I’m back again, I hope you’ve been having a wonderful day!
To be honest, I struggled with what to write next following my introductory post. I panned through my list of story ideas for quite some time before settling on this one. I hope I made the right choice. The topic of self-esteem is a tough one in general for anybody and is usually a topic reserved for late night conversations with yourself. But I feel like as a person with a disability, the topic of self-esteem is even more frowned upon as a topic of discussion because of all of the things people tend to already assume.
It is assumed that people with disabilities must not be attractive or feel attractive. I think a lot of this is due to what we see or don’t see in this case in the media. But from my experience, most disabled people I know find themselves attractive in some way. Shocking, right? Wrong, but what is shocking is that self-esteem is defined as confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect. And yet in today’s s world when we think of self-esteem we only think about what that means of in terms of our bodies…
As a 21-year old woman now I can tell you that for me the journey to self-esteem has not been an easy one, in fact, it is a journey that is still ongoing. As I’ve already mentioned, growing up I was a mainstream student, which means that I was in regular classes with regular students. But no matter what I still walked with a “significant limp” and this didn’t change if I was walking with a walker or not; a walker made me stand out even more among my peers. My parents never used the words “disabled” or “disability” with me growing up. I always knew what Cerebral Palsy was and could describe it age appropriately at any given time. So, you could say as I often do that I never really knew I was disabled until middle school. I knew that I was different, but I didn’t carry a lot of the negative weight that came with the terms to identify my differences at a super young age. I think that helped my self-esteem, however, even with that being said, I remember very clearly from the ages of about 7 through 12 years old being a very sad and lonely kid. I was painfully shy and I didn’t have many friends. While nobody ever addressed my walker or limp through these ages outwardly, I assumed this kept them at arm’s length from me. I read a lot of books during this time and dove heavily into music. I also remember being a chunky-awkward kid and really resenting my body, wishing I could play like the other kids, and not so much as look like them, but walk like them. I would have done anything at that time just to have a really good friend and I thought the more “normal” I could be the more likely that would be.
Around the age of 12, though, things changed — it was like a switch had flipped. I became really confident in the things that I liked; books, music, clothing, etc., and this gave me a huge deal of confidence, even though this would be the first year someone would point out how different I am in terms of my disability (in hindsight, not so much). I was really secure about things that represented me, my newfound self-esteem was extremely tested by all out of the outside influences of the middle school years, since I think those years are equally terrible for everybody. My walker was taken from me when I was 10 and I think that really changed how I viewed myself. I saw myself as much more normal, which was a huge desire of mine years prior, and now I was another step closer to that goal. I, like everyone else, survived these years with my confidence re-worked and re-built. I’m leaving out some horrid bullying details of this time — that’s for another post.
But the next major changes came when I experienced that terrible hip pain at 16. I gained weight as a result of not being able to walk for the first time in my life and returned to using a walker when I was trying to be mobile. I was even fitted for my first wheelchair during this time. All of these things happened in succession of each other — like that saying that bad things happen in threes. All of them were devastating to me. As I sit before you writing this post at 21, I can tell you something I realized about this time: the wheelchair, the weight gain, the walker . . . all of those things didn’t define my self-esteem because of what I thought about them. They were defining my self-esteem because I was afraid of what other people were thinking about them. Once I was able to let go of all of those fears I had about other people, the happier I became and quickly, too!
“Fat” is not the worst thing you can be, and using a wheelchair or a walker does not make you less of a person or any less valuable or beautiful. You have knowledge that you should share with everyone you know, you have a sense of humor and wit, you’re so much more than all of the outside things that people see. You may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you need to be your own cup of tea brewed just the way you like it.
I color my hair a lot, I wear clothes that I like, I do things that are very true to myself. You teach others how to see you and how to treat you. I think that’s what self-esteem is — being confident in who you are, embrace it and others will share in that passion! Share your stories below!