Healthy Living

10 Things I'd Tell My Younger Self (Disability Perspective)

It could have stopped me from ever doubting myself.
02/02/2017 02:26pm ET | Updated February 7, 2017

We all wish that we knew certain things earlier in life, as that knowledge could have made our life so much easier. It could have saved us from a lot of pain and heartache. It may be the fact that we should have trusted our gut when it came to someone new, or we should have felt more confident with our smile. It could also be how we should have realized our potential earlier on or never let anyone define and shape our identity.

These are some of the things we all at one point in our lives wish we knew, but there are certain aspects with regards to my life with physical disabilities that I hope I understood earlier. To be aware of what I know now as a young adult with physical disabilities could have helped me a lot as a child and even a teen. It could have stopped me from ever doubting myself. It could have saved me a lot of time — time where I focused on overcoming both external and internal challenges instead of preventing myself to grow.

1. You were never a burden to your parents .

There was a significant portion of my childhood where I thought that life would have been easier for my parents if I were not alive. To not have my father worry about the hospital bills or mother split between my siblings and me. My parents never implied that I was a burden, but I could sometimes see the concern in their eyes. I thought that their stress could be eliminated if I were out of the equation. It did not help to have people in the community question my parents with regards to why they sent me to private schools, especially as a girl with physical disabilities. I ultimately believed that I was an unnecessary pressure and could not see how I could be of value to them.

My parents would consistently say that I was a blessing, but I never actually believed it. I thought they were either biased or were just saying that to make me feel better. I only started to believe them towards the latter part of my teenage years when I began to see how my presence was of comfort to my parents. How I had something to offer and give even if it just meant simply being there. To be alive and be by their side. To not have them endure the loss of their first child. I may have had physical disabilities, but there were certain things that I could do such as making my parents laugh after telling them a joke, or listening to their worries. The fact that I could see how I could be there for them made me later accept and believe that I was never a burden.

2. You were never the problem, but those in your community are the problem.

My parents and younger brothers never made me feel out of place nor did they ever remind me of how I had a disability. I got told off by my parents just like any child would, and my brothers would pull pranks on me just like they would towards any sibling. I may have sometimes felt like a burden, but they never made me feel like I was a problem. They never indicated that there was something wrong with me that I felt healthy for the most part.

The attitudes from some people in my community, however, differed. I had some elders that I just met assume that I could not talk where they would ask my peers if I could. They would have their sympathetic smiles and nods if I ever did try to engage with them in a conversation. There were also my peers during my childhood that said that I was too slow on the playground. They told me that I was better suited on the bench to guard their lunch boxes. I started to feel like there was something wrong with me and that I was better suited to stay at the side.

This only increased towards my teenage years. I tried to stand up for myself towards my late teens where my peers would respond by telling me that I either misunderstood, was sensitive, and only felt that way due to my disability. They never once questioned, or put into account their actions, that it left me questioning myself. To ask whether or not I properly understood or whether my external circumstance was affecting my judgment.

I, therefore, started to feel like I not only had a problem physically but also internally. How I was the dilemma and created more complications by voicing my concerns over their mistreatment. This resulted in me having an endless amount of self-doubt where I felt bad for even feeling wronged in the first place. I eventually considered what I felt irrelevant, and even problematic, that I thought the best solution would be for me to remove myself from my community and situation altogether. To sit on the bench instead of play and to never contribute and have a say.

I, however, now know that I was never the problem, but rather it was the attitude and treatment of some people in my community. Those that have a problem within themselves, due to their incapability to introspect their words and actions.

3. You are not wrong in trusting your instincts regarding people.

I always knew deep inside if someone was not treating me right. There may have been times where I chose not to believe it, but my first impressions were never usually wrong. They were always made with sound reason, and my disability never influenced my judgment. My disability rather gave me the ability to understand better and realize who is sincere and who may not be. It rather fostered my intuition and filtered out my company based on the level of sincerity shown.

There were times where I chose to believe the words of others over my instincts, especially after I tried to stand up for myself. I preferred to give the benefit of the doubt and wanted to assume that I was the one that needed to introspect and change. It was easier to think that way than to accept what I already knew. The reality of how there are those that may want to harm you or cause you to feel bad for ever speaking up. They would rather make you feel like you did something wrong because they do not want to face how what they did was not right.

I let people put me down, because I thought that it would solve things, and I willingly believed them over myself. It caused a lot of harm, and pain, where the cycle of mistreatment kept repeating. Every time I put myself down because I thought that listening to my instincts would just cause more problems. It resulted in me silencing myself. I did not even share what I was going through with my loved ones because I honestly believed that I would cause unnecessary worry, and thereby be a source of additional concern.

I eventually told my mother towards my later teens and even consulted my close friends where I got to see that my initial instinct was right. How what I felt was not wrong where I should have believed my first impressions.

4. You are going to have it easier as you grow.

Life is complicated and hard to understand. It is even more challenging as a child, and a teen, because you are discovering the world for the first time. You are learning what it means to have a friend or even lose one. You are in the process of figuring out who you are and your place in the world. What you want and who you want to be. You are down the path of trying to embrace your identity. This is not easy for anyone, especially as someone with physical disabilities.

Life was very confusing for me as a child due to my health. I did not understand why I was different or why things had to be hard. I did not know what I liked, or did not like, because I was too consumed with how to handle my health both externally and internally. I did not understand why I could not catch up with my peers, or why I kept losing friends, that this made my disability even harder to understand and endure.

To know yourself guides you to understand what you want to do in life. To accept yourself helps you be content with your circumstance. They both make life easier, that to be accepted makes even more of a difference, because now you are surrounded by those that are nonjudgmental. They are friends that have similar ambitions as yours and support you in reaching your goals. They give a secure and encouraging environment where that provides you direction and focus. This focus allows you to gain confidence through accomplishments. It also diverts you from thinking of your struggles. Your struggles would still be there, and may even increase, but by then you would have a support system and have a better grip on how to cope.

5. You have your own talent that is waiting to be discovered.

I have two younger brothers and a father that loves sports. I, therefore, automatically assumed that I had to find out what I was good at in the form of sports. I tried biking, swimming, and even tennis, but I miserably failed.

School did not make things better because all the competitions were mostly sport competitions. There were sometimes art competitions, but my hands would shake after a while, due to the required muscular strength. I never considered writing because I did not really like made up stories. I was first introduced to fictional books as a child that I knew I would not be good at coming up with imaginative plots. Life and living in this world seemed to be my focus — I enjoyed observing the world, narrating events, and sharing whatever I felt. I, however, never considered that it could be converted into writing and sharpened into a talent. I never considered, because I never believed. I was too fixated over the things that I could not do that I was not open to discovering the things that I could do.

Do not force yourself to be good at something that others are good at because you are not meant to fill their shoes. You are meant to fill your own shoes where you have your own mark to make. To know who you are and your interests will set free that potential within. It would help you see what you are passionate about and figure out what legacy you hope to leave behind.

6. You should never feel ashamed of your point of view that is formed from your experiences.

My disability has in a way shaped me by allowing me to see the world from a different perspective. To find hope in the most darkest of situations and understand people in a different light. Loss of strength did not really feel like a loss because of what it taught me. To be able to let go and see the good in a situation instead of the bad.

I would share my experiences, and opinions as a child, but I realized that I had different priorities than most my age. I did not really want to play, but rather preferred to discuss, and read. I was more into standing up for causes that felt right from saving the environment or be against bullying. There are times where I thought that I only cared because of what I went through. How my health led me to never want to take anything for granted and caused me to know what it is like to feel pain.

I noticed that I was different, and sometimes even felt ashamed, because I did not want to stand out anymore than I already did. My external state was distinctive that I did not want my internal state to diverge from the norm. I, however, felt like I was not being myself if I conformed with the rest. I also did not feel safe to share my opinions, due to previous experiences from some of peers, that I ultimately preferred isolation. I started to feel that my point of view was irrelevant and did not really feel like I was part of the community.

The more I focused on my goals when alone, the more I would see, how there were others like me. They may be few in numbers but they were still there. How I should voice what I have to say and never hesitate in being myself when contributing to society.

7. You should look at your empathic nature as a form of strength — not weakness.

I tried to put myself out there in the world and contribute the best way that I could. I, however, noticed that I tend to care about the suffering of others that at times it felt heavy. I started to crumble whenever I would hear the news of children crying due to losing their parents in wars. I often felt hurt by what I saw that I looked at this as a sign of weakness. There was a short period in my life where I tried to guard myself and not feel. To be involved in society but not truly be present. To watch the news but not truly take it in. I tried to detach myself from the world, and even people, because I thought that was a way for me to be internally strong. I, nevertheless, realized that it lead me slowly lose purpose. I was someone that previously stood up for causes, but now preferred playing computer games, and engaging in small talk. I did not want to think or feel that I just wanted time to pass. I was deluding myself and going against my innate nature.

I have grown to see that feeling for others is a huge part of who I am. To be able to understand, and connect with others is not a form of weakness, but strength. It allows you to grow internally and draws you to sincere friends. To live an authentic and fulfilled life—a life where you are not afraid to be there for others and extend a helping hand.

8. You should never feel guilty for needing help.

I love being there for others, but when it comes to needing physical help, I always find it hard to ask. I need help up from the chair, that at the beginning of my teenage years, I only felt comfortable to ask my mom. I would catch myself only asking until I truly needed help even if it meant trying to hold my bladder as long as I could. I felt sorry for disturbing her even though I was never made to feel bad.

I had to slowly accept help from non-family members but I always associated it with having to give back something in return. I used to have a classmate as a child that would help me carry my bag up the stairs, but she would ask for my drink that my mother packed for lunch. I was at times left with nothing to drink that I had to walk towards the water fountain. It was sometimes hard for me to press the button to drink, but I did not have that strength to deny giving a drink to someone that helped me. I felt guilty for even thinking to do so that this repetitive motion throughout the school year increased my guilt. It extended even to teenage years where there was a time I wanted to buy french fries but could not go down the stairs to order it. I asked my classmate and gave her money. I was thinking to share my fries when she returned but she returned with two french fries orders where one was for herself. I knew that it was wrong of her not to ask me, but I felt too guilty to even have a say. How someone did a huge favor in helping me that I should feel grateful.

I now have sincere friends helping me without expecting anything in return. This has allowed me to see that those genuine would never make me feel bad. How they would never take advantage and would rather want me to feel safe so that I would ask them for help. How it is not wrong to need help that I should never feel guilty for admitting it.

9. You are not weak for admitting to your loved ones that you feel hurt and helpless.

To be physically weak pushes you to think about strength on a regular basis. I was propelled to be strong on the inside due to the fact that I could not be strong physically. I thought that to be strong on the inside I should not share my feelings whenever I feel hurt or helpless. I should not allow myself to cry or even admit that I need comfort.

This prevented me from healing and understanding how to get out of a situation. It took away a lot of my time from internally growing because I was confused most of the time. I did not know how to recover, or not feel a certain way, that I now see that it helps to have input from those that care about you. They can help you assess and see a situation from a different angle. They can reassure you and provide answers that you previously did not see.

You are not weak for feeling and admitting your vulnerability because you are just human—a soul that is unafraid to have their heart open and lean on those that extend their shoulders.

10. You are not just internally beautiful but externally beautiful.

I was not the typical teenage girl that worried over a pimple or how I might look. I was once told by my peer during my teenage years that it did not matter if I had a scar, or a pimple, because of how I have a disability. This was after I was trying to reassure her over her pimple by saying her pimple will fade whereas my scar on the bridge of my nose would never fade. How there is nothing wrong with my scar, that she should not feel upset over her pimple. Her sharp response of it not making a difference if I had a pimple or scar made me laugh. I was stunned that it was only then I realized that I do not really feel bothered over physical beauty. I was too focused over how to walk or reach a desired goal to have it as my priority. The beauty that I noticed was within people and life itself. I never felt ashamed over the scar on the bridge of my nose and my wheelchair because of how I considered it a huge part of me—a part that shaped me on the inside to who I am today.

It was not until I got married that I started to momentarily think. To not just focus on internal growth but also external care. My husband never made me worry, but marriage has taught me to think of both inner and outer beauty. To care for myself not only internally but externally. It has helped me realize that I should have allowed myself to be more of a girl when in my teens. I should have allowed myself to feel beautiful even though I did not think that I was not beautiful. I simply did not think of beauty altogether, due to my fixation on internal growth, and reaching my goals. I now see that there is no harm in taking a break from goals to consider face and hair care. How I should consider dressing up more often and allowing myself to feel not only confident on the inside and outside, but beautiful.

These are the 10 things that I wish I knew as a child with physical disabilities. I have, however, learned that we are meant to understand something in perfect timing. It may have helped me to know these things earlier on, but I may not have understood it in totality or properly appreciated it. It would have prevented me to be shaped to who I am today that sometimes the pain endured can bring forth beneficial insight.