The Beauty of Interdependence

The Beauty of Interdependence

Independence is a word I heard tossed around frequently as a child. It hovered above me at Individualized Education Plan meetings in elementary school, and it filled pages for my goals in physical, occupational, and speech therapy. In almost every therapeutic and medical realm, independence appeared to be a goal others had outlined for me.

When you’re a 4-year-old trying to master putting one foot in front of the other while enclosed in stiff, slimy orthotics like tightly packed anchovies, you’re not thinking about steps toward independence. You’re just following directions and trying not to face-plant.

As I grew up, I began to notice how important the idea of my autonomy was to others. It seemed as though my worth as a human being was contingent upon me meeting the milestones of my typically developing peers.

In some unspoken but tangible game spelled out clearly with the tracking of one accomplishment after another, I was after trinkets of approval. I was trying to keep up when I never wanted to play in the first place. Even as I checked off boxes one by one — driver’s license, college diploma, boyfriend — the payoff was ethereal. Whatever external indications of maturation and independence I added to my résumé, I soon learned they could never be enough to fill the void society had drilled into my psyche.

It remains challenging, if not impossible, to demand equality in a world that equates interdependence with weakness. Because having a disability is so often interpreted as being inherently weak, I’ve spent a significant chunk of my life attempting to overcompensate. I finally realized that independence is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The truth is that nobody is entirely independent. Furthermore, why would we want to be? If we didn’t need one another, if we weren’t inherently tied to one another through a shared need of daily resources, what kind of life would it be?

Although I’ve been socialized to believe that the ultimate sign of a life well lived is demonstrated through self-sufficiency, I no longer believe this is valid. Not only is complete independence impossible for anybody — disability or not — it’s not what I’m going for in this life.

Instead, I choose to take pervasive joy in holding the hand of a friend on a bumpy path and reaching out for support. The sense of shame from needing someone else is rooted deeply down, from my days of physical and occupational therapy. However, the more intentional I become in respecting my own paradigm for the beauty of needing other people, and in recognizing how other people need me, the more expansive the opportunities to truly live are.


Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.

One comment

  1. Susan says:

    I find this extremely relatable. From the putting one foot in front of the other in stiff white tops to the driving sense of achieving independence. I feel like I was as independent as the next 20something and enjoyed that level until my late 50’s. You are entirely correct. No one is 100% entirely independent nor should we be. It is misplaced pride and an American trait that we all need to display independence. Our sincere friends and beloved family are blessed when helping us and our vulnerability speaks volumes to those around us.
    Thanks for expressing these ideas so well.

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