Right now, you are little, with cool AFOs (a sophisticated name for leg braces) and a smile that shows the spunk you carry inside of you. Despite the obstacles you face, you have a zest and love for life that will enable you to touch the hearts of everyone you encounter.
When I saw your picture on my Twitter feed the other day, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what I was like as a child. I too had blonde hair that I wore up in a ponytail, and I also wore AFOs- although yours are cooler. And just like you, I have parents who went above and beyond to make sure I was included in everything we did. Sometimes that meant parking in a handicapped parking space so I didn’t have to walk as far; other times, it was carrying me so that I could be a part of our Ruby Falls excursion. I saw myself in you, and ever since I saw your bright smile, there are a few things I’ve wanted to tell you.
One. You are beautiful just the way you are. Yes, your wheelchair and AFOs make you stand out, but that’s okay. They will enable you to make a difference. Your cerebral palsy has given you a platform to make this world a better place- don’t be afraid to use it. Share your story. Talk about the struggles you face, but also speak of the blessings you have because of your disability. People need to see that being disabled is not something to be sad about or sympathetic over, and you are the perfect person to tell them. Share your story boldly and honestly, because it needs to be heard.
Two. People are going to stare. Should they? No. Will they anyway? Yes, as much as you wish they wouldn’t. Don’t let their eyes break you or make you feel like you are less than they are. You aren’t. You are strong and courageous and unique, and if they don’t see that, it’s their problem, not yours.
Three. There will be occasions when people interact with you without seeing you. Like the people who stare, they will see the equipment you use and the condition that sets you apart. I want you to remember that your cerebral palsy sets you apart in the best possible way and that you are not a hindrance or a problem. Please don’t ever think that, and please don’t ever let their words hurt you the way that I let them hurt me. They don’t deserve space in your mind, and they definitely don’t deserve a place in your heart.
Four. You are living in a world that is not built for you, and you will come across challenges on the daily. Some days, you’ll be able to handle them with poise and grace, but other days, you will scream and cry and wonder why in the world you have to deal with all of this, when thousands of children are born every day without complications. And that’s okay. Your tears don’t make you weak. In fact, letting your emotions out instead of hiding them actually makes you strong.
Five. Yes, it’s hard, but along with the difficulty will come adventures and open doors that otherwise never would have existed. Your cerebral palsy will bring people into your life who will come to mean the world to you. When you’re having a rough day or wishing you could make everything go away, remember them. Remember how special they are and how much they believe in you. Their love will carry you through.
Six. If your journey is anything like mine, going to college will be a battle. You’ll have to spend hours on the phone, make a few spontaneous road trips, and explain to a few people that you got into your dream school and you are going, regardless of what they think you should do. There will be people who tell you that you can’t do it and that it would be better for you to take classes online for a semester. Don’t listen to them, and don’t give up hope. The same day you sit in your journalism teacher’s room and cry because it isn’t going to work will be the same day it does. Suddenly, the walls you’ve been hitting will come crashing down, and you’ll watch with amazement as everything falls into place. Follow your dream. You deserve to live it.
Seven. I keep saying “your cerebral palsy” because that’s exactly what it is: yours. Own that. Be proud of it. Yes, you are different. That’s a good thing. It will enable you to break barriers, blaze a trail, and make the kind of impact others only dream of.
Remember that you are special, and keep your sights set on the stars- they’re your only limit.