should be the first one to see it. I am so happy with my life and comfortable in my skin that sometimes people ask me how I got so confident. I realized that my body fought through 24 surgeries to keep me alive; how could I not love it back? Acceptance is everything to me, and I would much rather spend my life living it to the fullest than sit around and complain about all the little things. I have never felt like I couldn’t do something, because I always adapted everything to myself so I could achieve it.
I can’t wait to live in a world where everything is accessible to every single person and everyone is accepted no matter their disability, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. We need to look forward and see there is so much beauty in everyone and everything. This world is full of people who are different, and that is my favorite thing about it. People with disabilities are able to live happy lives and are able to love themselves and to be comfortable with who they are. People need to start realizing that just because someone doesn’t fit the “typical” mold, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
I would not change having a disability because it’s shaped the person I am today, and I am pretty proud of myself. I want to be the person I needed when I was little. I hope in the future girls like me can open a magazine and see someone they can relate to and know they are not alone. And if you are someone who is struggling with loving yourself or your life, I believe you too can do it. Start focusing on the things that make you happy and the things you love about yourself, because you deserve it.
To all the young girls who are in wheelchairs and feel alone, know you are not. Know you are beautiful, powerful and strong and embrace your differences, because when you do you will become unstoppable. Don’t forget to love yourself and think big, because the world needs people like you and me.
When I was born, a doctor told my parents I wouldn’t have a good quality of life. Who was he to say what kind of quality of life I would have?
Fast forward to the present. I am a graduate student pursuing my Master’s in speech-language pathology. I am a speaker and a disability advocate. I am a completely independent person who drives, goes to school and is able to live their life just like any other 22 year old. I grew up with an amazing family and great friends who always supported me in every single thing I did. I had everything any child could ever ask for and more. So looking back at what the doctor said, I guess he was right after all. I don’t have a good quality of life, I have an amazing one, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Getty photo by Werner Images.