The Moment I Realized I’m Disabled……

Before we get into our topic of the day, I need to offer a caveat: The following entry is based solely on my experience and does not reflect the entire disabled population as a whole. I offer these insights in hopes of helping others that are going through a tough time that can be jarring and very confusing.

I didn’t realize I was disabled until I was 16 years old. Seriously.

The fact that I was born with Spina-Bifida makes that last statement seem completely illogical.

But it’s true. Let me explain.

I grew up the youngest of 3 in the late ’70s in a small town in the Midwest. Being that my sisters were both completely able-bodied and our town was small, I was normally the only person in a wheelchair and braces around. When I was really little I was able to get around with just braces.

My parents worked hard to treat me just like my other siblings. I had chores around the house and would get in trouble if my assigned tasks weren’t done.

In school I was mainstreamed into a regular classroom, and taken out only for short times for physical and occupational therapy. Those were the only times I was treated different from my classmates. I was also the only disabled student in my kindergarten, elementary and middle school.

It’s a funny thing; being a kid. You don’t think much about the future. And when you do, sometimes elements of the life you have are different in the future imagined.

And so it wasn’t until I was 16 and in high school that I had the realization that I had a disability. And there was nothing I could do to ever change that.

Whoa. Heavy stuff.

There was definitely an exact moment this hit me. And it felt like a ton of bricks (I know this is a over-used colloquialism, but in this case it’s the truth). So how did I get through this and come out stronger on the other side? I’m glad you asked:

1. Know that verbally saying it aloud helps you to accept it. Writing it down in a journal can also be cathartic.

2. Seek professional help-This was the best thing that I was able to do with the help of my parents. It was also during this time that we discovered I had been living with a chemical imbalance, causing depression, for a long time prior to this experience.

There is no shame in seeking outside help.

3. To your parents-listen to your child. It may seem strange that they are just now coming to terms with reality, but hearing their words and validating their feelings will go a long way towards healing.

4. Take a day-Again, this realization can be quite jarring. Taking a day to reflect and get your head together might be a helpful technique. I know for myself that taking a day off school helped me to focus and get my head back together.

You can and will get through this. And come out stronger on the other side.

I’m pulling for you


Explaining Disability: The Girl With the Extra Accessories…

Having a disability my entire life, I’ve experienced my share of discrimination. Of people making snap judgements of my intellectual ability based on my appearance. But today I wanted to share a story that I hope encourages you to think differently if you have a disability and have experienced discrimination.

When I was in high school, I spent a week with my grandparents one summer. My youngest cousin lived close by so she’d come over to our grandparents house and hang out. One day we went to a movie and to Walmart. While at Walmart, we stopped into the bathroom. For some reason I didn’t take my manual wheelchair into the stall with me, so I parked it right outside the door.

As I was in the stall, I saw my little cousin get into my chair and roll it back and forth. I could see her little pink and white tennis shoes floating back and forth under the door. My grandma filled me in later on what happened next:

“When you were in the bathroom stall, a woman came out the stall next door and looked at Kristina in your chair. She then washed her hands and left. Kristina looked up at me and proudly exclaimed, “I think she thought I was handicapped!!”

Let me restate that. In the eyes of a young child, being labeled “handicapped” is a sign of pride and honor!

Dear employers, job recruiters and society; we are not a group to be pitied, avoided or fixed. We need respect and a chance to show you what we can do.  After all, being disabled basically just means that we come into the world with a few more accessories than the average person. 😉