I was born with Spina Bifida and one of the biggest challenges of having been born with a disability is that it’s sometimes difficult to separate yourself as a person from the physical condition you’ve always known.
I’ve learned that others who have acquired disabilities can struggle with the adjustment and adaptation that goes along with going from walking to a life on wheels or on crutches. These circumstances can make it more difficult for anyone with a disability to have a positive self-image and to develop self-esteem. Understanding this situation, here are some key insights that I think can help any person with a disability develop confidence.
1) Doctors do not know everything.
Medical professionals have tremendous skills that should be respected but they do not have all the answers. You know yourself and your family knows you. Seek input from those who know you well and stick with your own intuition. It’s usually right.
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2) Don’t live up to other’s expectations.
Many people may have very small expectations of you because of your injury or disability but their judgments about you are wrong. If you don’t exceed these expectations you could find yourself not prepared with enough skills to deal with life independently. It may be hard to learn skills like cooking, cleaning and personal care while also balancing school and work but doing so will prepare you for a better future. To put it simply – be what you want to become.
3) Don’t measure yourself against anything else.
Be realistic yet hopeful about those dreams. You know your capabilities and if you think you can do it. You definitely can. Don’t let others convince you otherwise.
4) Understand that you’re in a costume all the time.
But your disability is not who you are. It has about as much to do with your soul as your hair color. Unfortunately, people may project uncertainty, emotional pain, anger and sadness onto you simply because you appear to be in a situation they fear and do not understand. So, like many people, they will cope by ridiculing or trying to ignore what they fear. Do not be intimidated by this even if people try to avoid you or try to silence you because you are seeking things that make them feel uncomfortable.
5) Be open to knowing new people.
By the nature of your circumstance, you will get to know people in fascinating and wonderful ways and some of your friendships will be deep but there will be those who can’t handle you and may be quite negative toward you. Stick with your friends and don’t get caught into the trap of trying to impress people for acceptance. It does not work. Ever.
6) You have the right to life, love, education and employment.
You will have to work hard to obtain these things but if you put in the effort and the time, just like everyone else, then eventually the opportunities that are right for you will come. Stick to it and don’t give up.
7) People may be afraid to tell you things honestly.
They may think you’re fragile and won’t want to hurt your feelings. Many will want to reward you for breathing or for being inspirational and they’ll accept whatever you give them without expectation of a better effort. This does not help you. Seek those who will tell you things honestly. Those who are honest with you are your friends. Cherish them and go back to them often for perspective and advice.
8) Seek great friends.
A friend who can prove they are reliable, unselfish and respectful toward you is the best friend you can have. Seek these qualities in the people you get to know well.
9) Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Very few people are dealing with everything you experience. You’ve already become an extremely strong person just by doing the things necessary to successfully live life with a disability. Gain confidence from the fact that you’re an expert on subjects most people have no clue about. You know how to problem solve, you know how to adapt and you are emotionally strong. In life that’s about 90% of all you need.
10) If you worry about the future, don’t.
Your disability is much less important than the way you choose to live your life. If you have hope, a sense of humor, ambitions and a positive outlook on yourself and other people than you will acquire all that is important in life. It likely won’t come to you quickly or easily. It’s likely to come over time through a series of small victories. Keep moving forward, if people stare at you, stare back and smile. Learn to communicate and always put the effort into first asking for and then working toward what you want.
11) Exercise regularly and drink lots of water.
Do what you need to do to stay active. If you stay on the couch you’ll remain on the couch even when you don’t want to be there.
12) Find ways to connect with people.
Lots of people are curious about you. Often, they admire and are inspired by you even if they don’t know enough about you to understand that you can help them see life from a perspective that no one else can. Understand what a great power that is and learn to connect with people on the things you have in common.