Disabilities are intimidating. No doubt about it. You have been an established adult and you suddenly are thrown into a world where you are as helpless as a baby. Or, you have been born with a disability and you see others your age becoming independent and you feel stuck…or held back by well-meaning family members. You are stopped by something as simple as stairs, you can only drive cars that have hand controls, you need help in the bathroom if it is not accessible, your wardrobe has to change to meet your newly shaped body, and on and on. All of these can really take a toll and make you feel so insecure!
When I was about 3 or 4 years old, my mom put me in the bathtub. We had company over and so she went back out to see the company while I was playing. I ran out of the bathroom completely naked and my mom said, “Alicia!!! You get back in there! You don’t have any clothes on!” I replied, “It’s okay Mommy. I have my eyes closed so they can’t see me!” I have many memories of my early days of paralysis where I would close my eyes and declare to myself that it was all going to be okay because nobody could see me. We would sit in a parking lot and I would make my husband wait to get me out of the car until no one was walking to their cars. I would get ready to go to church and take a deep breath and pretend to walk in the door instead of roll so I could face all those walking people. No matter how much I pretended, or tried to act like I was not disabled, it did not go away.
One day I had a eureka moment. I decided that since I could not change my disability, I was not going to let my disability change me. I did not want to hide from life…I never have. I did not want to be shy and reclusive….I never have. I did not want to be sad and miserable…I never have. I did not want to wish my life away on what could not be. I wanted to relish life and squeeze every drop out of it. I love life…I always have. It was not time for my life to stop or be over. It was time to still be me.
Today, I want to talk about confidence. Are we capable of being confident? Are those in relationships with us willing to allow us to become confident? I think so and I want to share a few ideas to help all of us.
To the disabled:
1. Accepting your disability is key.
We can never be confident if we cannot accept our disability. A disability has changed how I function and how I have to do things, but it doesn’t change what I love and enjoy. We have to come to a final resting place, so to speak, with where we are in our abilities. We have to decide to let that be a rebirth for us in our lives. If we are to ever be confident again, then we must accept our disability. (You can read more about acceptance here)
2. Owning your disability is necessary.
Once you have accepted that you are disabled and that is just the way it is, then own it! You have to work past feeling embarrassed. You have to work hard to look good in your chair (I will blog in the future about fashion). You will have to keep your chair clean. You have to feel confident to be confident. I have went to many a platform to speak and felt so anxious! I see all of these beautiful “un”disabled people before me and I start to feel very insecure! I always pray and ask God to help me see that I am His child and I am of great value to Him. I ask Him to please help me and give me the confidence and courage that I need. Then, I raise my head up high, smile, and roll before them. You see, my disability is what got me there in the first place. If God can use it, then I will not be ashamed. I can be confident because it is what He has allowed in my life and I will use it for His glory.
3. Moving past your disability is a must.
Learning to accept our disability and allowing it to shine in our life is such a giant step in our confidence. The last thing I would like to mention is that we must move past our disability. We are people first, and then we are disabled. I remember soon after I became disabled, I had someone say to me, “I am not sure what to call you. Crippled? Disabled? Handicapped?” I said, “Oh, you can still call me Alicia.” A disability is a part of my life, and for a while after I was paralyzed it seemed that it completely consumed my life. It does play a major role in my daily life, but I am more than just paralyzed. I am a wife, a mom, a leader, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a church member, and on and on. I have hobbies and interests. I like and dislike certain foods, clothes, shoes, etc.
We don’t need to feel ashamed or of lesser value because we are disabled. It is easy to feel intimidated and to pull back. It is easy to not speak our wishes or tell others how we feel. It is easy to let others kind of run over your life because they have more physical abilities. Don’t do this! I have met disabled people like this and they are out of control of their lives. Other people tell them everything. This is not about being shy or outgoing. I have a good friend who is much more timid than I am, but she is in full control of her life and disability. This is also not about function. I know high level quads who need much personal care that are in complete control of who comes and does what when. The point is that we may need help being pushed, or transferred, or fed or changed. However, we can still be confident as a human being and keep the control over our lives. We do not need to feel like we just have to roll with the flow of everyone else’s wishes or desires. We need to be kind and unselfish just like everyone else does.
To the able-bodied in our lives:
1. Accept our disability.
Many times, you have as much trouble accepting our disability as we do. Sometimes, we can be feeling good about it and your drama can pull us right back down. If you are involved deeply in our life, then you have to go through a grieving time as well, and that is fine and normal. However, you have to learn to move on with us. There are many relationships that get ruined over this one point. As a friend or family member, you just can’t seem to get past what has been dealt us. Please, help us by allowing us to accept it. If I am okay with my disability, having to live with it and deal with it every single day, than I think you can too. When you are cool with who I am, it helps me be cool with who I am.
2. Let us be who we are.
There are things I want to do, now that I am paralyzed, that I never would have cared to do before. If I hear that someone has done something as a paraplegic, it makes me want to try. I would love to try kayaking. I would love to go skiing (snow and water). I want to zipline. I want to play on a wheelchair basketball team. Why? I don’t know. Maybe when you lose the ability to do some of the things that you once did, you replace them. Maybe because when I hear that someone paralyzed has done this, I want in on it to see if I can do it. Maybe I can do these things, and maybe I can’t, but I want to try!
If those I love try to hold me back in these areas, I would soon resent them. I remember the first time I wanted to stay all night by myself after paralysis. I got really excited about it because as little as it may seem to you, it was a big deal to me. Because of the way I became paralyzed, I had a lot of fears about being afraid to go to sleep and not knowing how I was going to wake up, I felt that staying by myself was facing that fear. So, it became a personal challenge for me. My husband needed to be away for a night and I insisted I could do this. He wanted to get help to come stay with me, but he listened to me and agreed. I was nervous and ecstatic all rolled up in one. The day came….the evening came….and help came. The helpers meant well, but I was so upset. I was NOT thankful for their help and told them so! We laughed about it later, but at the time, it was a big deal to me!
Please let us be who we are. Rather you agree or not, is really not the point. Just put yourself in our place and let us run your life and see how long you would like it. If you remember that we are people first. Our dreams and our desires still mean very much to us.
3. Allow us to go.
This was the absolute hardest thing my hubby had to learn. It still scares him to this day. This piggy backs on the last point, but you must allow us to go and do what we desire to do. I had a mom tell me recently, whose son in blind, that she dropped him off for his first day of college. She said it was the hardest thing she had ever done. He didn’t know the feel of the school, he didn’t have friends beside him and she wasn’t there. However, he had planned and prepared and they had the classes prepared for him. He told her to drop him off at the front door and he would maneuver the rest of the day. She let him go. Her release of that awesome young man will allow him to soar to much higher places in life than he would ever be able to go if she tried to lead him by the hand.
I will never forget the first time I wanted to drive to Tennessee from Ohio by myself. You wouldn’t believe how many people from my church came to beg me not to go, question me what I would do if I broke down on the road, and even tell my husband to ban me from driving! They all said these things because the loved me dearly….and thought I had lost my mind! Paralyzed people don’t travel alone…or so they thought. It was a terrifying thing for my husband to let me go and do that. He has had to learn to do that in many things I want to try, but I love him so much for letting me.
Don’t think that you are showing us love by saying that you care too much to let us go. That is not how we see it. True love allows the bird to fly instead of keeping it in a cage. When you release us, our confidence soars!
Maybe you just need a dose of confidence. Maybe it is to go in public, brave that transfer, learn to drive, make a friend, hop a curb or tell a loved one to back off a little. It doesn’t have to be major (like my picture up there of Aaron Fotheringham who shreds at skate parks and is a part of the Nitro Circus doing wheelchair stunts). Whatever it is that you feel is intimidating you, than make it your project to work on confidence in that area. I’ve got an area that I am going to work on. Do you?
There is nothing more attractive to me than confidence in those who have a disability and in those who love us. Accept it, own it, and move on with your life and what you love!