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Finding Freedom in Disability

There is something very important about being able to do things for yourself. We as humans strive for a certain independence and strength, and the more limited we are, the more important our independence becomes. Those of us with disabilities fight for freedom daily, and when we've won it, we guard it closely. I remember when I was first cleared to go to the bathroom by myself in rehab. Before I realized this was something I'd been able to do for years before my injury, I was so proud of myself. I felt like a person again, not that I wasn't before that, but I had regained some of my humanity. With every little task we learn or recover, every little thing we can claim as our own, we collect another piece of our self-respect. So how do we gain our freedom when our very bodies and minds seek to keep us enslaved? There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of tools that help us find our independence, and since every disability is different, the possibilities are limitless with just a little ingenuity. Wheelchairs give us the ability to get out of the house, sliding boards help us transfer, crutches help us walk. Therapists teach us how to use what we have and regain what we've lost. Service dogs give us more freedom and companionship.

But these tools really only cover physical independence. What about the self-enslavement of our thoughts, the murky doubts that wrap us so tight in lies we can no longer reach for the truth? The lies I struggle with are huge, oppressive ropes that bind and choke me. I'm weak. I'm worthless. I can't walk so I might as well give up. But by dwelling on the doubts - no, the lies - by letting them become the biggest things about me, I'm letting them win. I'm letting my disability define me and my relationships and my life.

The thing is, I recognize that there are things I can't do, I'm not trying to deny that. But I refuse to let the things I can't do control who I am and how I behave. It sounds cheesy to say I have to accept myself, but in the end, that's what it comes down to: knowing there will always be things that I can't do, and choosing to concentrate on the things I can. It's a choice, one that I have to make every day, and believe me, it's not an easy one.

I choose to take pride in the small accomplishments of a day done right. I choose not to get angry when I run up against something that trips me (sometimes quite literally). I choose to ask for help when I need it and not be ashamed of those moments. And sometimes I choose to let the day overwhelm me because I'm human, and I occasionally screw up.

It took me a long time and a lot of heartache to get to this point. It took me even longer to learn that my experience is not the ultimate authority. I can talk to other people with disabilities and learn that they have very different ideas of how to get along. Just because I have reached this conclusion does not mean that it is the end result for every one else struggling in this world. I don't want my words to be read as “Kendra's amazing cure for what ails you”, but I do hope that my journey can be helpful to others who carry around lies. You're not alone. You're not beyond hope. You're strong enough to win. Choose freedom.