My world was filled with hazards. Every pebble in my path, energetic classmate, even a sneeze, could easily fracture a rib or break a delicate limb. Pink casts, sugar-free lollipops, and hundreds of broken bones were hallmarks of my childhood.
I was blessed with the unfortunate “gift” of being different.
At first, I accepted my limitations simply because I knew nothing else. But as I grew, the words fell heavier on me, pinning me to my seat while everyone around me jumped, ran, and climbed. “You can’t.” Doctors, teachers, parents, trying to protect me from my own fragility. You can’t. These words echoed across the walls of my childhood, through the schoolyard and into the recesses of my mind where they remain lightly etched, a scar.
When I turned eight, my parents decided to try a new treatment for my Brittle Bones Disease. I passed hours making up songs and feigning nonchalance until our flight finally landed in Montreal, where I was admitted to Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (I always despised the name). A nurse tied powdery rubber around my arm, and feeling myself unraveling, I cried that it was too tight. My skin felt sweaty and pinched, my hands tingled and my eyes stung with the immense effort of repression. The nurses tried to soothe me, gently telling me to relax and breathe. I didn’t. I was overcome with fear and frustration, I screamed until my throat burned and my face hurt, until I was weak and exhausted and empty.
A nurse attached my IV to a machine, and I felt like a dog chained to a fence post. The reality and severity of my physical limitations hit me so hard my little world crumbled in on me, suffocating. I spent three days at the hospital angry and alone, and returned to this process every three months for years to come.
But one day my life took a tremendous turn. I made a tiny, simple choice: to walk into that waiting room and for once not struggle or frown. From there I decided to view the trip as an opportunity rather than a sentence, and called off the pity party I had thrown for myself.
Eyes now open, I looked around and realized with churning guilt that I wasn’t the only person in Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children. My heart crawled into my throat as I looked up from my crayon masterpiece and across the table at the other kids–kids with faces burned beyond recognition, kids who had spent birthdays and Christmases in their hospital beds, kids who were terminally ill.
I wasn’t a dog and nobody was chaining me to a fence. Realizing this, I took what I had, ran across the grass and into life. Instead of disabling me, my disability has opened my eyes and given me the creativity, flexibility, and compassion to create my own opportunities and to appreciate the difficulties of others. I believe our experiences make us who we are. I believe in optimism. I believe in being different.
Sometimes, after hitting a bump, those familiar words quietly fill my mind. “You can’t.” But now those same words, relics of my childhood, inspire within me a passionate determination to prove them untrue. I simply say to myself,
This I believe.
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