Hope Johnson is a freelance writer who has cerebral palsy. She shares her perspective on having a disability in an original submission below.
In this article, I would like to address the "elephant in the room." It is a fact that our world can be a cold, cruel place even for able-bodied folks. When one lives with a disability, especially those that affect outward appearances, it is inevitable that somewhere, sometime, one will be forced to deal with discrimination, or in some cases, downright disdain.
I have learned through my own life experiences to make the best of what I have been given, and to revel in it! An attitude of gratitude can go a long way toward achieving inner peace.
It is important to learn to ignore any aspersions cast by members of society upon you due to the way you look, or due to involuntary speech, sounds or movement.
It is vital to discover what you love to do and to be fulfilled by it especially when a challenge exists; one never knows where life will lead. Being confident and blazing your own trail may take you to an unforeseen destiny.
As a young child, (preschool to 4th or 5th grade) my perception looking back is that I was treated no differently from others in school, and this was true at home as well. I also found positive reinforcement through my writing. Even though unable to speak, my voice was heard through my words. It is essential to have a passion in life, and even more so for those of us who are differently-abled. Most important is to maintain one's enthusiasm and not to let anyone dampen it with a negative attitude. Writing was and is mine.
Sadly, that same thing happened to me when I reached middle school. Even though I worked constantly to keep up with my peers in my studies, (all computer entry done with one toe) I was subjected to the criticism that my grandmother was doing the work for me, which was untrue. The fear of authority kept me from speaking up in my own defense, even though this was a very damaging situation.
Those experiences tested my faith in myself and unfortunately determined my ideas of self-worth. Also, suddenly "different" from the rest of my peers, I encountered ridicule and rejection. I was so concerned about what was said that I tried desperately to be like everyone else and lost myself in the process.
Even in high school, though "mainstreamed" into regular classes, my family had to advocate for me in order that I not be sidelined into special needs classes. My suggestion for my disability community is that feelings must be shared with a trusted confidante if you are struggling with a disability and doubting your strengths.
Once a seed of self-doubt is planted, its roots remain firmly in one's psyche, I think. The academic aide assigned to me in high school did her best to convince me that I was not college material, despite excellent grades. My grandmother insisted just the opposite, and I matriculated at a college in North Carolina. Feelings of inadequacy remained; so much so that I became frustrated enough to withdraw and return home.
Through counseling and self-realization, I learned that I am not my disability. A disability or others' perceptions of it is not a definition of who one is. With this realization, I was liberated!
Success as a magna cum laude graduate with an English degree, as well as college-wide recognition with a prestigious alumni award, has followed.
As a freelance writer, I am motivated to provide support to those in my community who need to hear success stories of those who have struggled, too.
Persistence, determination, and flexibility assure endless possibilities. Letting go of society's perception is one of the essential keys to a happy life. Be yourself and the rest will follow.
Thanks, Hope for sharing your story with us!
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