Rummaging through my night stand, I discover a picture of myself being inducted into the National Honor Society in high school. I’m wearing a dress Mom made. Emotionally charged memories overcome me as I settle against my pillow. I’ve long been lost on a bumpy path marked by denial at every turn. Tears well up as I ponder the difficult issues I’ve had to examine to survive.
I was born with spina bifida, a birth defect giving me scoliosis, paralyzed legs and a growing host of new maladies. My childhood was colored by a circumstance more devastating than a disability, however. My parent’s view “outside the box” is foggy at best. Far worse, they believe it is rude to ask questions, challenge authority or be honest. Expressing feelings was grounds for punishment at our house.
My parent’s spin on disability ruled my childhood. When my orthopedic surgeon said I needed surgery, I was whisked to the hospital post haste. When neighbors suggested my parents take me to a faith healer, they feigned interest before “remembering” we were “busy” that evening. When the neighborhood kids chanted “cripple creep” as they saw me approach, Mom responded to my outcry with silence.
My growing years were bleak. I was segregated in grade school despite possessing above average intelligence. I wore braces. Having a boyfriend was an impossible dream. Self-esteem couldn’t take root during my upbringing and was squashed if a seedling did appear.
“I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to drive, go to college, live alone.” Dad would moan. Far worse was his oft stated prayer, “I hope you can find someone to marry you.” Dad is 86 years old and still can’t acknowledge my accomplishments.
The enormity of the questions I’m pondering overwhelms me. My tears flow faster. As an adult, who am I beyond my disability? How did I obtain a Masters Degree despite my challenges? Have I been using my intellect to over compensate for perceived shortcomings? Definitive answers may forever elude me.
I’ve finally accepted that strength and hope have always lived within me. I now know that I am a remarkable woman with potential. Dreams and goals fill my heart with excitement. Possibilities stretch before me along the horizon, and each day brings new revelations and creativity. I am excited to be alive. Disability no longer defines me. I “live” with a disability and I have a beautiful life.
I believe that every person living with a disability carries the same spirit within. We long for the same things that every other human does. We want to love and be loved. We want to experience everything life has to offer. We want to contribute to society. I pray that someday the world wakes up and fully embraces diversity in its full array.
While I’m waiting for that, however, I’m taking a big bite out of the apple and I’m enjoying every sensation. “Bring it on.” I think as I lovingly put my picture away.