We may have compassionate people around us when we’re at our lowest, but not fully embrace the fact they’re in our corner. Or it can be the complete opposite.
We could be in the fight of our lives and have no one there to support us. Some people might see us struggling – or even know what we’re going through – and not bother to lend a helping hand. What we have to realize, however, it’s their choice to not be there. We might not agree with it, but it’s still their decision. And theirs alone.
It’s at this very moment when we have to stop, take a look around and ask ourselves, ‘Who’s really been here all along?’ and ‘What truly matters?’
That’s exactly what I did in the months leading up to my senior year of high school. I’d been fighting a mostly quiet fight of self-discovery and acceptance by myself for so long. I taught myself how to fight for everything I had.
I was so accustomed to fighting on my own I wasn’t sure how to react when people started coming into my life naturally, instead of having to step in to help me with something. My cerebral palsy dictated my life in that manner, and I didn’t want to scare anyone away. Not only that, but I was still riding a wave of raw emotion from the events that suddenly unfolded in my life.
I tried to remember the good times, the sun-filled days with ice cream and smiles. I remembered the valuable way I was taught to look at my disability, and how my family always reinforced it. Now, I had people with new, refreshing attitudes around me. They were my peers at school, who weren’t interested in hearing every excruciating detail of life as I knew it, and didn’t mind not knowing about that part of my journey. That admittedly took me surprise, mainly because it reminded me of how I was raised.
The fact my classmates were treating me with that kind of respect was great. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, but I was fully aware it didn’t happen overnight.
The rest of my peers, however, didn’t take exception to my disability at all. They read my name in the school newspaper every few weeks and had gotten used to reading my articles as well. I hoped, as I always did when my words were read by anyone, it would be a reason for my classmates to think of me as one of their peers. Just like I thought of them as mine.
As luck would have it, that’s what happened. Everyone slowly came to know me as “the writer” in school – giving me an occasional high five and telling me I was cool. I never dreamed of being the coolest kid at my high school. Nor did I want to be, but I took in stride because I now felt confident my classmates knew I was one of them.
I also felt like I was in the same boat they were in – getting through their last few years of mandatory schooling before moving on to whatever was next. The best part was they wanted to get to know me. I didn’t take it as them wanting to be best friends for life, however. I instead looked at it as a gesture of kindness and genuine curiosity on their part. For me, it was a way of healing and getting my life back on track after my grandfather’s death.
I’d made a few friends in tenth and eleventh grade – whom I’m still friends with today – that didn’t ask about what happened. They didn’t try to dig into my past, either. It got to the point where they would say, “Stop!” when I started talking about it. I slowly learned it wasn’t because they didn’t care. They simply didn’t take any interest in basing our friendship on my cerebral palsy.
I knew I didn’t have to worry about Rachel, because she had been there for me since the very first few days of high school – and proved she was a loyal friend more times than I can count. Even so, I still struggled to be OK with people coming into my life. Waves of uncertainty began rolling in, and I tried to ignore them. It all brought me back to my classroom in sixth grade, where I got my heart broken when someone who I thought was my sidekick stabbed me in the back.
“Erin, I can’t be friends with you anymore,” he said.
Confused, I took a minute to figure out why a friend of at least six years would suddenly be telling me this. I couldn’t come up with a good reason, so I said the only logical thing I could say: “Why?”
“Well, we’re going into junior high next year. I can’t be seen hanging around someone in a wheelchair.”
I was stunned. I sat there for a while and thought about the words that had just come out of his mouth. I didn’t lie to myself. I didn’t try to change his mind, either. I decided this so-called “friend” wasn’t worth my tears, even though I was devastated. I said goodbye and never looked back.
It took me years to be comfortable with myself again. In fact, I didn’t tell my parents about this until a year after the fact. I was too wounded, but this experience helped me realize why I shouldn’t be ashamed to tell others how I feel.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. Sometimes you have to be broken before you find out what you’re truly worth.
When you put yourself back together, however, you’ll find you are enough. And always will be.
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