The phases of growing up in today's society can be daunting for any girl to find her way through. Add in paralysis, a wheelchair, a full-body brace, and a bunch of medical conditions that seemingly nobody else has, and you have yourself the perfect recipe for a particularly tricky childhood and adolescence. I would know because I was born with spina bifida, and therefore all of those descriptions apply to me. There are many things that I wish every girl with a disability could hear. This is a list of the dozen that I feel are of paramount importance.
1.) Confidence is key!
This sounds kind of clichéd because it's so simple, but it's extremely important! If you are confident in yourself, it will attract positive energy. In middle school I was very self-conscious, but as I became more confident in myself and outgoing I explored my interests and found my niche.
2.) You can be ATHLETIC.
I used to think that adaptive sports were "weird" or "uncool," but wheelchair racing has opened up so many doors for me! I love being part of the track team! It's allowed me to make new friendships with my classmates and with other adaptive athletes. You should try a sport!
3.) You are beautiful. You can be a beauty queen!
Glamour isn't reserved for girls who can walk. You can rock an evening gown sitting down!
4.) Real friends are proud to be your friend.
These friends truly accept you and include you in activities automatically. If a restaurant isn't accessible, they will either go somewhere else or carry you in! Plus, when you have friends who appreciate you — wheelchair and all — some pretty epic Halloween costumes will happen!
That running blade is pretty badass if you ask me, and if you want a neon green wheelchair and zebra leg braces with neon pink crutches, go for it! What makes you unique is what makes you beautiful! Dr. Seuss was right when he said, "Those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind!"
There's something incredibly powerful about the words "I understand" and "I know exactly what you're talking about." When I was little, I thought it was important to only hang out with "normal" kids (what even is "normal" anyway?), but there's something super empowering about strutting/wheeling into Steak n' Shake in your wheelchair with your amputee BFF by your side!
If you don't like the way a teacher treats you or if you see an opportunity to educate someone on your disability, do it! It's not weird. It's not uncool. It's certainly not disrespectful. It's necessary. Shout it from the rooftops!
8.) Your goals ARE realistic!
Don't EVER let someone try to convince you that your goals are unrealistic. Don't ever apologize for your aspirations or change what you say you want to be based upon how you think the person you're talking to will react. I am a 4'6" tall girl with spina bifida and I want to be a surgeon. The first female chairman of a neurosurgery department in the U.S. is an incredible woman with spina bifida.
Everyone goes through an awkward stage. For me that was in middle school. As I prepare to begin my senior year next week, I can honestly say that I've found a solid group of friends who truly appreciate me.
Joke about it! The inside jokes and photo opportunities that stem from an amputation, paralysis, or having a service dog with you everywhere you go are endless and hilarious.
11.) You are brave, but you can be mad.
It's likely that you are often called brave, courageous, inspirational, etc., but you're a human girl. You can be all of these things and have bad days. It's okay to be mad sometimes. It's not fair that you need to use a wheelchair, walk with crutches, or wear an uncomfortable prosthetic leg. Nobody is always in a positive mood. It's okay to feel like nobody understands what you're going through. You're in a unique situation. You can be a strong and beautiful force of nature who throws the occasional tantrum.
12. You're adaptive!
You'll be okay! It may seem like your disability complicates every milestone and phase of growing up. In some ways it does. You'll find a great group of friends. You'll survive high school even if it won't be the greatest four years of your life. You'll pave your own path toward your dreams. You'll figure it out. You've got this, girl! Go and obliterate that glass ceiling!