This gift doesn’t come in wrapping paper. Nor is it topped with a shiny bow. It’s a gift that’s only given when it is earned.
The same can be said about the ability to see something good in things that aren’t always viewed as positive. The notion that we may be going through the same situation as someone else is common. The way in which we find a way out of that situation, however, is what makes us who we are. Some might even say it sets us apart from the other person, along with everyone else.
I’ve always tried to find the silver lining in having cerebral palsy because I’d be letting myself down every single day if I didn’t. There’s a certain amount of pride in knowing I’m not the only person in the world with a disability – something I’ve accepted as unique. Yet, I don’t look at it as being a part of a special club or group that should be treated differently than any other group or demographic.
I’ve also tried my best to put myself in the shoes of someone on the outside looking in, who might not understand the daily complexities of my circumstances. Or might think that being in a wheelchair is anything less than what it actually is for me: a constant, quiet effort to make things work in a somewhat smooth and independent manner. As I was making my way through high school, however, I began to notice something that I’d never seen or experienced before.
I was looking at my cerebral palsy as a positive thing, but not everyone around me shared the same sediment. I encountered people who thought my circumstances were a hindrance and a bad omen of sorts. I didn’t know what to think at first, because I was so used to hearing things like, “Aww, poor baby!” and “You can’t do this or that!” They were hurtful comments that I learned to brush off. On the other hand, they were never twisted and turned until my disability sounded like I would be cursed for the rest of my life.
I didn’t mind the fact that others had different viewpoints about my circumstances.
It was natural, just like the way people have their own opinions about anything else in this world. I welcomed those opinions because I was genuinely interested in what people had to say. Some would even comment on how much weight my disability put on my shoulders, and how difficult it must be to overcome it. I didn’t argue with those individuals or any of the points they were making, because they were absolutely true.
However, the comments slowly turned into things like, “Oh, I wish I had one of those [wheelchairs]. It must be so much fun driving around in it!” or “You have it so easy, being in that chair!” At this point, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as a result of the misguided envy that was pouring out of these comments.
It’s not that they weren’t heartfelt. It wasn’t even that this was coming from little kids who didn’t know any better, or people who didn’t have a disability. This came from everyone, from my peers to complete strangers who were young, old and seemingly every age in between. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to scream, “Why would anyone want anything I have, let alone think it’s fun?” I told myself that the people who were saying most of these things didn’t know the whole story. And might never know the whole story.
They were simply making observations based on what they saw, which was me driving around in my motorized wheelchair – looking like everything was OK. What they didn’t know, however, was that it had taken me many years to feel comfortable with my cerebral palsy. Not only that, but those individuals were miles ahead of me while I was still trying to cross the starting line. It took me that long to get to where I was going or to do whatever I was trying to do – and it still does.
This happened frequently enough that I started to think people wanted to believe that the hand I’d been dealt was indeed a hindrance. I also started asking myself, ‘Are they trying to convince themselves? Or me?’ Maybe that was their way of being polite when they didn’t know how to approach me. Maybe they had never seen someone in a wheelchair before, who’s as alert and cognitive as I’m fortunate enough to be.
I may never know the real reason, but I didn’t need any convincing that my life was anything less than what I made it out to be, instead of what everyone thought it was. If I convinced myself that my disability was a bad thing, that’s what it was going to be. By the same token, it was only going to be a hindrance if I let it get in my way.
People’s mindsets slowly started to change once they saw that my circumstances were what built me up rather than tore me down. Their perception changed, to the point where I no longer must deal with the majority of the things I did when I was younger. I can’t attribute that to just one thing, but I’ve found an abundance of motivation in unlikely places. Even so, I still see some of that misled glorification coming through at times.
It goes to show that you shouldn’t listen to all the “noise” around you. Sometimes you need to take it with a grain of salt. It doesn’t mean you don’t hear what people say. It just means you’re strong enough to rise above negativity.
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